Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Practice Table: A Duck Hunter's Paradise

Practice is a personal thing. Maybe, you like working through drills. Maybe, you work on shots you've been having trouble with. Or, maybe you prefer chasing the ghost. Maybe, you're painstakingly deliberate and organized. Or, maybe, as I've been lately, you're all over the damn place. Hey! Whatever turns you on.

I remember going up to a guy I wanted to play one time and asking him if he might want to lock horns with me in some cheap-sets of nine ball. "No," he said, "I'm practicing."

"For what?" I couldn't help wondering. I mean, if you're practicing, then it's implied you're practicing for something. Obviously, he wasn't practicing to play me.

BTW, this explains why I haven't really been able to focus during my recent sessions - I'm not practicing for anything. I'm no longer involved with the local bar league scene, so I'm no longer obsessed with finding new ways to torture the barroom brotherhood. I haven't been going to DJ's for their Thursday night open nine-ball tournament - the logistics are just too much of a pain in the ass. And, like-minded individuals who want to hook up for some $20 race-to-seven nine-ball matches are not as plentiful as they once were. Such is life.

But, that being said, there's still some logic to my practice sessions. For one thing, I like to practice those long straight shots. They're good for my alignment and my stroke. I avoid shooting most shots into the side pockets, except for the occasional bank, because I don't see any value in popping hangers. For the same reason, when I leave a ball in the jaws, rather than pop it in, I place it back out in the middle of the table and try the shot again.

I also work on cut shots of varying degrees. Typically, I like to start by placing balls about 10 to 12 inches out from the side pocket and cutting them diagonally into the corner on the opposite side of the table. I want to be able to pocket these shots at will... like I could back when I was a kid. Probably ain't gonna happen, especially with the constant trembling I've developed in my hands, but I haven't given up on the possibility.

I also concentrate on center ball stroking. I miss way too many long shots due to inadvertent english and the consequent inadvertent throw. And, "Stay Down!" I have to remind myself to stay down at least once a shot. Duhhhh.

So, for right now, that's pretty much my practice routine - not terribly organized, but, still, purposeful.

Which brings me to the subjects of this post, the duck hunters, the old dudes who find their way to the poolroom and try to pretend that once upon a time they could actually play. I call them duck hunters because they lay the balls out on the table making sure they're never more than three of four inches from a hole, and, then, proceed to drive them in with authority. This, apparently, makes them feel real good about themselves, this plucking daisies, shooting cheeries, poppin' hangers. On closer observation, you'll notice these guys rarely shoot balls down the length of the table - they specialize in shooting cross-table shots no longer that two or three feet in length. If, on occasion, they do attempt a long shot, they shoot it very softly so that when they miss, and they invariably do, they'll leave the ball close enough to the pocket so they can blast it in next try.

What's the friggin' sense? I mean, I get it. They're more worried about missing and looking foolish than they are about improving their games. But, isn't that ridiculous? From the moment I saw their first herky-jerky poke at the cue ball, I knew, regardless of what they might want me to believe, that they had never been any good, that they had always been chumps, and that they had never engaged Buddy Hall in thousand dollar sets.

At best, back when they were at the top of their games, they might have come out two beers ahead after an all night session of eight-ball at the local VFW, Moose Club or Fraternity of Eagles. And, that's about it. They have no reputations to protect. And, no one could possibly think any less of them if they missed a shot or two or three. I mean, that's how you get better, people - by challenging yourself. If you're going to take the trouble to drive out to the pool room two or three times a week, why not challenge yourself? Why not work on your game? Why not try to get better? Otherwise, you're just taking up space and distracting the hell out of me.

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