Mulliner wins European Golf Croquet Championship for the fourth time
11:55 01 June 2015
The European Golf Croquet Championship was played on some of the best lawns in the country over the last four days of May at Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club, writes Rob Weeks.
Thirty-two players from ten different countries competed for the prestigious title and shield, with the first two and a half days being devoted to contestants playing a ‘round robin’ series of matches in each of four blocks. At the end of this phase of the competition, there were few surprises, with all of the highly-seeded players going through to the knock-out stage of the tournament.
These last sixteen players then contested a place in the quarter final and the resulting eight players were from only three countries – England, Ireland and Sweden. Late on Saturday evening, following the quarter-finals, the last four remaining emerged as Stephen Mulliner, Rachel Rowe and Lionel Tibble from England and Lewis Palmer from Sweden. Palmer, born in England but becoming a Swedish national some seven years ago was the only wild card here since he had beaten Jonaton Andersson in a previous round – a player some eighty places above him in the world rankings.
The semi-finals did not produce any surprises with Mulliner, a three-times winner of this event beating Rowe in two games but only after both had produced an exhibition of precision long-range clearances. In the other match, Tibble was just too strong for Palmer, although Palmer upped his game considerably to almost take the match to a third and deciding game.
On a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon, with a strong north-westerly wind, the final produced some of the best golf croquet that the Club has seen in recent years. It was obvious that the players had completely differing styles; Mulliner was terrier-like, moving swiftly around the lawn with constantly aggressive play, as opposed to Tibble – much taller than Mulliner, almost strolling across the lawn and with a languid swing playing cautiously and often defensively. Mulliner was the clear favourite being ranked ninth in the world, whilst Tibble, although being an extremely difficult player to beat, was ranked much lower in thirty-sixth place.
The first game of the best-of-three final went according to the book with Mulliner just managing to gain a seven-six victory. Tibble then levelled the match with another game which went to the thirteenth hoop but not before Mulliner had amazed the large crowd with some seemingly-impossible clearances. It was obvious that there was very little to separate these two fine players but in the third and deciding game, Mulliner managed to get one hand on the trophy as he forged into a six-four lead, needing only one more hoop to win. Tibble, however, was having none of it and after a nail-biting, nerve-racking phase he somehow managed to claw back to six -all.
Play at the final hoop took almost twenty minutes, with both players missing difficult chances. Either player could have won, but in the end it was Mulliner who managed to regain his grip on the trophy by running the last hoop. He thanked all of the volunteers at Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club for their efforts in making the Championship a happy, exciting and enjoyable event.