Stephen Mulliner beat Robert Fulford 7-3, 4-7, 7-2 in the final of the English National Golf Croquet Championship to win the Ascot Cup for the first time since 1991. Stephen is now the current holder of the GC Open and National titles; only Reg Bamford has achieved the same feat (2005 and 2009). Most of the final took place in driving rain and was far from an enjoyable experience for both players. This weather was in stark contrast to the whole day of perfect autumnal sunshine on the Saturday.
Sixteen players assembled at the Hurlingham Club having either won a qualification tournament or earned points through finishing in second to fourth place at such a tournament. The 2012 season saw the number of qualification tournaments increase to 16, ranging from the GC Open Championship to the Musk's Cup (GC Selectors weekend) and, geographically, from Sidmouth to Ripon. Unfortunately, not all tournament winners were available to take up their places but this is the advantage of the points system in enabling other players to qualify through doing well in one or more tournaments.
The block phase of the Championship was as two blocks of eight players, each playing all the other players in the block in a single 19-point game. The block allocations were as a striping according to the latest published GC rankings and this led to Robert Fulford and Will Gee being top seeds in their respective blocks.
The block play only included one major shock: Chris Roberts played superb croquet to comprehensively beat Robert Fulford 10-4. However, once Robert had beaten the previously unbeaten Rachel Rowe in round six (of seven), he was assured of qualification for the semi-finals. In that same round, Tim King beat Will Gee, who had previously lost to Stephen Mulliner. Tim and Stephen were, thus, both unbeaten on the Saturday and played on Sunday morning to determine the winner of Block B. Meanwhile, Rachel and Howard Cheyne (also only having lost to Robert Fulford) competed to decide the second qualifier from Block A. Rachel played controlled croquet to seal her place in the semi-finals.
By the time the semi-finals began, the weather forecast of the preceding week came to fulfilment as the rain began to set in. Stephen and Robert demonstrated their years of match play experience and took firm grips of their respective matches. Stephen was especially swift in taking the first game 7-1 against Rachel. Tim was marginally more resilient after going 0-4 down but still was only able to score three hoops in that game. Unfortunately for Rachel, she failed to find much more form in the second game, leaving Stephen the clear winner (7-1, 7-2) and having some spare time to work with Will Gee in preparation for the World Team Championship; Will having spent most of the summer working in Germany.
In the second game of Fulford versus King, the latter found some better shooting and having held firm during a tense battle for Hoop 1, he eventual took that point and stayed closer in scores to Rob than in the first game. He came back from 3-5 down to level at 5-5 and then lost Hoop 11 when Rob was able to use excellent technique to get the ball to fall through the hoop from a very tight angle. Tim delighted the crowd when he cleared from 15 yards to prevent Rob from being able to try a jump shot to win Hoop 12. However, the heroics ran out when Tim failed to do well enough with a promotion towards Hoop 13 and, thus, Robert won through 7-3, 7-6.
The rain and wind picked up intensity over lunch. By the time the players were considering the potential consequences for the final, Court 3 was already beginning to suffer from standing water. However, Court 4 is the most well-draining on the Front Lawn at Hurlingham and this encouraged the players to start and attempt to beat the elements. All three games of the final started with domination by one of the players, each time being the foundation for an eventual clear-cut scoreline. In Game 1, Mulliner took a 4-0 lead, Hoop 4 being a somewhat fortunate in-off when clearing Rob's ball from distance and with quite a gap from that ball to the hoop. Having won the next two hoops, Rob almost wrested full initiative back when he promoted himself in front of Hoop 7 after running Hoop 6 but he did not find a wired position and, Stephen was able to clear and eventual go 5-2 up. In Game 2, Rob built a 3-0 lead and again the players then played a sequence of traded hoops and he never looked likely to lose that game.
