The set-up phase of the shot process requires rhythm, timing, and smoothness. If you have all three of these, the whole process unfolds in a natural and flowing sequence and you play with confidence and positive expectation.
Timing is the most important of the three. In fact, rhythm is essentially dependent on timing, and smoothness is basically a result of good rhythm. It makes sense then, to have a thorough understanding of timing and to learn how to adjust it when necessary.
When you get into your car and turn on the ignition key, the engine starts as a result of good timing. When you drive to the local poolroom, you get there because of good timing. Every automotive engine has a chain, belt, gear, or something that coordinates when certain mechanical functions happen. If the timing is right, it runs like a charm. If the timing is off, it won’t run at all.
I don’t know how it is in the era of electronic ignition, but at one time, there was a mark on the flywheel that you had to line up with another mark on the engine block to get the motor running perfectly. You could advance it or retard it a few degrees, but you had to stay within a well-defined range.
The point of this analogy rests with those marks. If you knew where they were and the proper way to line them up, you had total mastery of the whole timing issue. It’s the same in the set-up phase—if you know where the marks are, you’re got the whole thing licked.
The timing marks in the set-up phase of the shot process are obvious but often misjudged or overlooked. They are the outer surface of the cue ball and the outer surface of the cue tip. It is anticipating the contact of the cue tip with the surface of the cue ball that sets the timing.
If you don’t believe this, go to a pool table cold and shoot a dozen shots with your attention on the meeting of these two surfaces. Get to where you can feel the grit, or bite, of the grains of chalk on the surface of the cue ball. You will be amazed how quick it will put you into stroke.
At the U.S. Open, I watched a friend struggle unsuccessfully through a match. It was painful to watch because he used to play very well. He practices for hours a day, keeps himself in good health, and yet is totally frustrated with his game. In fact, it’s been on a downward trend for years.
He’s a senior player, and some people think that’s why his game has deteriorated, but there are a lot of players his age still playing jam up. As far as I can tell, it’s just a matter of timing.
Good players, at some point in the set-up, bring the cue tip close to the cue ball and pause ever so briefly. They are judging the impact of the two surfaces and setting the timing of the stroke. There is a range in which this pause is effective, just like in the automotive example. If you go too close, you touch the cue ball and foul. If you pause too far away, you lose the ability to accurately sense the contact.
My friend was pausing 3 to 4 inches away from the cue ball, which is way too far. I haven’t asked him yet, but I bet he thinks he’s a lot closer. His eyes have changed over the years, as they do for most of us, and are probably the source of the misjudgment. It’s an easy thing to fix, but only if you know it’s off. I hope he reads this column.
Good luck and good shootin’!