By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
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By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
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Regardless of how she does it, Corr is unnerving, because she's a consistent winner: Last year, she took first place in both the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship and Billiards Congress of America's Open 9-Ball Championship. Ng took ninth place in each of those. She's played Corr before but has never beaten her. She believes she can today. A few days before the match, Don Fedorow, Ng's friend and the closest person she has to a coach, says of her: "She's a really tough turtle to drown. Everybody wants to win; she refuses to lose."
Most of the small crowd watching 20 feet away knows Ng from Hollywood Billiards, which is her sponsor and a regular haunt. They believe in Ng too, or maybe it's the natural urge to root for the underdog. Ng starts out poorly; she scratches in the first game, letting the white cue ball fall into a pocket, which gives Corr the opportunity to place it wherever she wants on the table. Corr sets up a combination shot and knocks the 9-ball in. Game one goes to Corr, as does game two. But Ng gets her sea legs under her by the third game, and she wins, smartly pocketing the entire rack.
Suddenly, Corr doesn't seem so invincible. Or at least until the next game begins, when Corr knocks three balls in on the break, then proceeds to clean off the table as Ng sits impotently nearby sipping bottled water.
But wait. Ng dominates the next game, and Corr doesn't get the chance to lift her stick. At 3-2, this is still anybody's game.
These are sweet days for women's pool. Unlike almost any other professional sport you can think of, women dominate the field.
"I think we're the only sport now where the women pros are leading the way," asserts Shari Stauch, publisher of Pool & Billiardmagazine and a long-time pro who retired last year. "We have more sponsors. The players, individually, have more sponsors. We have more television hours. And our entire tour is televised. And the men have none of that."
Sure, men are better players, admits Stauch, who also works as a spokeswoman for the Women's Professional Billiard Association. "But with sports in America now, it's no longer a factor of how well you play; it's how many people know you play." The sport's profile will only grow in South Florida now that the Seminole Tribe is sponsoring Vivian Villarreal, one of the country's top players, who lives in San Antonio, Texas. That's just part of the aggressive push by the WPBA to market its players.
"We get the best ratings of most of the women's programming out there," Stauch says. "We get some of the best ratings that ESPN gets for sports programming. We're what ESPN calls 'utility' programming, meaning that they can run this not live and run it over and over and over again. They can run it at any time of the day and it will fare well against anything."
The reason for its appeal is apparent when you consider who's watching these tournaments on ESPN and ESPN2: Three-quarters of the viewers are male, with a median age of around 45. A lot of those eyes peeled on TV sets aren't wowed as much by hotshot billiards as they are by hot women.
No one understands that better than the Black Widow, whose nickname suggests both her deadly precision with a cue and her persona as a manslayer. For ten years, Lee has been women's pool's highest-profile player, a traffic-stopping femme fatale in skintight black.
"It's where we're at," Lee says of the game's sex appeal. "I can't say it's a good thing or a bad thing; it's just the fact that attractiveness sells. And we have a lot of attractive women here. Some are more conservative than others, but they're still beautiful. I mean, Grace Kelly is sexy. There were a lot of women that were classy and beautiful and sexy."
Lee delivered all of the above the evening before the four-day tourney began, when she and 15 other top players were paired with reporters and Seminole Tribe members for a raucous pro-am contest. Lee had the men eating out of her hand.
The statuesque Lee moved around the table with her long, ebony hair swishing about, warming up by playing David Cypress, a member of the Seminole Tribal Council. As he looked down the cue readying a shot, Lee knelt and put her chin on the rail above the ball he was aiming at. She curled her bottom lip down into a pout. Then she dragged her two feet of hair across the green velvet, a moving hirsute obstacle course. He made the shot, and she jumped up. "You're starting to get on my nerves right now," she hammed to the crowd that had been drawn to her antics.
Later, Cypress racked up the balls, and she broke them, but they didn't scatter much. "What kind of rack was that?" she screamed. "I was taking it easy on you, but now..." The Black Widow turned to the crowd. "He's got aracknophobia! He can't rack!"