In Game 3, the initial dominance was even more extreme. Stephen started with a perfect approach to Hoop 1 and then covered that ball with his second one, beginning a sequence in which he won the first three hoops. The day was all but his at the point he once again achieved an in-off at Hoop 4. Stephen combined calm play with some audacious speculation. Rob had played his ball to 4 inches in front of the hoop. Stephen was too straight with both his balls but was able to rush the forward ball towards the East boundary and open up an angle. When Rob failed to use his other ball to interfere with the plan, Stephen took the nine-yard shot that knocked Rob's ball onto the wire and then made a second contact to channel the striker's ball through the hoop. A jump shot at Hoop 5 and a missed clearance at Hoop 6 and Stephen was all but home with a 6-0 lead. Rob pulled back two points but Stephen made no mistake with his first approach to Hoop 9 and the Championship was his.
The main features of the final were the speed (all three games in a total of one hour and twenty minutes) and the shooting: the players missed very few hoops but were somewhat less successful at clearances; probably entirely understandable given the weather. Stephen played consistently dominant croquet throughout the whole weekend. Apart from when the misery of the conditions seemed on the verge of overwhelming him in the course of the second game of the final and Rob took firm control, no opponent came close to beating him.
In the consolation plate, consolation did indeed appear. Richard Brooks had not won a single block game (all other 15 players had at least one win) but he won three games (beating Howard Cheyne, Nick Cheyne and Nelson Morrow) and, thus, received a bottle of wine for his fine efforts.
The weekend was a success in all but the weather of the final. The Hurlingham Club had prepared exceptionally good courts; fast and true on the Front Lawn. Freda Vitty managed the Championship with calm efficiency. And the spectators were faithful in braving the conditions that turned damp and cold.
P.S. Personal thanks to Mike O'Brian who did the driving and enabled me to write this report on the way home.
Nicholas Cheyne beat Nicholas Archer - 7-5
Richard Brooks beat Howard Cheyne - 7-5
Richard Brooks beat Nicholas Cheyne - 7-4
Richard Thompson beat Chris Sheen - 7-2
Nelson Morrow beat Christopher Roberts - 7-6
Nicholas Archer beat Chris Sheen - 7-6
Nelson Morrow beat Richard Thompson - 7-2
Howard Cheyne beat Christopher Roberts - 7-4
Richard Brooks beat Nelson Morrow - 7-5
|Block A||RFD||HCE||RRE||CSN||NCE||CRS||RMD||RTN||Hoops for||Net hoops||Games||Position|
|Robert FULFORD ||---||10-6||10-8||10-9||10-8||4-10||10-2||10-4||64||17||6||1|
|Howard CHEYNE ||6-10||---||4-10||10-7||10-7||10-5||10-5||10-2||60||14||5||3|
|Rachel ROWE ||8-10||10-4||---||10-8||10-6||10-9||10-5||10-7||68||19||6||2|
|Chris SHEEN ||9-10||7-10||8-10||---||10-9||10-7||10-6||7-10||61||-1||3||4|
|Nicholas CHEYNE ||8-10||7-10||6-10||9-10||---||10-9||7-10||10-4||57||-6||2||6|
|Christopher ROBERTS ||10-4||5-10||9-10||7-10||9-10||---||9-10||10-7||59||-2||2||7|
|Ray MOUNFIELD ||2-10||5-10||5-10||6-10||10-7||10-9||---||10-6||48||-14||3||5|
|Richard THOMPSON ||4-10||2-10||7-10||10-7||4-10||7-10||6-10||---||40||-27||1||8|
|Block B||WGE||SMR||TKG||WOD||NMW||NAR||MON||RBS||Hoops for||Net hoops||Games||Position|
|William GEE ||---||5-10||9-10||9-10||10-9||10-6||10-5||10-7||63||6||4||4|
|Stephen MULLINER ||10-5||---||10-4||10-6||10-8||10-5||10-7||10-4||70||31||7||1|
|Tim KING ||10-9||4-10||---||10-6||10-5||10-8||10-8||10-7||64||11||6||2|
