Aiming High: Liam’s Blog

A talented young player for a number of years now, 20-year-old Liam Highfield is now part-way through his second season on the main tour and has kindly agreed to blog for PSB during 2011/12. In his first entry Liam tells us a little more about himself as well as discussing his targets for this year…

Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog here at PSB which I hope will let you all get to know me a bit better over the next year or so!

I first got into snooker when I was about eight years old. I remember watching when John Higgins won his first world title in 1998 and ever since then I’ve just wanted to play as much as I can. I went around the junior clubs who let me in and it just escalated from there really.

I grew up in Stoke and the club that I practised at in Newcastle-under-Lyme was about 45 minutes away on a bus so I used to go every night after school. I moved closer to the club when I was 16 so I’ve played there since I was 8 years old. Jamie Cope has just moved there so that’s someone good to practice with. Gareth Potts the world 8-ball pool champion is also there too while Dave Harold is a player that I have practised with since I was 14-years-old and has probably helped me more than any other player in terms of practice.

A highlight as an amateur came when I was 17 and I made a 147 break in the English Premier tour in Willie Thorne’s back room against a good junior actually who has never really come through, Gary Mcanne. My dad was watching at the time and he didn’t even realise that I was on a max until I was on the colours! Then I potted the black and he went mad.

The EASB’s John Harley presents Liam with a certificate following his 147

I got onto the main tour following a great season on the PIOS in 2009/10. Two years before when I was 17 I had won an event and not got on the tour and then the following year was a bit of a killer. The following season though me and Jack Lisowski dominated the last PIOS, Jack winning the first event and me the second. After that Anthony McGill and Kyren Wilson also won events and it was good for a few of us to come through at the same time.

My first season on the main tour was hard to sum up really. I felt a lot better at the table and played a lot better than results showed I thought. But staying on the tour was the main thing as had I come off it would have been an absolute disaster. I had a couple of runs here and there but I think that there is a lot more left. I lost my head a good few times last year but every top player has done that.

Towards the end of the season I lost 5-3 to Barry Pinches at the China Open qualifiers which were a week before the World Championship qualifiers where I played Kuldesh Johal. After the Pinches match I got rid of my cue straight away and I played with a new John Parris three days before taking on Kuldesh. As it turned out I played better against him with a brand new cue than I had played since November really. It didn’t make one bit of difference though as while I played well, he played great and had three centuries.

Recently I have joined On Q Promotions which is run by Paul Mount who has got a lot of players now and is very professional with what he does. He’s got the Academy and everything seems to have picked up for him with more tournaments being held there where it is just perfect for snooker. He’s such a nice guy as well so it’s great.

Liam and new manager Paul Mount

I still practice just at home but I will go down to Gloucester from time to time. I like it at home though with the club a 15 minute walk away with the gym and my family here too.

Looking to this season I have had a very good start with two last 16’s in the PTCs and a run to the final qualifying round of Australia. David Morris played well to beat me in Shanghai which was the only disappointment so far with it being the first match which was a bit of a killer but it puts me in the 64 after four tournaments and I would have taken that. Hopefully I can keep it up.

In particular playing Ronnie O’Sullivan on the arena table at the PTC2 has done me the world of good for my confidence. To compete with a player who a lot of people would argue is the best of all time and to take him to a decider was great. Not only that but the way I performed as I went straight in with 90, had another 60 and a good dish to win another frame. He was playing pretty decent too so that has given me the confidence to go on and know I can compete now with the rest of them.

Looking ahead, my target for the first seedings cut-off in October is the top 64. That is a big one.

The Shootout last year was fantastic and sitting on the sofa watching it…I think that would suit me and I would be well up for that. I watched every frame of it last season and I thought that it was awesome. From a spectator point of view I think that it was great. I wouldn’t even mind if at snooker you were allowed to talk to be honest. Maybe not the UK and the World but I don’t think that it would bother me too much.

Liam at the 2009 EASB Finals

I think there is a lot of snooker in one frame as well. Even though it is only ten minutes there is a story to that as well and it’s not as short as people think. I know someone like Nigel Bond won it but some of the top players still did well in it, Ronnie O’Sullivan made the semis.

The other advantage of making it into the top 64 in October would obviously be having to play a round less in the tournaments such as the UK Championship which would make a massive difference. You have still got to perform though as playing someone coming from behind in the draw you who has played matches is harder. I think that was proved by David Gilbert in Australia as he played in every one of the Q School events and was there for about three weeks before doing well in the first PTC and making it to Australia because of the match practice.

If I don’t make it then missing out on the Shootout would be the sorest thing but if I didn’t get in it then it is more matches, more experience. It would not be the end of the world but I am pretty confident that I will make it.

Another target is to make the top 24 on the PTC Order of Merit and make it through to the finals. That is looking good at the minute though it is only early days. I would like to make a push for the top 48 but I’m not going to beat myself up about that. As far as the PTCs are concerned I have had a semi-final so I would take a final but what I would prefer is a venue appearance at a full-ranking event. It is good to see other young players like Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill make a few as they have come up with me so there is no reason why I can’t do it.

