Tyson McGuffin: US Open Pickleball Champion

Photo of Tyson McGuffin after winning a point at US Open Pickleball Tournament in Naples, Florida 2019. | Courtesy of Tyson McGuffin

What is pickleball?  Pickleball is a mix between tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It was created by Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and William Bell in the summer of 1965 for their kids. They set up a net to play badminton but only had a whiffle ball to use. The ball was too big for a badminton racquet, so they made wooden paddles. The length of the court is 22 feet on each side of the net and the width is 20 ft. After experimenting with their new game, they decided it would be best to lower the net and allow the ball to bounce so players could drive the ball anywhere on the court.  Another key rule that they added was the non-volley zone, also known as “the kitchen.” The non-volley zone is the 7×20 foot area on both sides of the net. This zone keeps players from running up close to the net and slamming it down out of the air. Because of the non-volley zone, many players have structured the game around “dinking.” Dinking is where you constantly hit the ball in the non-volley zone or “kitchen,” so that the opponent can’t get a chance to hit the ball out of the air as a volley.  The way the scoring works is that you can only win a point during your serve. Once the player who serves wins a point, that person earns 1 point. You play 2 out of 3 games to 11 points, and must win by 2 points. So, if the score is 11-10 the person with 11 would need to win one more point to win the game.1 After they came up with the rules for the game, it started off as a family game and later became international for everyone. One of the reasons pickleball is the world’s fastest growing sport is because the game is challenging yet easy to learn, and it can be played by all ages. It has been fifty-five years since pickleball first started, which means that it is still fairly new to the sports world.2

Photo of Tyson McGuffin hitting a dink volley at the USA National Pickleball Championships in Indian Wells, California 2019. | Courtesy of USApickleball

After a player known as Tyson McGuffin decided to pick up the sport in 2015, pickleball has grown exponentially. Tyson McGuffin is thirty years old and was born in the state of Washington where he grew up as a wrestler, and around age fourteen began playing tennis. He won two tennis state championships and went to state multiple times for wrestling in high school. McGuffin decided to stick to playing tennis and competed at a junior college. He later became a tennis coach in Yakima, Washington. McGuffin wasn’t introduced to pickleball until 2015 when one of his students  he gave tennis lessons to asked him to try out pickleball. He went to the YMCA later that week to try out the new sport that his student was so ecstatic about and fell in love with it instantly. After Tyson McGuffin played pickleball for a month, he decided to play in his first tournament and ended up winning it.  His career in pickleball only kept growing from that point on. He decided to put down the tennis racquet and he focused all of his time and energy into the sport of pickleball. With more wins in more tournaments, he quickly became a well-known player in the pickleball community,  earning his way up to the number 1 ranked player in the world. He gained sponsorships with many companies, his biggest being with Selkirk Sports, a producer in pickleball paddles. In 2019, Tyson McGuffin fell in his world ranking to number 2 after losing numerous times to Ben Johns, a twenty-year-old professional player who is also fairly new to the sport. McGuffin played in many tournaments and earned medal after medal in preparation for one of the biggest pickleball tournaments in the world, the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida. He was able to achieve victory in 2018 during this tournament year, beating Ben Johns, but Tyson knows it will be tough to beat him after losing to him in previous tournaments at the beginning of the 2019 pickleball season. He looked to defend his title from the 2018 Minto US Open Pickleball Championships by beating the new star of pickleball, Ben Johns.3

Photo of Tyson McGuffin reaching to hit the ball out of the air at US Open in Naples, Florida. | Courtesy of Selkirk Sports

On April 28, 2019 the start of the tournament in Naples, Florida began. McGuffin was expected to get to the finals because of his incredible talents as a pickleball professional, and being world ranked number 2 for pickleball. Tyson flew by each round with ease, controlling every match with his strategic and athletic abilities. He was able to make it to the Finals with little struggle from his opponents. McGuffin was not the only player to make it to the Finals easily; Ben Johns, one of his biggest rivals, world ranked number 1 player, made it to the championship match without any difficulty at all. You can think of them as the Nadal and Federer of pickleball. They are always at the top, competing against one another for the chance to take home the gold. They also strive to either keep the world rank number 1 spot or earn the spot by not losing. Tyson McGuffin warms up before the championships with a lot of energy, ready to play. Ben Johns on the other hand is more relaxed and plays more of a strategic game rather than using up most of his energy. Early afternoon on May 3, which was a sunny day, the match begins between the two best players in the world for pickleball. The match starts off strong with Tyson McGuffin able to take the first point of the first game with an aggressive put away. Throughout the first game McGuffin took command of the points with his intense energy and athleticism that he used during each point. Towards the end of the game, you could tell that Tyson McGuffin was already starting to slow down and get tired after using up so much of his energy at the beginning of the match. McGuffin was still able to win the first game 11-5 because he took a controlling lead early in the game. Ben Johns, during the whole first game, stayed relaxed and conserved his energy. At the start of the second game, you can tell McGuffin came to this tournament to win. Even after using a lot of energy during the first game, Tyson still comes out strong and takes a commanding 7-0 lead. He only needs 4 more points to defend the title and become the World rank number 1 player again. Ben Johns knows what is at stake during the match and battles back to decrease Tyson’s lead to 10-7. The final point is a long dink rally between the two players until Ben Johns misses his last shot at coming back to win. Tyson McGuffin is ecstatic after winning the match that he trained so hard for. He becomes emotional from joy and begins to cry knowing what he has accomplished as a pickleball professional. In the after-match interview, McGuffin says he “trusts his training and working hard on the court all the time.”  Tyson McGuffin was able to stay composed and keep his energy level high to knock Ben Johns off as the number 1 world ranked player.4

