Following the American high-goal season, focus shifts across the pond to England from roughly May through September, uniting many of the world’s best players on well-known historic fields in prestigious competition. Several Americans have taken residence in England or make the journey in hopes of improving and expanding their opportunities leading up to the Argentine season.
Among the Americans competing this year, the USPA spoke with Jack Whitman*, Mackenzie Weisz* and Dillon Bacon to shed light on their shared desire to improve and gain experience in the sport through the English high-goal season.
TEAM USPA’S JACK WHITMAN – THE RISING STAR PERSPECTIVE
Jack Whitman competing for Marchfield/Tahanto in the Coworth Park Challenge Trophy. ©Marcos Cerderia
Finding his way into the spotlight after scoring the winning goal for Park Place in the 2021 C.V. Whitney Cup, 18-year-old Jack Whitman traveled to the U.K. to gain visibility, hone his skills and learn from some of the sport’s top professionals. With his horses back in the states, Jack practiced and played horses from Park Place over the course of the English season in several medium-goal tournaments with a variety of teams. “I am extremely fortunate to be very good friends with the Borodin family, who are the patrons of Park Place. They allowed me to come [to England], practice, train and play their horses. That was my goal, to take some time and really just hone my skills and improve myself by playing practices with Facundo Pieres, Francisco Elizalde, Juan Britos and Hilario Ulloa. All these guys are here playing with Park Place, so it’s been quite amazing. I’m very fortunate for that.”
Finding footing in England can be difficult for American players, as they often need to establish themselves in order to find opportunities. But the primary way to get a handicap in England is by playing and gaining exposure. “When you first go to England, you definitely have to reach out to a lot of people. They don’t know you. Sometimes you have to say, ‘oh, I played with this person before, so if you need a reference, you can call them.’ It’s very hard if you get a call from someone that you’ve never seen play, to then put them on a team to win. I think the same goes in Florida, but I think once you’re here and if you have horses to be able to play and people have seen you play once or twice, it’s easier and then you’ll get calls. But at the beginning, it’s definitely a lot of networking and you have to know the people to call.”
Playing for Tempest, Whitman reaches for an airborne ball in the 10-goal Culden Faw Challenge. ©Marcos Cerderia
Always motivated to do everything in his power to create opportunities for himself, Jack is no stranger to connecting and networking to help further his polo career. “When I was zero goals, I called every single team that had a zero-goal sponsor, and said, ‘I’ll come try out and be a substitute for you guys.’ That was how I got the job playing with Park Place in 2021. I gave Hilario a call during the summer, and I said, ‘I’ll come to Argentina. I’ll do whatever you want if you let me be the substitute.’ So, I ended up going to Argentina with them and then the rest is history. Obviously, you’re nervous to call people and call the managers, but once you’ve done it a couple times, it’s not that hard.”
“Those eight people that never responded, it’s worth it. All you need is that one yes. That’s all you have to go for.” – Jack Whitman
Jack also notes the importance of perseverance, even in the face of adversity when it comes to finding teams and making opportunities for yourself. “The worst-case scenario is they say no, but then they know who you are. I called like nine teams [in Florida]. Every single one said no, or I didn’t even get a response except for Hilario [Ulloa]. But I’m very fortunate where I am now. I have a great relationship with [Hilario] and his brother Toli [Ulloa], they helped me so much in Argentina. So those eight people that never responded, it’s worth it. All you need is that one yes. That’s all you have to go for.”
Still balancing polo with his education, Jack has worked diligently to create equilibrium in his life. “I have to do a couple late nights every week just to help get it all done, but I’m very fortunate that [school] is very helpful with my schedule.” Having been homeschooled since he was 13, Jack has a lot of experience with working on his own schedule, so he’s grown quite adept at managing his time and ensuring that he meets deadlines.
Now back in Wellington, Florida, Whitman has plans to travel to Argentina in October for training. ©Helen Cruden
Unlike most other college students, Jack’s days consist of both schoolwork and barn work, along with factoring in time for his other hobbies. “In a typical day, I wake up in the morning, go to the barn and make sure the horses are all doing well, play practice at 10:00am, and then in the afternoons, maybe I’ll have one or two extra to ride or stick and ball. If not, that’s normally when I’ll go fishing or go play some tennis or play a round of golf. And then normally at night I come home, relax, have dinner with family and my girlfriend as well. Right before I go to bed, I’ll do an hour of school. On game days, it’s a bit more serious. I wake up, make sure I have a good breakfast and just visualize what I want to do in the game, how I want to play and then go to the game focused and be there with the team.”
With the English season wrapping up, Jack is proud of the progress he’s made in his time there. “I’ve become way more confident with the ball and I’ve definitely become more confident in speed, which I think is super important. Especially if I want to be a No. 3 player on a high-goal team one day, you have to be comfortable on the ball and at speed.”