Liam at the PTC2 event 2011

I wouldn’t be surprised…I’m not going to say that I am going to win one but I wouldn’t be surprised if me, Jack, Anthony McGill, Jamie Jones…someone like that won a PTC this year. I think that one of us will nick one of them. It’s wide open and you just have to look at what Judd has done. He was in a better place a year ago than the players I have just mentioned but he has just flown and the confidence has done him the world of good. I think he has just given me, Jack, the younger ones a bit of confidence to become a top player because he has and is probably going to get in the top four or five in the rankings now. Not only has he got nothing coming off but he is buzzing as well, he just won the PTC2, had a world final, it’s amazing.

Snooker needed it too because obviously Barry Hearn has done a great job in changing things but as much as Barry Hearn can change it all he wants, we need the players as well to pick it up. Fans aren’t going to be bothered about how many tournaments there are, they want to see the players, those who can go for it and bring a new look to the game.

The streaming helps with that too and seems like a really good idea. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done before. We did a bit at Pontin’s but it didn’t kick off like it has done now. It’s perfect for people off the street to sit down and watch the snooker and it seems like good coverage as well. It’s not just one camera in one position so it’s like watching it on TV. I was watching the highlights of the Gloucester one on YouTube and it was good coverage as well.

Liam takes on Ronnie O’Sullivan

For those of you who have not seen me play before I would describe my game as attacking and quite open. I like to mix it up, keep the players guessing. They don’t think ‘oh I know how to play him’. If you come on the scene and go completely open then I think that you can come unstuck because the other players who are all great players will just tuck you up and somehow you will have a lash at one and lose matches.

I try then to mix the safety up and do everything I can to win. It’s tough you know, there are so many good players now. I think you have just got to accept that you aren’t going to win every tournament. Look at the PTCs now, last season you had 12 different winners. Nobody is winning every tournament.

Off-table my interests include running and going to the gym. I do something every day whether it’s going to the gym or running. I’m quite good at the running, I can do a 10k in about 38 minutes. I did a couple of half-marathons last year including one with Ricky Walden.

Other than that my days are largely centred around my snooker which I practice for five or six hours a day. Afterwards I go to the gym and then it is time for food and bed. My favourite football team are Tottenham Hotspur who I follow a bit, though not as much as a used to as a kid.

Follow me on Twitter @liamhighfield

Another thing that has just come along is Twitter which I have joined now. There is a good bit of banter between the players and I just thought that it’s something to do. I haven’t gone out of my way to do many interviews so this sort of thing is a first for me. I haven’t done any social networking and have kept myself away from that but I guess it’s about time for people to get to know me now.

I think another reason why I wanted to do a few interviews is that I think the perception of me on the table is a completely different person to how I am off it. I show my emotions quite a lot on the snooker table. I’ve always done it and been so passionate about it but off the table but I couldn’t think of anyone more relaxed. It’s strange, two completely different personalities. I don’t ever mean to offend or upset anyone, it’s just something I have got a passion for so it would be nice for people to get to know me away from the table.

Looking ahead to the next few tournaments, at the time of this blog I have a match with Stephen Hendry coming up at the PTC3 in Sheffield. With Stephen I remember him winning his last world title and have watched videos of when he was great but I’ve only ever lived in the O’Sullivan/Williams/Higgins era really.

During the 2011 World Championship qualifiers

Hendry has still been great during the last ten years, still in the top 16 and possibly the greatest ever. It has been a great couple of weeks though, had you told me at 11 years old that I would be playing Hendry and Ronnie in two professional tournaments in one week…that would have done me!

You have just got to play the balls, it doesn’t matter who is there, you just have to deal with it. Before playing Ronnie I thought that it would be different playing him but all of a sudden after I made 90 first shot I was just playing the balls in the end. I looked back at it after and thought I didn’t really realise that when I was at the table that Ronnie was in the chair. Bit mad really! I think I handled it quite well.

Hopefully I can do the same against Hendry and get a result this time. He can still play and is one of the best of the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a tournament somewhere. Davis has done it a couple of times since he was at his best. I think Hendry has got another semi at the World Championship or another ranking final in him. I think Hendry is going to have another fairytale before he retires.

Liam at the PTC2 event 2011

After this weekend it is mad until October really when there are just two events which isn’t too bad. We have the UK Championship qualifiers in October/November. The format change to best of 11’s I think has taken something away because tournament has now become a normal ranking event, rather than having the UK and the World as the two big majors.

The only thing I do like though is that it was a bit of a gutter to get to a venue and then be on a back table. Now they have guaranteed two TV tables as they did the same with the Welsh last season when they reduced the early stages to best of sevens which I think for someone like me who would be getting to a venue for the first time or two would be a good thing. Before you would make it to a venue and find yourself playing in the same situation as you would in a cubicle pretty much.

Anyway that’s about all for this time, thanks for reading and I will be back with my second blog sometime in October!