To this day, Tyson McGuffin still travels around playing tournaments and promoting the sport of pickleball to all ages. Once the pandemic of COVID-19 hit, it was hard on all the pickleball professionals, with so many tournaments getting canceled and not being able to earn prize money from tournaments; but McGuffin always found a way to play the sport he loves. He also coaches pickleball camps across the United States for all ages and skill levels so he can share his love of the game to others. Tyson McGuffin will leave a tremendous legacy on the sport of pickleball. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the world and I believe Tyson McGuffin will be one of the main professionals that lead the way to growing the sport even more as a pickleball ambassador.5

Photo of Tyson McGuffin returning the ball during a Pickleball Tournament. | Courtesy of Selkirk Sports
  1. “The Origins of Pickleball: How It All Began,” video file, 14:19, YouTube, posted by Pickleball Channel, August 7, 2015, https://youtu.be/6kPJDi4LF1o.
  2. Diane Smit, “Pickleball, Anyone?,” Fun For Kidz 18, no.4 (2019): 1.
  3. Dave Nichols, “Tyson McGuffin, World’s Top-Ranked Pickleball Player, Seeks to Be Ambassador for Sport,” Spokesman-Review, January 1, 2019.
  4. “Men’s Singles PRO Gold Match-2019 Minto US Open Pickleball Championships,” video file, 37:40, YouTube, posted by Pickleball Channel, May 20, 2019, https://youtu.be/YyRWR4DsY1g.
  5.  “Locally McGuffin captures national tourney,” Spokesman-Review, December 3, 2017.

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8 Responses

  1. I had no idea what Pickleball was until about a year and a half ago when one of my friends took us there for their birthday. After that, I have gone to play it quite a few times, but I never really took the time actually to learn the rules for it. I also find it really cool that this sport is gaining so much popularity and that it’s encouraging people to get active in a time like this when things have been shut down and are slowly starting to open up again. This was a really interesting article that combined explaining the game and telling the story of someone significant for the sport. I haven’t gone and played in a while, and this article has made me want to get together with friends to play again!

  2. Pickleball is an interesting and intriguing sport. I like when new, unique sports begin to pick up momentum because athletes get a chance to focus their skills in a sport that best fits them. And from an entertainment perspective, new sports give viewers a chance to engage in whatever aspects of watching a game interests them. Tyson McGuffin is an important figure in not only the world of Pickleball but all of sports.

  3. In all honesty, I’ve only ever heard of Pickleball like twice but I know it’s becoming a lot more popular because I’ve seen people actually play it on t.v. After reading this article I would want to play Pickleball to see how it’s played and figure out the little ins and outs of the game. I won’t be surprised when Pickleball starts to become a worldwide played sport as well as an established fanbase that supports the sport.

  4. I never knew about this sport until recently after I met you in class. I decided to read up on the sport and discover a little more about it. It’s interesting to read about how the sport is growing and spreading into a more mainstream sport. I also didn’t know that the sport was already prominent before hearing about it through you and that there is a profession league already established around the sport. Great article.

  5. Reading this article was really fun because I absolutely love the game of pickle ball. Discovering its origins and some more background on the game was really interesting, and I had no idea that there was a professional league of pickle ball players. Tyson McGuffins seems to be one of the best and it was cool to read about his achievements in the world of pickle ball.

  6. I’m glad Jake wrote this article because although Pickleball is the fastest growing sport, it’s still unknown to many people in the world, considering how new the sport is. It’s very inspiring that Tyson was able to win the match in 2019 that led him to be the top-ranked player once again. The age gap between him and Ben Johns is more significant than most people would think. Tyson was nearly a decade older than Ben, so it explains why he would get exhausted faster than him. Overall, this was a very intriguing article!

  7. I never knew Pickleball was a sport until this article… This article described how the game is scored and played in great detail. The story of Tyson McGuffin is inspiring because his high energy and athleticism helped him earn the gold against one of the best pickleball players. As an athlete to see these “Cinderella” stories just make your heart pump and make you want to read more about their accomplishments. Very well written article and after reading it, I may have to give pickleball a try!

  8. What a great article about an up and coming sport that has hit the San Antonio area.

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