I have the pleasure of living only an hour away from a pretty fabulous person. Well, I’m sure I live an hour away from several fabulous people, but this one allows me into her house. Her name is Linda Shea, although you might know her as Linda Haywood from way back when (or as I call her when we play, “meanie.”} She is the tour director for the Regional tour I play on, the J.Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour (JPNEWT).
We are currently in her lovely cool basement on a hot May day (I’m glad to see May has finally remembered what season it is) practicing 10 ball for the NAPT Inaugural event this Thursday we will both be participating in. She is quite handily beating me today. Hence the “meanie.” As I sit in my chair, I have to be careful not to disturb her entire rail of trophies, and wander several times over to the pictures of her from her days on the pro tour. “How long have you been playing?” I ask her, making note of the hairstyles in the pictures.
“Well, I’m guessing since I was in diapers, probably.” My cue somehow seems shorter after this reply. What does she mean, she “guesses?” Does she literally have no recollection of life before pool?
She broke dry and the first few balls lay out nicely for me. I play an easy three-rail position to get on the 7, but land a little too straight. The 8 is kind of messed up, so I need a second to think. “Was it always competitive for you?” I wonder aloud, still contemplating her previous answer.
“No, I didn’t really start getting competitive until I was about 12. They would bring in Richard Riggie in to Bill and Billy’s to teach people how to play and he’d also do trick shots. Then, when I was 15 they brought Gloria Walker in to play me as an exhibition. From then on, I was hooked.” She said as I thoroughly messed up my shot.
“Oh really?” I try to remember what I was doing at 12. Shorts, sunshine, and carefreeness came to mind.
“Yeah,” she confirmed. “I started traveling with my father to play. Back then there were only a few events available so I had to go all the way up to Connecticut for one of the larger events.” She finished the table and started racking. “It was very sporadic back then, before the WPBA was formed, but I probably got to three or four events a year. Jean Balukas was the lady to beat back then.”
It was my break, which I’ve started to really love since I’ve put some work into it. I hit it square and THWACK! Nice, clean spread - ready for the out. “How long were you on the WPBA tour?” Looking around I could probably take a guess, but I wanted to hear her say it so I could fully grasp the magnitude.
“Somewhere between 25 and 30 years depending on how you count it.” Well dang... just… dang. “I stopped around the time Madison (her daughter) was born, 2002.”
As I walked around the table, making the balls absent-mindedly, I tried to fathom an entire life devoted to putting spheres in pockets. What did it mean? How many people had benefitted from this lady’s teaching? Getting philosophical while shooting is dangerous though, and sure enough, I missed my nine ball.
“What was it like?” I asked, still in a daze imagining it all.
“It was great competition, you got to meet and play people from all over the US.” She cleaned up my leftover balls on the table. “Back when I was on the tour, they were just starting to come back in from other countries... Once Allison (Fischer) hit the scene, girls started coming from all over.”
This lady I was practicing with so casually was part of the era that inspired me to play pool. She was on the tour during the reign of the Duchess. Who knows how many legendary players she’s faced? That kind of experience under your belt as a player is priceless.
That thought snapped me back to reality, and I remembered the reason I had driven an hour on my day off. “So tell me about the NAPT”
There is a new pro tour forming and I’m brimming with excitement. Linda is, too, but it is a risky thing starting a new tour, and even riskier talking about it with nosey bloggers like me.
She chose her words carefully. “The NAPT was created to have an environment for women to compete.”
“So it’s just for women?”
“No." She clarified. "Only for right now. It will include men in 2017 and juniors, but the juniors’ events probably won’t come until Fall of 2017. There were many regional tours with many, hundreds of players that did not have an opportunity to compete on a Pro level, so we created another level of pool with those regional tours. We want players to have several chances all year long, not just once or twice.”
We didn’t break any more racks, instead opting to head upstairs for coffee. Neither of us could focus on playing if we were going to talk serious, and caffeine sounded like a good idea right then. It’s been several years since qualifiers seemed to dry up and it would be fantastic if there was another source of them. Tension and tough decisions were a part of this, and we’re all anxious to see how things pan out
“What’s your role going to be?” I asked, thinking about how much work this is going to take and wondering if we were losing our fearless leader on the JPNEWT.
“I’ll be one of three events coordinators along with Tara Williams and Mimi Andrews.” She replied, relieving my concern.
“So you’ll be handling locations and such?”
“Right, and details and calendars. There are other committees. One that handles sponsorship, they just put out a sponsorship package. We also have a committee to oversee the players lists, a website committee, a secretary, and a president (Adrianne Beach), and we have meetings every week just like any other business. Every region has someone on the board to speak for the players.”
I am trying to keep myself from being too excited about this. It has felt like ever since I joined pool that it has seen hard times. I almost feel personally responsible. It seemed the more I became interested, the more pool economically declined. The recession hit the billiards industry hard in America and almost everywhere you go on the internet, there is a multitude of comments complaining about the state of things. These people are doing something though. I don’t know if they will succeed, but they are ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING.
Now for the controversial question. “Is every event going to be 10 ball?”
“Not necessarily all the events. We will be hosting open and amateur events as well. Those could be nine ball or maybe eight ball, but all the pro events will be 10 ball, so there’s no conflict with other tours.”
