This is my third column exploring the impact of the cue stick on performance. When I first started this series, I thought it would be a simple subject, maybe worthy of two columns at best. Mostly I wanted to see if switching to a 60-inch cue after playing with a 58-inch Joss for 15 years would help me play better. I’d often wondered if my long limbs and height would benefit from such a switch and wanted to settle the question once and for all.
I have since come to realize several things. Without question, my body requires a longer cue. I wish I had started with one all those years ago. If I accidentally pick up a standard-sized cue today and go to put my gripping hand on the butt, there is nothing there—just air. In other words, I have been cramped up and restricted for 15 years. It is so obvious to me now that it reminds me of the tiger cages made famous during the Vietnam War. No room to stand up, no room to lie down, no room to stretch.
I have never been what is often referred to as an “equipment junkie” and have even admired the ability of some players to play jam-up with a cue off the rack. Now I realize I was, and largely remain, ignorant of the nuances of the cue stick and the effect on advanced play. I’ve heard all the usual conversations about deflection and joint types, of course, but have appreciated them mostly from a marketing sense. I have experimented with different tips but only until I found one I liked, and even then I stayed with the same cue and the same shaft.
Which brings me to my number one insight—the importance of the shaft. The flexibility and taper of a shaft can greatly affect the way a cue plays, and it makes sense to pick a shaft that enhances the way you play. Previous to this insight, I was content in knowing that the “pro taper” my cue was built with was used by most of the top players. I didn’t know that the term was so widely used and the effect on the cue so varied. Now I understand that part of the struggle in getting used to my new 60-inch Dennis Dieckman cue is due to the shaft.
Dieckman believes in a stiff shaft with a gradual taper from the front going back and substantial thickness prior to the joint. He believes it reduces deflection and allows the cue to hit truer. I agree with the latter, but I’m not so sure of the former. I have no problem with deflection in normal, close-to-center cueing, but I’ve missed a lot of shots where I’ve had to put a lot of juice on the cue. Actually, it seems to me that the graduation in deflection from a little bit of english to maximum english is more pronounced. How much of that is from the length of the cue or other factors, I don’t know.
But there is one thing about shafts of which I am now convinced. It is harder to put english, and especially draw, on the ball with a stiffer shaft. Dieckman, when I mentioned it to him, insisted that it was a result of my technique, even though I had no problem drawing the cue ball with my Joss. Well, I thought, maybe it has to do with the extra length and the resultant shift in timing and balance.
So I checked with several other sources. Tony Simpson, a Schuler Cue representative, maintains that a more flexible shaft allows the cue tip to stay in contact, or “cling,” to the surface of the cue ball longer, hence imparting more spin. I was relieved to hear that Ray Schuler, the founder of Schuler Cues, was also an advocate of a stiffer shaft and amazed that the company has ten different shaft tapers available in their retail line and about 150 others available for custom work. I never realized that players could be so particular about their shafts.
I talked with Buddy Hall down at the U.S. Open and looked at a custom shaft that Nat Green of South East Cues had made for him. Instead of a normal 14-inch pro taper, it came a full 16 inches back from the tip without any increasing taper. Buddy slid it through his bridge hand to demonstrate how the unvarying dimension of the shaft allowed his bridge to remain constant. We took it into the practice room and hit a few balls. When I pulled the cue ball back to the rail with english, the shaft flexed like crazy, but just a touch of juice sent the ball completely down table.
Since then, as I’ve adjusted to my new cue, I’ve been able to jazz the white ball up with more and more confidence. I appreciate the finesse of a more flexible shaft, but I like the authority of the stiffer shaft. In the least, I am willing to experiment further. So was it the shaft? Was it the length? Or was it the technique? Turns out, it’s a combination of the three.
Good luck good shootin’!