previously wrote about the nine-wicket doubles tournament, held September 4-5.
I played in the first flight of the 6-wicket singles, which sounds especially impressive until you hear that there is a “championship flight” in every such tournament, and only the best players compete at that level.
Championship flight at the Big Lobster was for players with handicaps from 0 to 2. First flight spanned handicaps of 2 to 5. Being a 5 when I entered, I was, with one other 5, the least-accomplished player on the list. The one with the mostest was a lady with a 2.
(Note about six-wicket croquet as played in the USA: It is completely gender-neutral. Men and women compete head to head. Our flight included five men and one woman, but could easily have been evenly split.)
The lady in the picture alongside me is not the 2. She is the only 10 in my life, which is to say, my wife Katie, who did not compete but was there to watch the finals.
Yes, I made the finals.
In fact, during the first two days, Friday and Saturday, in which each player competed against every other player in his or her flight, I beat all five of my fellow first-flighters. Imagine, then, how I salivated to learn that in the finals, a single Sunday match pitting the players with the two best records, I would play Peter Oleson from Maryland whom I pegged out on Saturday, 26–7.
(Further note about croquet: Pegged out on equals crushed. Games are 75 minutes. The winner is he or she who has the most points by the end of time. Points are scored by running wickets, of which there are 12, and by only then hitting the peg in the center of the court. If a player pegs out with both balls, the game is over, regardless of elapsed time. He has 26 and the loser has whatever he has.)
Peter is a fine gentleman with a lot more experience on the lawn than I have. I should have been wary. From the very start of the Sunday final, I felt rudderless, or as über-guru of Maine croquet Larry Stettner termed it afterward, “at sea.” I never quite got my head screwed on, and though I ran a good “break” (series of consecutive wickets on one turn), I found myself trailing and wearing serious deadness with ten minutes left.
Frankly, the old Bull brain just couldn’t come up with a solution to my strategic situation. To give Peter credit, he got me in trouble (the deadness) and never let me off the hook.
I had one final chance to win on last turn, which I muffed. I chose the wrong strategy (long story) and then mis-executed anyway. I lost 15–19.
When I told my brother about it this morning, he (who don’t know bupkus about croquet) only said, “That’s why they play the games.” It was a cliché and I resented it, but it was true.
Croquet will show you, if you let it, that on a beautiful day in Maine, you can play like it was a bad day in Mongolia. And still have fun.