I mentally breathe a sigh of relief. Nine ball is the standard game of the pro tours currently, so getting the conflict out of the way helps. Not only that though, I like 10 ball better. 10 ball is rotational, and similar enough to nine ball that audiences and new players can follow along. However, 10 is all call-shot, so it eliminates the “slop” play of nine ball, and the players must call all safes as well. This gives the incoming player an option to give the shot back if the opponent got a lucky leave. It makes for a much more skill-centered game and fewer sour grapes after the match (though I’m aware that whining is essential to some players.)
We talked some more on details for the first event, how she has almost a full field confirmed with names like Karen Corr and Janet Atwell. We discussed the location (Breaker’s Sky Lounge in Herndon, VA), and the livestream (by Railbirds Productions), but mostly we drank coffee and laughed the rest of the day. This is a big event, there’s a big purse ($21k), even bigger stakes, and we would both like to rest a little mentally.
I don’t think we’ll have a good idea of what the NAPT will look like for a couple years, like any business, but I’m hoping they stick with it and give us a shot. The more opportunity, the more pool, and the more pool, the better.
For more information on the NAPT, please visit www.playnapt.com or contact their president, Adrianne Beach. The NAPT is a non-profit organization and would welcome your donation or sponsorship.
I won’t go into the personals, but pool was and continues to be my favorite therapy. You know those sayings that always go, “Such and such (Usually alcohol/gardening) is cheaper than therapy”? That’s not what I’m saying, I think that’s malarkey. Not just annoying and try-to-be-inspirational irritating, but also lemon-water-cures-everything wrong. To be clear, pool is A) not cheap, and B) not an alternative to psychotherapy. It is, however, C) a way of dealing with your inner monologue that may actually rid you of your lifelong fear of turning into Dennis Quaid (or whatever, IDK.) It’s not therapeutic because it’s relaxing (like gardening or fishing), but because it forces you to actually face your thoughts in order to play.
Have you ever had a spare moment and instead of entertaining you or being silent, your mind decides to rerun your most embarrassing moments? Or when reading a book, had to reread the same paragraph several times because a random thought distracts you? Have you ever had trouble focusing at work because of your personal life? These thoughts and many more still go on during play, because your brain is still your brain. I have definitely missed a nine ball while reminding myself to get milk at the store later (forget I told you that) and missed many more because I was upset about something completely unrelated to pool. Playing pool turns down the volume on everything else and turns up the volume on your thoughts.
If you have a perfect and still mind, this won’t be any issue, because you’re dead and dead people don’t play pool. You can stop reading now and return to your eternal slumber. (Kthxbai)
Sometimes a good player, though, can get into these zones where they’re “dead-stroking.” This usually means that the brain is the least involved part of the shot and it is the best kind of play. This is where you aim to be, and “getting out of your own way” is often how it’s described. After a certain point in your skills, it’s all just about having faith in yourself and not thinking about all the ways you can mess it up, or what it means to you to lose, and what it means to you to win.
So basically, it’s nearly impossible. Also, as soon as you become aware of it, it goes away. Try holding a plate balanced on the tip of your pinky finger with a raw egg on top. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. …OKKKAYY…You probably have egg on your floor now. Good job. You shouldn’t do everything the internet tells you, you know. But that’s what pool’s like, except the egg usually ends up on your face.
In order to get to this nirvana-like state of play, you have to pay very close attention to your thoughts while playing. If a thought of yours, no matter how quiet, is getting in your way, you have to fix it. It can be over-arching themes of “I’m not good enough” or a simple, “that donut looks amazing.” (I’m guilty of both, but the latter is more common.) Hunger, exhaustion, insecurities, and even happiness can present major challenges to quieting the mind.
I don’t care if it’s puppies barking up in your head, it’s a distraction (although aww, puppies!)
The good news is that these lessons don’t just stay on the table, either. If I figure out how to get around my feeling worthless today, I can prove to myself that I’m not, and it will help me feel less like that later. Done consistently enough, and you get long lasting, deep down confidence. Pool has given me that in a way that no one and no amount of losing (or donuts) can take away. I KNOW it now.
Now, a lot of sports can boast team and confidence building, but the type of social structure pool has is completely different than the rest, and it makes a difference. Once you are a player, you can always be a player. We are all players, we are all family, and you can stop anywhere in the world and make a friend over pool. You can impress nearly anyone you meet and any business connection you want to by throwing a couple racks together. No one has ever been less than impressed when I’ve showed them, and THAT is life-long confidence.
Literally, life-long, too. You can go into any pool hall and find guys in their golden years playing and socializing. I’m fairly sure that depression and social isolation (a common issue for seniors) is nowhere in their future. I would love to see studies on how billiards impact instances of dementia and depression because man, do these guys have their wits about them. Some of them are STILL impossible to beat. Efren Reyes, a living legend in pool, is 61 and still competes with the 30-year-old pros. I’m sure he will play into his 80s, and I’m sure he’ll still be pure “magic” too.
In short, some people hear that I’ve spent 10 years playing pool so far and hear the number of hours I’ve spent inside of halls as time wasted. I view it as an investment. I believe pool has helped me live a higher quality, sharper, mentally balanced life. I will be able to play the rest of my life, and I will have an entire community behind me (probably making rabbit ears - but hey) for support. Plus, I get to make that nine ball. It may not always be relaxing, and sometimes I do enjoy gardening, but I prefer my particular form of therapy, and will for the rest of my days.