Twice as nice

Posted 20 October 2008 to , by Jeff Soo
Jeff Soo and Paul Scott at the 2008 USCA National Championships (American rules). National Croquet Center, West Palm Beach FL. Photo by Johnny Mitchell

On finals day at the 2008 USCA national championship of American-rules croquet, Jeff Soo and Paul Scott won the doubles title for the fourth time. And immediately afterward, Soo won the singles, also for the fourth time.

At several points throughout the previous day, the pair looked unlikely to even reach the doubles final. They started the day by losing to Leo McBride and John Osborn, a game in which the first roquet for Scott and Soo occurred with about three minutes left in the game, too little time to mount an effective comeback. This left them needing to win four straight games to reach the final. The first was a fairly straightforward 26-2 win against defending doubles champion Brian Cumming and his new partner Danny Huneycutt. They trailed for most of the second game, against up-and-comers Derek Wassink and Peter Just, needing a late-game croquet out and last-turns three-ball break from #4 to the peg to win 17-14. In their game against Britt Ruby and Rick Sheely, Ruby had an early break to peg to set up a potentially game-winning play for his partner. But Soo made a full-court hit-in on a ball two yards off the boundary to take control, leading to a 26-13 win.

Then came the unlikeliest comeback of all. At day’s end Soo and Scott again faced McBride and Osborn. After a protracted and cautious opening with little scoring for either side, Soo finally developed a four-ball break, putting Scott and Soo into a strong position. Until Soo, watching in utter disbelief, played a routine one-yard roquet that curled off line and missed entirely. McBride took full advantage of the gift, going round to peg out at the start of last turns, and leaving Soo and Scott a choice of unattractive options. Scott was to play next, and if he failed to score the best Soo could do was tie the game. Furthermore, McBride had left Osborn’s ball on the south boundary near Soo’s ball, meaning that unless Scott roqueted, Soo would likely be faced with a desparate play to accomplish even that. Scott decided to go all out, shooting at the boundary ball from about 80 feet. He played the shot perfectly, making the roquet and drawing a roar from the crowd watching from the veranda, and a loud shout from Scott himself. Scott took off to difficult position on Soo’s ball, then played a crucial cut-rush and long roll-up to score #2. Without a rush to #3 he roqueted and rolled across, but the shot went long and he laid a rush for Soo to score the winning two-ball break through the final two hoops.

Osborn had about a 90-foot shot at Scott’s ball. He hit, center ball, drawing yet another roar from the crowd. Scott and Soo’s chances, having gone from desperate to playable, were back to desperate again. All Osborn had to do was croquet the two balls off the lawn, preferably in wired position from Soo’s ball, and the game would be effectively over. But in the series of dramatic turnarounds, both Osborn and McBride somehow forgot that Osborn was dead on Soo’s ball. Osborn sent Scott’s ball several yards away, but left it well in the court. As soon as he roqueted Soo’s ball Scott and Soo called out the fault, and the balls were replaced, leaving Soo a rush from one ball to the other. Soo scored the final two hoops and peg for a most unusual 15-14 win.

The singles playdown leading to the final had taken place a day earlier, Friday. Soo was the top seed, the only undefeated player after the qualifying blocks. Scott, the defending singles champion, had a much slower start, having had no practice or play to speak of in the previous year. He barely qualified to the playoffs, earning the last of sixteen spots, meaning he would play Soo in the first round. Soo won, sending Scott to the back of the losers bracket, from where he would need to win six straight games to reach the final. He won the first four of these, while Soo won his next two, setting up another meeting between the two. This would be Scott’s sixth game of the day. Soo won, advancing to the final and putting Scott into a tie for third place.

Their opponents in the doubles final were Ben Rothman and Johnny Mitchell. Rothman is the USCA’s rising star, a 23 24-year-old player having his breakthrough season. Mitchell is a veteran player but was playing in his first national final. The two took full advantage of a seemingly insignificant error by Soo, who failed to run #1 on his first shot of the game. Soo’s ball ended in nearly unrunnable position, allowing Rothman to set a break for Mitchell with a croquet out. Soo could only take position, and Mitchell played his break through 2-back, setting Rothman in close position at #2 and cannoning Soo’s ball out of position at #1. In subsequent turns Rothman two-balled from #2 to 2-back, setting up yet another opportunity to cannon Soo’s ball out of position. But Rothman’s rush to 2-back went well past the hoop, leaving a take-off back to long position. He failed the hoop, giving Soo a simple play to set Scott for a break. Scott took his break to the peg, Rothman missed, and Soo finished for the 26-15 win.

Soo’s opponent in the singles final was 2003 champion Doug Grimsley. Grimsley kept both balls back at #1 while Soo two-balled blue through #2 and #3. With Soo joined in corner IV, Grimsley entered and also two-balled through #2 and #3. But with no forward rush after #3 he opted to play yellow off to corner II. Soo set an in-court rush and Grimsley played red to the south boundary near corner I. Soo rushed blue into the lawn and then croqueted it close to red to set the break. Grimsley could only corner, and Soo played his first break to the peg, picking up yellow to set a break for black. The leave was basic, giving Grimsley a 70-foot shot on a ball in the open court. But Grimsley missed and Soo finished for the 26-4 win.

Soo has now tied Archie Peck’s record of four singles titles at this tournament. And Scott and Soo have broken their own record for doubles titles by the same partnership. Combining singles and doubles, Soo’s eight American-rules national titles breaks the previous record of six, held by several players. Including Association and Golf Croquet, Soo has twelve USCA national titles overall, breaking his own record. And Scott has eight doubles titles overall, also breaking his own record.

The tournament was held October 13–19 at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Last modified on 13 December 2009