A four strong Irish team travelled to face the USA in Nantucket between the 19th and 23rd of August. The team comprised Danny Johnston (C), Patsy Fitzgerald, Evan Newell and Nathaniel Healy and faced a strong American team including former MacRobertson Shield players Jeff Soo and Rich Lamm and previous Carter cup members Dave Bent and Wayne Davies.
That match was played in idyllic surroundings of the Westmoor Club thanks to the Trojan work of club pro Wayne Davies in organising and coordinating. Photos by Danny (Irl Capt.)
The event began with a Pro-Am golf croquet match played on a sunny Wednesday evening, featuring Dave Bent and club owner Graham versus Danny and club member Luke. The club's two courts are situated in the site of a former baseball diamond which the main house's previous owner used to occasionally fly in major league teams in to practice on! The bleachers are still intact and provided an excellent gallery for a healthy sized crowd to watch the all-American pair of David and Graham come up with an exciting 7-5 victory. It was a tight game, with Danny and Luke fighting back from 5-1 down before eventually succumbing to Dave's relentless hitting!
The format was agreed as three rounds of best-of-three doubles and two round of best-of-three singles. Day 1 saw the first two round of doubles started in glorious sunshine, with Ireland racing in to an early lead with Johnston and Healy overcoming Soo and Davies in two games. Conditions were good with the courts playing at a fairly easy pace, but the more the sun shone the more the hills came out and the more interesting the courts became! The scores were soon levelled in the other match of the round with Fitzgerald and Newell succumbing to the powerful combination of Lamm and Bent, the latter recapturing some of the form he showed in his Irish Doubles Championship wins in this event. It was a close match though, with the Irish pair having a time turn to win the first game that ultimately wasn't converted. Round 2 began and the test swung away from Ireland as the 1+3 combo of Soo and Bent swept Johnston and Newell aside with two triples (one for each partner!). This left the second match in the round very tensely poised. Fitzgerald and Healy had lost the first game but were looking to claw back the second game after some error strewn play from both sides. Patsy stuck in 1-back which appeared to hand the crucial tie to the Americans and it was decided to peg down the crucial tie for the night as both teams retired for a cocktail cruise around the bay on the club yacht Belle!
The sunshine continued as the singles began on Friday with each player facing their opposite number and once again Ireland got off to a good start with Patsy defeating Rich Lamm in two with an excellent shooting display. Nathaniel looked to be in good shape against Wayne but conceded one error too many, allowing Wayne to get in to a rhythm and level the round. The heat was beginning to have an effect at this stage of the day, and it took a lot of courts-side iced tea and lemonade to keep the Irish effort from wilting. Danny had a good match with Jeff Soo: the first game was a scrap punctuated with uncharacteristic errors from both players, Jeff eventually prevailing after Danny failed a straight triple attempt by failing to jump over his peeled at penult. Danny then took advantage of a 4th turn error in game 2 to win 26tp before Jeff tidily won game 3. This left Evan against Dave Bent which was looking like a difficult match for Ireland with Dave in excellent form. Evan made a real match of it though, narrowly losing game 1 on time before taking game 2 with some controlled play and clever leaves on time. Game 3 was excellent and Evan got himself in the excellent position, coming to a rover peel to finish a triple. But tragedy struck for the Irish as he got hampered after penult and failed to roquet his reception ball. Dave then ver classily fined with a neat tp in the time turn to win.
It was decided to finish the doubles, left tantalisingly poised from day 1, that evening. This match had now become critical to the Irish effort after the singles, losing it would see the US gain a significant lead. Play resumed with Wayne taking a ball round to 3-back before Patsy continued his excellent shooting form to get in once again. After some interaction Patsy gained the opportunity to go round and Peg off Rich's ball leaving 2 and peg versus 3-back. After some initial twitches Nathaniel got going and produced two excellent 2-ball breaks to get a +1ot win. This kept Ireland in the hunt but they needed game 3 and it proved to be another close affair with many nerve hoop approaches and hoop strokes as well as more excellent shooting from Patsy. At the death Ireland had lost the innings and had one shot to stay alive, which Nathaniel duly hit. Having struggled all game he regained his composure and played an excellent turn, jawing himself in his hoop which proved enough for another +1ot win to keep Ireland's hopes alive.
Day 3 saw the round 3, the second round of singles, begin in misty conditions more representative of that part of the world than the glorious sunshine we had come to expect. This and some heavy showers of rain softened up the courts somewhat but the hoops remained consistent. Ireland needed to perform above par here to keep the match alive, the USA poised on 5 points to Ireland's 3 with the winning margin being 8. Nathaniel battled hard against and in from Dave Bent, his long hitting keeping him in the match, but ultimately falling short bringing the US to 6 points. Patsy fell swiftly to Jeff Soo who played and almost error free game and capitalising on some hoop errors and uncharacteristic missed shots from the Kells man. Ireland were now staring defeat in the face, and with only a draw left to play for. Danny faced Rich Lamm and things looked bleak after Rich took game 1. However Danny rallied and found some shooting form to win game 2 with a tp before also managing to take a scrappy game 3 to keep Ireland's slender hopes alive. Attention then turned to the match between Evan and Wayne on court 1. The match mirrored that of Nathaniel and Wayne from the previous day, Evan taking an early lead before allowing Wayne in to the game. Wayne took game 1 due to some good play after a missed roquet at 3-back and game 2 turned in to a very tight affair with Wayne taking ball around on time before pegging himself off to leave himself 1 point up and Evan with a shot in the time turn. Evan had a ball on peg and a ball for 4-back and took a shot with the peg ball at a peg-ball combo target which sadly missed giving Wayne a +1ot victory and securing the match for the USA. It was decided to start the last round of doubles early as the Irish team were flying out the following afternoon. Nathaniel and Evan took game 1 after a wobbly delayed TPO attempt by Evan, and in the other match Danny and Patsy looked to have the match sown up in game 2 after a completed delayed TPO from Danny yielded a 3-ball-break to win. Sadly an error in concentration led to a break down and Rich then played some excellent strokes on a heavy lawn to finish game 2 before both teams retired for dinner in the club.
The final day saw the partial wrapping up of the doubles, with Danny getting in early in game 3 of the high pair match allowing Patsy to eventually finish and take a point for Ireland. The other game saw David complete a lovely straight triple peel to level the match, and as there was a ferry to catch it was agreed to halve it, leaving a final score of USA 8.5 Ireland 5.5.
The peeling prize went to Jeff Soo with 4 tps, including an stp, follow closely by Dave Bent and Danny on 3 each (inc an stp and tpo respectively).
A huge amount of thanks must go to the Westmoor club and it's owners for their enormous generosity and hospitality before and during the event. The Irish team are incredibly grateful for all involved on organising the match and giving us the opportunity to visit such a wonderful part of the world. Wayne Davies and David Bent need particular thanks for their efforts in making the event happen and run as smoothly as it did. Thanks too to the whole American team for travelling great distances to play the match, and the Irish team for never giving up and battling to the end. Photos to follow, full results can be viewed here: http://www.croquetscores.com/2015/ac/usa-vs-ireland-invitational/united….