Edmund Fordyce was a predator in the jungle of golf croquet last year but this year he has become a prey, even though he's the defending open singles champion.
"I believe I can go on to win it but, obviously, I know there are some tough opponents coming up," said Fordyce after making the cut for the playoffs yesterday in Hawke's Bay. At that stage he was not sure who else was going to progress to the last eight today.
Now that has been decided, the 17-year-old from Methven, near Ashburton, joins Josh Freeth, 21, of Auckland, Felix Webby, 18, of New Plymouth, Duncan Dixon, of Christchurch, and George Coulter, of Whakatane, Jace Hobbs, of Nelson, Chris Spittal, of Methven, and Jason Hodgett, of Timaru, for the quarter-finals when play resumes at the Te Mata (Havelock North) and Marewa (Napier) croquet club lawns today.
Fordyce has found the campaign to retain his crown more challenging than beating Freeth by the skin of his teeth in Nelson last year.
"People are trying to beat me but you just have to push through it."
The Mt Hutt College year 13 pupil this year is adopting a que sera sera stance, regardless of whether he prevails or not.
"I'm happy as long as I play. If I play well and lose then, obviously, I didn't play well enough so it doesn't upset me that much," he said yesterday after beating Lynette Grant, of Napier, 7-3, 7-0 and Lachy Hughes, of Whanganui, 7-6, 7-6.
Fordyce was mindful that a swag of young guns, from teenagers to those in their 20s, were eager to knock him off his perch.
"They are all older than me and most of them have been playing it longer than me but, I guess, I just got lucky winning it last year."
But his skills are undeniable after he and Coulter combined to clinch the open doubles crown against Hobbs and the Bay's ex-world doubles champion Tony Stephens to the tune of 7-6, 7-4 on Tuesday.
Fordyce finds the balmy weather here different from his South Island town but doesn't let it affect his game.
The lawns are much quicker because they have been cut lower but, like others, he's adapting to it with a bit more control in his ball striking.
His forte is "roqueting" - driving the ball to clear other balls near the hoop - but every so often has to remind himself that it can be self-destructive if you clear your own balls.
Fordyce only started playing golf croquet, an abbreviated and faster-paced version of the traditional association croquet, five years ago with his father, Stephen, in the backyard at home.
Unable to play contact sport growing up because of a heart condition, he gravitated towards golf croquet. It wasn't easy to master initially but it was ideally suited to his level of exertion.
"I have congenital heart disease and I use a pacemaker so without that I'd probably die," said the teenager who couldn't do any endurance sports at school.
The heart condition was diagnosed shortly after his birth.
"I didn't fully understand the fine details of it but I knew what it was growing up."
Fordyce quickly learned he couldn't keep up with classmates in endurance events but it didn't bother him because he focused on what he was doing.
Stephen, a retired secondary school principal, often travels to support his son but because the pair will be competing at the association croquet nationals in Christchurch in a fortnight he decided not to travel here.
Instead Fordyce's mother, Carolyn, and maternal grandmother, Yvonne Fraser, are cheering him on.
"Mostly they look after me between games and, at the end of the day, making sure there's very little for me to do."
Fordyce is indebted to seasoned players Greg Bryant, of Westport, and Chris Clarke, of Christchurch, for their tutelage.
He has sparked interest in the code in his school. Spittal and Kaleb Small, who lost to Coulter yesterday, are schoolmates.
Publicity officer Colleen Stephens said the singles final would be played tomorrow after the dust settled from the quarterfinals and semifinals today, whittled down from a field of 42 entries from around New Zealand.