By Y.A. Teitelbaum, Correspondent

When legendary polo player Memo Gracida played his first match in the United States in 1977 as a substitute, he had to borrow mallets from patron John Oxley and return them after the match.

Gracida has since accumulated a plethora of mallets and trophies throughout his career, including a record 16 U.S. Open championships. After taking a break in 2007, Gracida, 54, is making a comeback.

When International Polo Club Palm Beach begins its eighth season Sunday, Gracida will be preparing to return to high-goal competition in Wellington for the first time since the 2007 season. Gracida, a 10-goaler for 21 consecutive seasons beginning in 1982, is playing for Patagones during the 20-goal season.

“I wasn’t physically or mentally prepared to play since then,” Gracida said before a recent practice with Patagones patron Gonzalo Avendano.

Gracida, who turns 55 on July 25 and is the oldest professional at IPC this year, has played sporadically since 2007, mostly in Santa Barbara, CA, and Argentina, where he spends almost six months at his ranch outside Buenos Aires. Now, he says he is ready again to compete at the highest level in the United States.

“I like the competition,” said Gracida, who in 1997 became the only active player inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame. “I’m competitive. I want to win. I feel physically very well. I’m not just a passenger.”

Avendano had asked Gracida to join Patagones several times over the last four years, but the timing wasn’t right. This year, the timing worked for both.

When legendary polo player Memo Gracida played his first match in the United States in 1977 as a substitute, he had to borrow mallets from patron John Oxley and return them after the match.

Gracida has since accumulated a plethora of mallets and trophies throughout his career, including a record 16 U.S. Open championships. After taking a break in 2007, Gracida, 54, is making a comeback.

“With Memo, my goal is to win and another goal is to take as much information from him, ask him questions, help me to teach my children how to play high-goal polo,” Avendano said. “I’ve always wanted to play with Memo and Carlos [Gracida] before it was too late.”

“Memo is the father of the modern polo organization,” added Avendano. “He’s the teacher. Many pros tell the patrons what they want to hear. Memo tells you what he thinks. That’s something I like.”

Avendano and Gracida played in a tournament in Argentina in November to help prepare for the upcoming season in Wellington.

“Memo still plays very good,” said Avendano, whose family, like Gracida’s, is well-respected within the polo community. “Our goal is always to win. We might not win, but we are a tough team to beat.”

Even though it’s been years since he has played regularly, Gracida believes he is ready for the challenge.

“In my eyes, I’m the same player I was five years ago, a little wiser and smarter,” Gracida said. “Although I feel my body doesn’t recover as quickly. Five years ago, I could play a match in the morning and two hours later I could play another match. Now, it takes me two days to recover, to get back the flexibility. I want to believe I’m the same player.”