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Regulars will recall Ben Rothman, 25, professional croquet player. I wrote about him in the May 6 issue. I’d not heard of professional croquet and was delighted to learn there was one more sport to write about, especially since there is a UC San Diego alumnus in the pack. Rothman was set to start in the World Croquet Championship, a big-deal event bringing together 80 of the world’s best croquet players representing 25 countries.

Well, he played and came in second. I reached Rothman in Denver, offered congratulations, and then asked a supremely inelegant question, “People laugh when I tell them there’s a professional croquet tour. How many stops do you make? How long is the season?”

“It’s not an official tour,” Rothman says. “They have a bunch of invitational and open tournaments, occasional majors, regionals, and the national championship. You can do about 20 tournaments a year. Last year I dove into this, started out tentatively, and ended up going full bore and did 22 tournaments.”

All the pro-division croquet photos I’ve seen on the web show players in whites standing on immaculate greens with a big clubhouse in the background. “Are tournaments always played at country clubs?”

Rothman says, “The National [Croquet] Center [in West Palm Beach, Florida, host of the 2009 World Croquet Championship], that clubhouse is an oddity. It’s an amazingly large facility. They have 12 courts. I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest croquet facility in the world. Right now in Denver [Rocky Mountain International Open], we play in the middle of Washington Park, a public park. One court is used for lawn bowling and croquet. They have a small shed where they keep their equipment.”

Grim. “How much money can you make from tournament winnings?”

Rothman says, “The biggest purse tournament I saw last year was $6000. There’re usually four to six purse tournaments in the States, but most of the rest take entry fees, run the tournament with very low frills, then divide up the entry-fee money between first, second, and third.”

Double grim. “What was there about croquet that made you think, this is for me?”

“It started as a fun summer activity. I’d visit my uncle in Maine. He taught me to play. It’s not just a skill game. And it’s not just a thinking game. I liken it to a combination of golf, chess, and billiards. The court looks like a giant practice putting green. Imagine you’re putting but you get to choose where the opponent putts from. Sometimes you’re placing your putts, sometimes you’re trying to sink them. You can knock the opponent away. Just because he gets close to the hole, as long as it’s not in, you can smack his ball away. It gets complex when you consider hitting balls and going through wickets. You have to understand the chess-strategy component and think four or five moves ahead of what you want to do, what your opponent’s gonna want to do, and how to make it difficult for him.

“At the advanced level it turns into billiards. In an eight-ball game, if somebody makes one shot they can usually run the table. As soon as they make that one shot, as soon as they’re in control, you might as well sit down and wait. And that’s what advanced croquet comes to at the highest level: if they get in control, you just have to sit down and watch them run around for awhile.”

“Do you know where you want to go with this or are you making it up as you go along?”

Rothman says, “The thing that would probably work is being a local pro: run events, teach the club members, and run clinics for visiting members.”

“I’d guess there’re only 20 of those jobs in the country.”

“I wish,” Rothman says. “Right now I think there are probably three full-time jobs and four people who do it seasonally.”

Triple grim. “Where did you play in San Diego?”

“The best course I found was the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Right as you walk into their lodge, if you look straight through the back windows they have this beautiful little nine-wicket croquet court that they wouldn’t let me play on.”

“Because you were a college kid?”

“Yeah. I tried to tell them that I was actually pretty good at the game and would love to give lessons for their guests if they would just let me come by and play because there were no other courts in the area. They weren’t having any.”

“When was this?”

“Sophomore year, 2004.”

“You should stop by the next time you’re in San Diego.”

Rothman laughs, “I’m number ten in the world...can I play on your court?”

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