Here’s Ben Rothman, 25, a graduate of UC San Diego in psychology, a waiter, a construction worker, and currently ranked number 2 in the USA and 29th in the world. Two weeks back Rothman won the national singles and doubles tournament, beating a multiyear champion.
Rothman is the new star on the professional croquet tour. Starting Saturday and going through May 17, he can be found at the World Croquet Championship, West Palm Beach, Florida. Eighty of the world’s best, representing 25 countries, will be crossing mallets. This sporting gala is brought to you by the U.S. Croquet Association (USCA) and World Croquet Federation (WCF).
Last year was Rothman’s breakout year. He won the North American Open and took home $3000. Won the Peachwood Classic, took home $900. Came in second in the Rocky Mountain International Open, took home $600.
All right, readers, let’s take a break and walk down to the neighborhood bar, pass the hat, and get up a decent winner’s purse for next week.
Professional croquet in America has no sponsors, no newspaper coverage, no ESPN, and, especially, no money. On the other hand, people who play serious croquet are playing in the domain of the rich and can expect a little shake. Croquet tournaments are usually hosted by the nation’s swankiest country clubs.
The year was 1977. Five eastern croquet clubs formed the United States Croquet Association, championing a new version of the sport called American Rules Croquet. The rest of the world plays Association Croquet.
Let’s hold up here. This is going along like a normal column, and I’ve been reading up on Rothman like I do for a normal column…everything normal until I came upon an insanely long interview by the founding editor of CroquetWorld Online Magazine, Bob Alman. The interview was conducted in November 2008. It’s the strangest and best athlete’s interview I can recall reading. Follows is a tiny portion that I’ve edited to fit in here.
Bob Alman: …which is the most fun: American or Association tournaments?
Ben Rothman: I enjoy the Association tournaments more because you’re playing at a high level, and the interaction is such that the only way of getting in the game is hitting in…whereas in a lot of American Rules games, you’re going to be waiting for some kind of breakdown of the opponent.... You begin to root for them failing at certain times...and that’s what I want to avoid….
Bob: Let’s talk more about impulse and inspiration in the middle of a game. I had thought that your [tournament] 25-foot hoop shot might be that. Odds [of making the shot are] off, but you felt you should do it anyway.
Ben: Yes, there are times when the shot you’re going to hit is the shot to make, even when it’s a riskier shot….
Bob: …you will go with the flow sometimes, when the percentages don’t necessarily agree…? Even though you’re not a Taoist…
Ben: But I think I AM a Taoist, following the way…
Bob: You’re kidding. You call yourself a Taoist?
Ben: I AM a Taoist.
Bob: Well, it’s not likely that a self-proclaimed Taoist like you would also be an Objectivist — it seems contradictory. So what other labels WOULD you apply to yourself? [long pause] Maybe you don’t apply any. Because the labels are confining, self-limiting…
Ben: And self-fulfilling sometimes.
Bob: Are you any good at a REAL sport?
Ben: I’ve played competitive tennis in high school pretty well. I’ve played competitive Frisbee in college.
Bob: I can talk to you about Frisbee. I didn’t compete, but I loved my Frisbee. I was there when it was first invented, in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, before you were born, at the same time when everyone remotely hip was taking really GREAT drugs to open the doors of perception. One of those doors, for me, happened to be with the Frisbee, on a Big Sur beach, on the mushroom, psilocybin, throwing the Frisbee far out over the waves, in a variable wind, and having it boomerang right back to my hand, every time. Amazing. I’ll never forget it, the wonder of it, the miracle of it.... I learned that I knew things that I couldn’t possibly know or didn’t know that I knew.
Ben: The all-knowing subconscious. I’m SURE my subconscious knows things that I don’t know I know. It’s me, but a “me” I can’t readily access. My method would be simply TRUSTING in the subconscious, on the croquet court, all the time. Allowing that I know things that I don’t know and trusting that I know things that I don’t know.