Earl Strickland

The PBT (Pro Billiards Tour) and PCA (Professional Cuesports Association) finally surrendered to the will of the players and fans, and the result was a storybook US Open 9-Ball championship that featured an international field of the world's best players - 180 strong. And if the plot wasn't enough to excite the most demanding fan, the ending couldn't have been better written by Ernest Hemingway.

Prior to the tournament, bad blood between the PBT and PCA threatened to undermine Barry Behrman's (tournament host) best efforts to make the 22nd Annual Championship the best ever. Last year's financial problems and "political conflicts" between the PBT's Don Mackey and many of his players prompted C.J Wiley to jump the PBT ship and form the PCA as an alternative pro tour. Earl Strickland, among other PBT players, followed suit. The PBT ultimately lost Camel as a major sponsor, and was forced to place on hold all tournament activities until their financial problems were settled. This shepherded even more players into the PCA flock.

But the US Open was Barry Behrman's child, and he wasn't about to tolerate child abuse by Mackey, Wiley or anyone else. Agreements between the Don Mackey, Barry Behrman and the Camel Tour organization not only helped finance the 22nd annual tournament, but assured an event that was truly open to all players, including members of the new PCA.

But there was still a fly in the ointment: C.J. Wiley, upon hearing that the top 32 PBT players had their $500.00 entry fee paid, decided that his players should be afforded the same courtesy, and he sent a letter to his players requesting that they not participate. Fortunately, the players had had enough of the problems and politics created by the pro organizations, and signed up for the tournament in large numbers. This set the stage for the biggest and best US Open in history - one that pitted the PCA, PBT and a host of international players against each other. To add to the excitement, the tournament was held inside the spanking new Chesapeake, Virginia Convention Center.

Because of the expanded field (almost double the normal participation), the action was fast and furious. Additional tables were used to help speed play, and when a table was available another match was started immediately.

Highlights of the tournament included terrific competition from Buddy Hall and Dave Bollman - two senior tour players who demonstrated to the younger competitors that they were still among the best in the world. John Horsfall, a Canadian educated in snooker, used a snooker cue to reach the semi finals, and Shannon Daulton made it clear that he was a future Hall of Famer. In fact, the match between Reyes and Daulton was, in my opinion, the best match of the tournament, as Daulton made the mistake of playing Reyes safety for safety.

I was also excited about the performance of Charlie Williams who, after a first match defeat, went on to win the next seven matches before losing his eighth match to his friend, Dave Bollman. Charlie ended up in 17th place, winning $1,700.00. Dave Bollman made it to the final eight.

Danny Harriman, after seven wins, forfeited a critical match when he misread the schedule and failed to show for his match with Bollman. The loss probably cost him a spot in the top eight. There were eight other forfeitures, all of which are listed in the match results.

The semi finals came down to Efren Reyes, Jose Parica, John Horsfall and Earl Strickland. While Horsfall was a surprise to those who were unfamiliar with him, finding Reyes, Parica and Strickland among the top finishers certainly was a surprise to no one.

The final match was anti-climatic. Again the TV lights, cameras, and distractions of the final match seemed to have a negative affect on Reyes, but fueled a determined Strickland, who started running racks from the start. The final score (11-2) was a disappointment to those who were expecting a classic duel between two masters.

Strickland made a victory speech that brought everyone to their feet. He praised Efren Ryes, reminding everyone that he was still about 10 matches or so behind the "Magician." He also admitted that his own table side behavior during match play was not always appreciated by many fans, but that "I'm really a nice guy."

Don Mackey gave a politician's speech that lasted much too long. He thanked the players for their patience regarding late payment of tournament winnings, and assured that all was well with the PBT.

Everyone was saddened to hear that defending champion Rodney Morris could not make the tournament because of the serious illness of his father. Our sincere concern and best wishes are extended to Rodney and his father.

Did I enjoy the tournament. Was it worth a $640.00 hotel bill and $280.00 for two VIP tickets. You bet. It was worth every dime!

Our thanks to Barry Behrman for his recognition of our own publication, Chalk Talk, and to those who subscribed.

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