Less than two years after picking up the sport, Kevin Beeson is a national pickleball champion.
The 20-year tennis pro at Hood River Sports Club is no newcomer to the act of hitting a ball back and forth over a net, but earning two medals at the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships has the 56-year-old excited.
Beeson won the Gold Medal in Men’s Senior singles (55 and up) and a silver medal in men’s doubles, with Gordy Young from Canada.
The tournament was Nov. 2-9 in Palm Springs, Calif., at Indian Wells Tennis Center, Palm Springs.
The major tennis venue was turned into 55 resurfaced pickleball courts, with no signs of any tennis courts, Beeson said.
Tennis meets pickleball
Tennis pro Kevin Beeson said that a year and a half into pickleball, “The two sports have carried over for me.
“My tennis game unchanged, and that’s how it is for most people. For me to stay competitive at them both takes a lot of practice. I don’t see a lot of difference (in my tennis game). I think they feed off each other.
“What I enjoy about pickleball is the social part of it, it’s a little more relaxed than tennis, they play music through the tournament, it feels a little more relaxed. The points are longer, and to compete at a high level, you have to be in shape. The game is a slow game with a lot of dinking until someone pops it up and then becomes an incredibly fast game.
“People can pick it up fast, and I picked it up quickly, but I spend a lot of time practicing. It’s accessible but not easy.”
A total of 2,500 players from all over the U.S. played, but there were 5,000 on the waiting list. Even though you qualify, there’s no guarantee you’ll get in.
Qualification comes with medaling at a regional tournament, under United States Pickleball Association.
He qualified in June by winning the Bend Regional Tournament.
“Competition was solid, especially the doubles, it was ridiculously solid,” he said.
Beeson has played in many other tournaments, but “this is by far the biggest.
“I wasn’t thinking about playing nationals until they moved it from Arizona to Palm Springs, to the tennis center. I thought, ‘I gotta check this out if they’re going to hold this at a tennis center. I gotta find out what this looks like.’
“Aug. 1, I had to get on the computer and try to get in and I was lucky enough to be on at the right time to get into men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles, which was pretty unusual,” Beeson said.
His mixed doubles partner was Marla McCown from Missoula, Mont., who he had competed against and connected with as teammates for Nationals.
“The event is overwhelming, not only from the best players in pickleball being there, but it goes from age 14 to the oldest player there was 85,” Beeson said. “It’s the fastest growing sport in America and it’s growing to the younger age, they’re starting to pick it up.”
The win at Nationals qualifies Beeson for next year’s event, also scheduled for Indian Wells in November. “It’s great because I won’t have to worry about being on the computer at 8 a.m. on registration day next year.
“You never know what the future holds, maybe I don’t qualify again in a regional tournament, but I qualify as a national champion.”
The tournament took place outdoors, and temperatures held in the 85-90 degree range. Surprisingly for Beeson: The heat worked to his benefit.
“I wasn’t the best player even in my division, but I think I dealt with the heat better,” he said. “Coming from Oregon. I wasn’t sure, going in. I was a little concerned, but I think psychologically if you tell yourself you enjoy the heat ,you mentally can stay in the match. My opponents seemed to struggled more with the heat, I thought.”
The conditions also created a physical dynamic that helped him.
“The heat makes the ball move faster, but the courts were all brand new, so they were slow courts, which I think helped me, because I could run down a lot of balls.”
He said the Margaritaville tournament had a Jimmy Buffett vibe, with live music, a bar with plenty of boat drinks, and attendees including tennis greats Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi taking in the pickleball.
He said, “The competition was solid, the great thing in all my matches, I played 30-some people from different parts of the country I have never met before, which was a really neat part of the experience.
“Probably the highlight was playing in the finals in the stadium court and having it streamed live on television,” to multiple online channels, including Pickleball channel and on YouTube, he said. “They let you come out on the stadium court for five minutes before the match and take pictures, do whatever you need to, call people and let them know you’re going to be streamed live.”
Players names are electronically projected on an introduction board prior to each game.
Beeson liked that on the medals stand, players got to hold the flag from their home states.