Croquet fireworks were on display at the inaugural Pinehurst International Golf Croquet Invitational. For the uninitiated, it was an eye opener. The top Egyptian players have developed swings of incredible power and accuracy, and three of Egypt's best were in attendance. Pinehurst croquet pro Mack Penwell thought he had seen it all in croquet, but had to admit, "I've never seen anything to beat this", during one particularly impressive match.
The field also featured three players from the University of Virginia croquet team: Jacques Fournier, Steve Roberts and Zach Rawling. Despite limited experience, Roberts and Rawling are already accomplished players, testimony to the value of expert coaching in Golf Croquet as a context for developing new talent.
The top four seeds all advanced to the semi-final stage. Jacques Fournier met reigning world champion Salah Hassan in one semi-final. At the US Nationals earlier this year, Fournier had easily beaten Hassan 7-2, 7-2. This time Hassan was the dominant player, winning 7-5, 7-2, 7-1. Khaled Younis won the other semi-final, against compatriot and long-time doubles partner Waled Salah, by the score of 7-4, 7-6, 5-7, 7-4.
So the final match featured Hassan, current world champion and Egyptian #1, versus Younis, previous world champion and perhaps Egypt's all-time greatest player, with six national singles titles. Nerves were in evidence early in the match, both players making uncharacteristic misses from relatively close range. Younis won the first game 7-5 and was leading in the second game, when Hassan found his shooting form and pulled ahead to win 7-5.
The third game was top quality, both players in full flow. The audience of local players cheered more enthusiastically with each impressive shot. Even casual passers-by with no knowledge of the game got swept up in the excitement and joined in the applause. Younis took a 6-4 lead but Hassan came back to tie at 6 all. Younis got good position at the final hoop with his first ball, and Hassan immediately blasted this ball from 25 yards away. Hassan, full of confidence, eventually won the game by shooting the hoop from the north boundary. In the fourth game Younis was less consistent, but still managed to keep pace. He was down 5-6 and facing a two-yard shot to score the twelfth hoop, but a shocking miss gave the game and the match to Hassan: 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 7-5.
Afterwards, Tournament Manager Mack Penwell praised the Egyptian contingent for their efforts in promoting Golf Croquet world-wide. Amir Ramsis Naguib, new President of the Egyptian Croquet Federation, responded with a gracious speech, which he capped by presenting beautiful commemorative awards to the tournament's organisers. And many players vowed to practice more for next year's tournament.
1. Salah Hassan ($600) 2. Khaled Younis ($400) 3. Jacques Fournier ($150), Waled Salah ($150) 5. Mohammad Kamal, Jeff Soo, Wayne Synan, Zach Rawling 9. Amir Ramsis Naguib, Steve Roberts, Ed Roberts, Mack Penwell, Butch Bessette
1. Mack Penwell ($75), Jeff Soo ($75) 3. Butch Bessette 4. Ed Roberts, Wayne Synan 6. Zach Rawling 7. Steve Roberts