USA take the Solomon Trophy from GB for the first time
As forecast, the cloud that had been threatening to come of the 10,000ft mountains to the West had broken through overnight, meaning that as we awoke it was mild but threatening to rain. While there was enough time for the lawns to be mown, it was drizzling by the start of play and, as forecast, this increased in intensity during the day. This meant that what pace there was on the lawns had gone, and it was clear that the day would be principally be decided by who hit and who missed. GB started the day 8-7; best of three singles, paired in team order.
Robin and I had early breaks, and I surived the lift for a 5th turn win over Jerry. Robin was less fortunate and after he missed his lift, Danny made short order of his TP. Jerry had the best of our game two, while Robin dominated his; both finishing +26tp. A quick progression to 1-1 in two matches.
While these two matches were ploughing ahead, Tony had hit (after a previous error at hoop 5) and was having a TPO against Doug. Ian hadn't had much play in his match, but Jeff (Dawson) - unhelpfully playing Jeff (Soo) - was on a TP to take the first +17tp.
Stephen was looking like he was going 1 down against Ben, until Ben took an unwise line of play after his 3-back pioneer had hit the peg and ended making the rover peel, but not 3-back. Stephen laid for an SXP and, after Ben missed, completed hit, but not without some 'excitement'. Attention turned back to Tony, who - having had 2 balls off when for 6 v 1 - had progressed to rover v 5 before some good play from Doug levelled at Rover v Rover which proved enough to turn it into an OTP.
So, 1-1 in 2 matches, 1 up in one and 1 down in the other 3. The 1 match overnight lead wasn't looking too strong.
I had the best of the early play in game 3 against Jerry with a 5th turn ball (after trading errors on turns 3 and 4), but only jawsed the straight rover peel and failed the half-roll-jump (I was too close for a proper jump attempt), giving Jerry an easy break. Stephen, however, completed a 5th turn tp against Ben for a 2-0 win, and match score of 9-7. Robin's first break in his game against Danny had been negated by Danny's hit, and after both he and I missed our lifts, TPs saw that lead eliminated. 9-9.
By this stage momentum had swung to the US. Jeff Dawson had had a quick leveller in his match, but his first break leave was hit in the decider. He also got a few extra shots between Jeff Soo's two breaks which he missed by nothing before Jeff Soo got going on a delayed TP. Ian - who had capitalised on an error to quickly level the match - was under threat of a standard TP in the decider, which meant that, while Tony had won game 2 with another TPO, GB were looking for an error which never came.
11-9 to USA.
For the record, Jeff Soo scored the winning point, although he hadn't realised he'd done so until being jumped by his team-mates. Tony and Doug's third game wasn't played since no-one could summon the enthusiasm for a dead game in what was now heavy rain - with standing water forming.
The records will show this as the first Solomon Trophy victory for the USA. Just over 20 years since John Solomon presented the trophy for the contest to help encourage Association Croquet take-up in the USA, he might claim mission accomplished, but this was always going to be a tight match given the closeness of ranking of the two teams.
Both sides played well, and while there were a number of errors on both sides these were (excepting the occasional game which descended) few in number given the number of games played. Hit rates for lifts were probably over 50% - I don't think anyone was keeping count - but that also masks a few people shooting really well (60% - 80%) with one or two weaker links in each team.
Danny Huneycutt was superb throughout. His shooting was exceptional and break-play tidy, and will be rightly proud of a 3-0 win over Stephen. Doug Grimsley at number 5 was good; with solid performances in the doubles, and very nearly pulling off a 3-0 26tp^3 no-croquet win over Ian in the singles.
The Mission Hills club has been excellent throughout, cutting lawns and setting hoops each day and ensuring that whatever the players needed (including drinks, snacks, lunch and - apparently in honour of the visiting team - afternoon tea) throughout the day. I won't try to name all those involved, since there were many and I'd forget someone. The lawns have an excellent surface and are essentially flat with no alarming precipices near hoops. Hoop set in sand have the usual problem of being impossible to set to 'difficult'; perhaps superhoops or similar are the answer here. One insurmountable problem for this club though - it needs to be somewhere warmer and drier than the Palm Springs Desert.
Chris Clarke adds: Many congratulations to the USA team on their first Solomon Trophy win. Having played in many of these events over the last 20 years, it has been wonderful to watch the US players improve.