Now back in Wellington, Florida, Jack looks forward to playing in some fall polo there and plans to travel to Argentina in October to train with Hilario Ulloa and Toli Ulloa.
TEAM USPA’S MACKENZIE WEISZ – THE PRO PERSPECTIVE
King Powers’ Mackenzie Weisz. ©Art of Polo
Mackenzie Weisz experienced the pinnacle of success in the 2022 Gauntlet of Polo with Pilot, leaving Wellington, Florida, with both the USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship titles under his belt. Deciding to then venture to England for his second consecutive U.K. high-goal season, Mackenzie’s goals in making the trip were largely centered around improving, paving his path to a 10-goal handicap and gaining visibility as a high-goal player. “I feel like it’s important to make it out to England so that you make connections and people see you over there,” he shared. He spent the season playing with King Power in the Justerini & Brooks Prince of Wales Trophy, Cartier Queen’s Cup and the Cowdray Gold Cup, and then joined Monterosso for the Talacrest Prince of Wales’ Championship Cup.
Getting his first opportunity to play in England with Monterosso in 2021, Mackenzie noted the effort and time he had to invest in order to get recognized. “Last year, I was playing for Monterosso with Pelon Stirling, Cubi Toccalino and Alessandro Bazzoni, who is a team owner. It started in 2020 when I went to be a pilot for Pelon and work for him to give him a hand over here in England. We weren’t even thinking about 2021 back when I was working for him. So, it all kind of just happened. I was working for him, and I got invited to play in a game or two. And from there I played a couple other tournaments, and I got my handicap. The year after, they called me and they asked, ‘do you want to come and play?’” Having played just two seasons in England, Mackenzie already holds a 4-goal handicap.
Mackenzie Weisz competing for King Power in the 2022 Cartier Queen’s Cup. ©Art of Polo
Also noting how far in advance his team for this year began forming, Mackenzie shared, “It all started last year. At the end of the season when I finished playing for Monterosso, I got a call from King Power’s manager, Negro Di Paola, and he approached me, and he asked if I wanted to play for them in 2022.”
Eager to perform well this year, Mackenzie and his team made it to the subsidiary final in both the Cartier Queen’s Cup and the Talacrest Prince of Wales Cup. In the Queen’s Cup, his impressive performance earned him the Most Valuable Player award, a recognition he was not expecting, yet was extremely proud to receive.
“Traveling around and doing what you love is priceless. I feel like we have to enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun.” – Mackenzie Weisz
Also while in England, Mackenzie received thrilling news that he was offered a spot on Team USPA. “I applied when I was in Florida and when I was here the news came out that I was accepted. So, I’m super happy and looking forward to being a part of Team USPA… I want Team USPA to help me get to 10 goals and be the best player that I can be. I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me [to] reach my goals.”
King Powers’ Mackenzie Weisz leans into the bump with Park Place’s Hilario Ulloa in the 2022 Cartier Queen’s Cup. ©Art of Polo
Grateful for all of the opportunities he’s had, one of the aspects of polo he appreciates most is being able to play and travel. “Traveling around and doing what you love is priceless. I feel like we have to enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun.” With the English season now over, Mackenzie is in Argentina competing in the Copa Camara de Diputados with Juancho Uribe, Bauti Begeuri and Felipe Martinez Ferrario. He has horses there which will be stabled at Ellerstina.
As he continues his journey to 10 goals, Mackenzie has a well-organized plan of attack. “To get to 10-goals, you need horses, which is the most important part of the sport and you need to be playing polo throughout the entire year. That means playing in the states, in Argentina and in England. And you have to have horses all over. With the help of Team USPA, I can do that and get better organized and improve as a player.”
Mackenzie has dedicated so much to bettering himself in the sport and has relied on the advice of others to help him reach his goals. “You learn many things playing with teammates that have a higher handicap than you. You have to soak it all in and just learn from them. Even playing with people that are better than you, it pushes you to improve. You have to soak everything up, everything up that you can. The main thing [I’ve learned] would be to play with confidence and [tackle] anything that you do with confidence.”
DILLON BACON – THE YOUNG TEAM OWNER PERSPECTIVE
Great Oaks LL’s team owner Dillon Bacon. ©Alice Gipps
Holding passports in both England and America, Dillon Bacon grew up moving between the two countries, matriculating in the U.K. and playing in the Schools & Universities Polo Association (SUPA) while spending most summers in the states. “Having grown up in the U.K. and seeing high goal played here, I used to go to matches with my father to see the semifinals and finals. I always dreamed of one day playing, and winning was too far-fetched of a dream to have. It was outside the realm of possibilities that I considered. I think it’s just an honor to be able to compete at that level. I always dreamed of doing that.” Invigorated by winning his first high-goal tournament in the Hamptons, New York, when he was 18, Dillon knew that if he invested enough time, energy and effort, he could succeed in high goal like so many of the professionals he idolized.
