Tommy Collingwood (below, blue helmet) has begun to make a name for himself. At 22, the four-goal handicapper is headed into the final tournament of just his second 20-goal season at International Polo Club Palm Beach. After turning pro at 15, his steady climb from low-goal to medium-goal and now high-goal has truly been a family affair. Like most polo players, Collingwood comes from a horse family. “My father trains polo horses, and my mom used to jump,” he says. “My father was always around young polo horses training, so I just kind of got into it.”
|Tommy Collingwood defending against Vills de Lago/Casablanca's Iñaki Laprida in the Herbie Pennell Cup.|
Born in Argentina, polo’s epicenter, Collingwood and his family came to the United States following the horses, eventually landing in Wellington, where Tommy turned pro. “When we moved down here to Florida, my parents took a huge risk to see if I could become something. Now it’s starting to pay off,” says Collingwood, whose family still plays an integral part in his career. “There is a lot of support behind me.”
After a trip to China this summer, where he represented the United States in the Nation’s Cup, and two months in Argentina for the Argentine Open Polo Championship, Collingwood joined team Palm Beach Illustrated along with eight-goaler Magoo Laprida, fellow American two-goal Jared Zenni and six-goal handicap Facundo Obregon—a childhood friend—to form the youngest team at IPC. Together, they have charged through the Herbie Pennell and Joe Barry Cup tournaments, with their eyes on the Ylvisaker Cup, set to begin January 30. Taking up the No. 4 position at back, Collingwood has proved himself as a stolid defenseman, owning the backfield while charging hard when a gap presents itself and taking it to the goal.
We caught up with Collingwood fieldside to get some insight into what it takes to make a high-level, high-goal polo player.
Photos by Alex Pacheco
PBI: How’s the team chemistry so far?
We all get along really well. It’s a good atmosphere on the field; no one gets mad at each other, no one puts anyone down. It’s just a really good energy, which gives you confidence to play well.
And it’s awesome to play with one of my best friends. I have known Facundo since the eighth grade. There are a lot of players in high-goal that never get to do that, so to play with a really good buddy is pretty special.
What’s your goal for Ylvisaker?
To play well as a team but to win. We should win, if we do things right. Everyone’s horses are holding up, so as long as we have a good team strategy, keep our head together, stay disciplined and study each team, we should do well. But there are a lot of teams , so we need to take it game by game.
Do you have any personal goals for this season?
I want to play the best polo I can, beyond what my handicap is rated, and just try to win—and, obviously, have a great time with the team, which we are because we all get along well.
|Tommy Collingwood defending against Carlucho Arellano of El Caburé in the Joe Barry Memorial.|
What should a spectator new to the sport look for while watching a match?
Just follow the ball. You may not completely understand why the guy might be hitting the ball to the left when no one is there, so it takes some time to get it, but watch the players and the horses—the way they react and the way they communicate. If you pay attention, they’re communicating all the time. The game is all strategy, but all really quick strategy. You’re constantly trying to set up that next move.
What do you look for in a polo pony?
Horses control about 75-80 percent of the way you play, so they are a huge key of the game. Everyone is looking for the same [type of] horse, which is well-rounded, has a super quiet temperament, but when you ask them to go, it goes. When you ask it to stop, it will. [It] has a very light mouth, [is] very agile and quick, and rough on contact. That’s what we’re all looking for, but they’re hard to find and they’re really expensive.
Every horse has a mind of its own, so there are good and bad [ones]. But at this level, these are pretty much top horses, like driving a Ferrari. They stop, turn and run just as fast.
How has the game grown since you’ve been a part of it?
I think the sport has grown a lot. Before I went to Argentina this year, I went to play the Nation’s Cup in China. I never thought that would happen. It’s getting pretty popular all around the world, but here in Florida, during season, it's huge. With polo, show jumping and dressage, this is the place to be for those four months. There is polo in every state; it's just at a whole different level down here. This is where the best polo is played in the United States.