Story by Toby Wayman, courtesy of Click Polo USA.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk polo with my personal hero of the game, my father Tommy Wayman. First, a little background on my father. Tommy was born in Oklahoma to a horseman father in 1948. He credits my grandfather, Billy Wayman, with making him the horseman and polo player he was destined to become. Tommy was the first American polo player to achieve a 10-goal handicap in 25 years since the famed American World War II veteran, and legend of the game Cecil Smith. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many of Tommy’s teammates, and rivals, and they all had the same thing to say about him as a player. They all said he was lightning fast, had incredible hand-eye coordination, and an innate ability to read the game at least three or four plays ahead of the play at all times. Above all else, they mainly remembered how incredibly well-mounted he was every time he went to the field. The caliber of horses he played and produced were virtually unsurpassed by anyone of his generation.
Q: What has polo meant to you in life?
A: “Well, I dedicated my whole life to the game. [in my mind] the whole object of the game was to get better [as a player] through horses. They’re the single most important part of the game, because if you can’t get to the ball, you can’t do anything with it, and in turn you can’t become the best. If I had my choice between someone saying he was a great polo player or he was a great horseman, I like the horseman part the best because without the horses I would never have made 10-goals.”
Q: If you had to choose, which were the most important tournaments you won throughout your career?
A: “I’d have to say the U.S. Open, the English Gold Cup, and being invited to play in the Argentine Open. Even though I never won the Argentine Open, it was still one of the greatest honors of my life to have the opportunity to play in it.”
Q: Do you know exactly how many tournaments you won throughout your career?
A (With a laugh) “No, no I couldn’t tell you how many tournaments I won throughout my career. I can tell you the best year I ever had I only lost two games that entire year. We started off the year in Boca Raton where I lost my first game, and then ended up winning the Sunshine League there and then to Spain where we won every game there, a total of five tournaments. Then we went to England and won the Gold Cup. Then we came back to the States and I won the 20-goal and the U.S. Open. From there I went to Dallas, Texas, and won the national 14-goal, and then finished up the year by winning the Camacho Cup in Juarez, Mexico, where I lost the middle game of the tournament. That was the best year I ever had.”
Q: What are the differences between professional polo in your day and now?
A: “Obviously everybody thinks their day is the best. But I would have to say the main difference between my day and now is that we had to make our own horses ourselves. Nowadays, the professionals buy them of have guys make the horses for them. We had to ride green horses and the pros today don’t have to ride the green horses. For that reason, I think our generation were the better horseman.”
Q: How do you see polo in terms of organization in today’s game?
A: “I’d have to say there is a lot of good horses out there in today’s game. In my day our good horses were every bit as good as these horses are today, there’s just more of them. I’d also have to say there’s a lot more money in the game today as opposed to my day. It’s a different game today. It’s a different mindset. There are a lot of people out there that are willing to pay a lot of money for horses. I’ll tell you this, I have no idea how much money the top top horses are selling for these days, and I really don’t care, but I can guarantee you they’re worth every penny.”
Q: And final question, do you have any regrets from your career as a professional polo player?
A: “Yes, yes I do. A lot of times I was away from my family and hated it! I tried to take you guys with me everywhere I went but a lot of times it didn’t work out that way. I just hated being away from my family. But you know when someone called me up and wanted me to come play in San Diego and you kids were in school, y’all would come out and stay with me on weekends but the rest of the time I was by myself. It got quite lonely. So to answer your question I’d say the biggest regret of my career was missing all that time with my family. But that’s the sacrifice I chose to make when I dedicated my life to this game. Right or wrong, that’s the sacrifice I chose to make for all of us, your mother and you two kids, as well.”
I was lucky enough to grow up listening to my father’s stories from his career, his advice on playing, and his never-ending knowledge on horsemanship. I’m not the only one who soaked up his wisdom though. Many in the sport have learned from him, on and off the field, both during and after his career. He continues to be a respected authority in the game although, being a humble man, he would deny it. The fact remains that as polo’s popularity continues to grow, the legendary players like Tommy Wayman have helped to shape the game into what it has become today.