With such a fruitful history in the sport and an impressive 2-goal handicap, Dillon is a team owner well-equipped to make meaningful plays on the field. In fact, his experience and extensive knowledge of the sport often gives him and his team the upper hand, as he is a key contributor on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. As team owner of Great Oaks LL, Dillon has been able to achieve many of his high-goal dreams, triumphing in the Cartier Queen’s Cup in both 2020 and now again in 2022.
2022 Cartier Queen’s Cup Champions: Great Oaks LL – James Beim, Dillon Bacon, Juan Martin Nero, Cruz Heguy. ©Images of Polo
In 2020, Dillon played with the Castagnola brothers, entering the 22-goal Cartier Queen’s Cup as favorites to win. But with his 2022 Great Oaks team including new members, Dillon’s team was counting on him to also be a key performer. “I would say this year was very competitive with teams. No team was singled out as the likely winners, including us. If you ask people here, there were probably 10 teams that could have won the tournament.” He continued, “There’s been more pressure on me, which I’ve accepted, and I’ve worked on trying to do more scoring, so it’s a new challenge. It’s always a new challenge because often good players will have won when they were younger and are lower handicapped. And then as they get higher handicapped, it’s a new challenge [for them] to lead the team. Not that my handicap has changed, but my teammates’ have changed. So, you need to figure out how best to work together, so that’s why there’s more pressure on me to do more with the ball this season. But it’s an amazing challenge because it pushes you to really focus and improve.”
Rising to the occasion both in the saddle and on the sidelines, Dillon feels most proud of his ability to triumph as a team owner. “It is very special because I picked the players to play with [and] spent the last three years building my organization with horses. So, it’s a testament to [the] time and effort I’ve put into it.”
“I’m really inspired to create one of the leading polo organizations. [It] all really comes down to horses. In the U.S. and the U.K., you can see who the top organizations are.” – Dillon Bacon
A lengthy process, preparations for the English high-goal season typically begin nearly a year ahead of time. “Plans start actually happening before the season ends. People want clarity.” Recalling his journey to creating the 2022 Great Oaks LL team, Dillon continued, “Barto [Castagnola], who I’d played the last two seasons with, had signed a contract with UAE. So [he] was no longer an option because I decided too late. I still endeavor[ed] forward anyways, and I wanted to create another balanced team. I believed a lot in Cruz [Heguy], who I’d played with that  season and [in] his ability as a player to improve. I had a lot of faith in him, so he was the person I really built a team around. Which is kind of crazy because he’s an 18-year-old, five-goal kid, but he’s a really nice guy and really talented. I’d grown up watching [James] Beim playing as a fantastic No. 1, which is what our team needed to balance everything out. Someone who’d score goals. [Juan Martin] Nero’s a legend and a really nice guy. I played a lot of practices with him and competed against him in the tournament in Palm Beach that year that the Ganzi’s put on. So I thought it would be fun to play together, but it was a bit of a gamble to get Nero to play on our team because Cruz is a No. 4 and Nero typically plays as a No. 4 and he plays the U.S. Open [Polo Championship] in that position. So [for] our team, he got to play No. 3. It was a bit of a risk, but happily, the risk paid off. The team all came together in August of last year .”
Great Oaks LL’s Dillon Bacon competing in the 2022 Cartier Queen’s Cup. ©Alice Gipps
As for the future, Dillon aspires to triumph in the Cowdray Gold Cup and any and all other high-goal tournaments that he can. But more than that, Dillon wants to create and maintain a leading polo organization with Great Oaks LL. “I’m really inspired to create one of the leading polo organizations. [It] all really comes down to horses. In the U.S. and the U.K., you can see who the top organizations are. In the U.S., it’s Park Place, Pilot, Scone and the Ganzis. In the U.K., it’s King Power, Park Place, Scone, Dubai and UAE. I’ve got a long career in polo and I definitely want to be one of the leading organizations in the U.K. for the years to come. So I think with that, results will hopefully continue to happen. That’s the recipe for hopefully winning the Gold Cup and maybe more Queen’s Cups, if we’re lucky.”
All three players emerging from the English season with more experience and confidence under their belts, Whitman, Weisz and Bacon are prepared for their next polo endeavor, wherever it may be. Despite their differences in age and handicap, they were all able to gain something meaningful from their time in England, highlighting the ever-evolving nature and willingness to learn required of any one person’s career in the sport.
*Jack Whitman and Mackenzie Weisz are Active Team USPA Members. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.