|William ORMEROD ||10-9||6-10||6-10||---||10-7||9-10||10-9||10-9||61||-3||4||3|
|Nelson MORROW ||9-10||8-10||5-10||7-10||---||10-6||10-6||10-7||59||0||3||5|
|Nicholas ARCHER ||6-10||5-10||8-10||10-9||6-10||---||10-6||10-5||55||-5||3||6|
|Michael O'BRIAN ||5-10||7-10||8-10||9-10||6-10||6-10||---||10-9||51||-18||1||7|
|Richard BROOKS ||7-10||4-10||7-10||9-10||7-10||5-10||9-10||---||48||-22||0||8|
|Round 1||Robert FULFORD||beat||Nicholas CHEYNE||10-8|
|Howard CHEYNE||beat||Christopher ROBERTS||10-5|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Ray MOUNFIELD||10-5|
|Richard THOMPSON||beat||Chris SHEEN||10-7|
|Round 2||Robert FULFORD||beat||Howard CHEYNE||10-6|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Chris SHEEN||10-8|
|Nicholas CHEYNE||beat||Christopher ROBERTS||10-9|
|Ray MOUNFIELD||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-6|
|Round 3||Robert FULFORD||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-4|
|Howard CHEYNE||beat||Ray MOUNFIELD||10-5|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Christopher ROBERTS||10-9|
|Chris SHEEN||beat||Nicholas CHEYNE||10-9|
|Round 4||Robert FULFORD||beat||Ray MOUNFIELD||10-2|
|Howard CHEYNE||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-2|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Nicholas CHEYNE||10-6|
|Chris SHEEN||beat||Christopher ROBERTS||10-7|
|Round 5||Christopher ROBERTS||beat||Robert FULFORD||10-4|
|Howard CHEYNE||beat||Nicholas CHEYNE||10-7|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-7|
|Chris SHEEN||beat||Ray MOUNFIELD||10-6|
|Round 6||Robert FULFORD||beat||Rachel ROWE||10-8|
|Howard CHEYNE||beat||Chris SHEEN||10-7|
|Ray MOUNFIELD||beat||Nicholas CHEYNE||10-7|
|Christopher ROBERTS||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-7|
|Round 7||Robert FULFORD||beat||Chris SHEEN||10-9|
|Rachel ROWE||beat||Howard CHEYNE||10-4|
|Nicholas CHEYNE||beat||Richard THOMPSON||10-4|
|Ray MOUNFIELD||beat||Christopher ROBERTS||10-9|
|Round 1||William GEE||beat||Nelson MORROW||10-9|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||Nicholas ARCHER||10-5|
|Tim KING||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-8|
|William ORMEROD||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-9|
|Round 2||Stephen MULLINER||beat||William GEE||10-5|
|Tim KING||beat||William ORMEROD||10-6|
|Nelson MORROW||beat||Nicholas ARCHER||10-6|
|Michael O'BRIAN||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-9|
|Round 3||William GEE||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-7|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-7|
|Tim KING||beat||Nicholas ARCHER||10-8|
|William ORMEROD||beat||Nelson MORROW||10-7|
|Round 4||William GEE||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-5|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-4|
|Tim KING||beat||Nelson MORROW||10-5|
|Nicholas ARCHER||beat||William ORMEROD||10-9|
|Round 5||William GEE||beat||Nicholas ARCHER||10-6|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||Nelson MORROW||10-8|
|Tim KING||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-7|
|William ORMEROD||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-9|
|Round 6||Tim KING||beat||William GEE||10-9|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||William ORMEROD||10-6|
|Nelson MORROW||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-6|
|Nicholas ARCHER||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-5|
|Round 7||William ORMEROD||beat||William GEE||10-9|
|Stephen MULLINER||beat||Tim KING||10-4|
|Nelson MORROW||beat||Richard BROOKS||10-7|
|Nicholas ARCHER||beat||Michael O'BRIAN||10-6|