What have you been working on?
My mental game. Sometimes it's hard to control emotion when someone gets lucky on you and winds up getting out. That is one of the things that is hard for me. And I get disappointed in myself when I make silly mistakes. I read this book called "The Mental Edge," and it helped me a lot with breathing techniques. And I have sayings like FACE FEAR, which stands for, "If you Feel Anger, Control Emotion" and "Focus Efforts At Results."
How has your game changed since you started out?
I've learned how to trust my stroke at softer speeds, like the Filipinos. There are only a few Americans that are able to trust their stroke at the softer speed, because there's more room for error due to left or right motion on the back arm. To practice at first, I shortened my bridge to 3 or 4 inches where I could not shoot hard or over-stroke the ball. Anytime you stroke over that, your tendency will be to stroke too hard; you'll use more of a follow-through than what's actually needed.
You're on the rise. How come?
This year I've had a lot more time on the table, and that is really showing.Things are a little more settled at home with family, with two small kids. They sleep through the night now, which is a big help. Three years ago, I felt like a zombie walking around the table. ... I've pretty much beaten every world champion in the last two years. It's just confidence more than anything. The more you play, the more confident you get, the easier you see things on the table. When I wasn't playing as much two years ago and I was coming to tournaments tired, I made the game hard for myself. I didn't see the right shots. I still got out a lot of the time, just shooting my way out, but come the end of the tournament, I would fade. I would be beat from mental exhaustion. Now I feel like I'm mentally stronger.
What should you work on?
I have to work on my safeties a lot more. I am an attacking player, and attacking players don't tend to play safeties as well as they should.
What can you work on to improve your game?
I think my pace. I have to figure out what's the perfect pace and how many practice strokes I really want to take before I pull the trigger. Sometimes I rush a shot, take two strokes and miss the ball. And then I'm reminding myself, take at least three strokes. But I think that I have to pick something specific that works for me, instead of going with a random number. ... The other day, Rodney Morris was training and he had his headphones on, and I asked him what he was listening to. There was some kind of song on there that had a certain rhythm, because he used to listen to that when he was playing his best. It's all about finding that specific rhythm where you're walking around the table and approaching the shot and everything falls into place. It's not necessarily about the amount of practice strokes, but just how to evaluate the situation and stay relaxed and just enjoy yourself. Sometimes you get lost in the battle, and it's frustrating.
You're known as a money player. Why play regular tournaments?
You don't get recognition unless you win [a major] tournament, so everybody is after that goal. The money is not bad at the top, but it's the things that come along with winning the tournament that everybody wants, like being invited to certain tournaments with guaranteed money.
How has your game changed in the last few years?
I'd say that I'm smarter as far as shot selection. I play percentages more often. I ask, can something go wrong? I'm more cautious. It's making me play better, for sure. If you look at all your angles and your routes, you'll figure out your best route, and if something good can come out of it.
What would you change?
I should chalk my cue more often. I get in a mode, and I don't want to chalk my cue. Once in a while you're going to get a miscue if you don't chalk your cue. But I get so lazy, because I'm just running around the table. I don't like slowing down.
What do you do for practice?
Gerda Hofstatter, Kim Shaw and I play sets.
Is that approach OK for the player who doesn't want to do drills?
At the beginning of my career, playing snooker, I did drills every day. I would say that they are necessary. If you can do it, you have to do it to improve. When you're doing drills, you can really think about what you're doing and feel it, without having the pressure of missing. You can repeat, repeat and repeat until it feels right. The more it sinks in to the subconscious, you don't have to think about it when you're playing a match. When you're struggling, you have to go back to your basics, and you can only practice your basics when you're doing drills, You don't want to start doing that in a match.
What do you pay attention to when you play sets for practice?
It still comes down to mechanics. Did I tighten up? Did I grip the pool cue too tightly? Did I come through straight? I'm always paying attention to that.
What have you been working on at the table?
I just figured out something that I was doing wrong. I wasn't holding the stick tight enough. My grip on my shooting hand was too loose. It's been that way for seven or eight months. Some people were telling me that it wasn't going straight through. So, I was like, "What would make your hand not go straight through to the ball?" I didn't have control of the stick. There is a point where you can hold it too loose. I always liked it to be real wristy and in my fingers. All I had to do was get it more in the groove (where the palm meets the fingers). The ring and the middle finger is where you want the pressure. But I get into these habits where I get too loose or too wristy. All I did was squeeze it just a little bit tighter and everything was dialed in - my speed control and everything. The first time I picked up a stick, I never taught myself how to hold a stick. It just came naturally. And when you don't think about something, and then you lose it, it's hard to figure out what you were doing right.
How did you develop as a player?
My grand-dad taught me the game when I was younger. He taught me the basics, and then said, "I don't have anything else to teach you." So, he started taking me to tournaments. And he would say, "In this match, whoever you play, learn from your mistakes." Obviously, when I was younger, I lost a lot. And I learned a lot. Even now, I go to tournaments and learn from my mistakes. I learn from how people beat me, and also I watch DVDs almost every day.
What have you been working on?
I've slowed down. I used to be quick. I used to get up there and want to get out as quick as possible. But it used to kill me. I'd dog a ball. I'd get bad position. So I said, "I have to slow down some." I saw on tapes that Johnny Archer used to play fast too when he was younger. And I see now that he has slowed down. I said, "Let me try it and see how it works," and it helps you. It helps you stay composed.
What's happening with your game?
I'm not as consistent as I was a few months ago. I think that has to do with having a little less competition where I live now. When I lived around the Washington, D.C., area, I got to play more tough players on a regular basis. Now that I'm in Charlotte, it seems like there is a lot less competition.
What suffers when you don't have as much competition?
Sometimes my focus, and sometimes my shotmaking can be a little bit off. Whenever I'm playing better players, I tend to focus so hard, it tends to keep me in stroke. And when I'm playing weaker players, I get a little bit lazy, I guess, and the next match when I need to come with the really tough shot, my stroke is a little bit off. I'm playing as smart as I ever have. I'm doing the little things right, but I'm not making the tough balls as often. I think a big part is not practicing on a tough table too. I used to practice on really tight equipment, and that's hard to find where I live right now.
How do you deal with playing on TV?
Actually I've never played well on TV, so hopefully that will change. The first couple of times, I changed my game to more or less play to the crowd. My pace was a little quicker around the table. It was silly, because why would you change something that's worked throughout the tournament when you get on TV? That's the biggest mistake you can make. I love the camera. But I just feel like I put myself under a lot of pressure. I think you just have to try not to think about it. And try to focus on the tempo and what you have done all week, and try to get back into the same routine.
You lost close to 90 pounds several years ago, and another 10 recently. How does that affect your game?
I feel really good. I run at least four miles a day, and I work out like twice a day, and I just feel really good right now. I think that extra 10 pounds and my different workout routine has really helped me mentally. I feel like I'm getting stronger.
What's the best advice you've received for your game?
Don't play with your emotions. Helena Thornfeldt told me that years ago. Don't get angry and play with your anger. Don't get disappointed and play with your disappointment. Just stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand - the shot in front of you. I think that is just part of sports. Sports have a lot of emotions. Things might not go as you planned, and you can either get angry or get disappointed and have a defeatist attitude at the table, or you can just stick to your game plan and focus on what can fix it. You have to stay even emotionally.
I got another good piece of advice from Stevie Moore: "If it ain't simple, don't do it." He said in that same lesson, "If you make that shot and get out, you're a hero, but if you don't, you look like a dummy." So, keep it simple. It's just something that you keep in mind. I don't really practice taking simple shots. It's just part of strategy that you implement into your game.