Ball Breakers

They're cool. They're coifed. They're tightly wrapped. And they kick ass with a cue stick.

For all her antics, Lee sliced through the amateur competition like a buzz saw through a log.

If Ming Ng attracts an audience's attention during a women's tournament -- and she most certainly does -- then she's positively exotic at Hollywood Billiards. The spacious pool hall, just southwest of the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and State Road 7, serves a predominantly male, mostly middle-aged or older crowd. In other words, the kind of guys who watch women's pool on ESPN. Women are few here -- although it's owned by a sister and brother -- and those who do show up are usually in the company of significant others. But this is one of Ng's primary workplaces, where she spends many afternoons and evenings.

Ming Ng spends four to six hours a day perfecting her game.
Ming Ng spends four to six hours a day perfecting her game.
To the velvet born: Jennifer Barretta has the talent and the look fans crave.
Women's Professional Billiard Association
To the velvet born: Jennifer Barretta has the talent and the look fans crave.

A couple of weeks before the Hard Rock Casino tourney, Ng takes a break from her practice routine on a weekday afternoon. Sitting at a high, round bar table squeezed between two pool tables, she lights up a Winston that adds to the already considerable smoke plume hanging in the joint. She's wearing short-legged bib overalls and a white-brimmed hat. From up close, you can see the small diamond stud she wears in her pierced nostril. She's all smiles, relaxed and looking forward to the competition. Her teeth are perfect and white. She seems everything TV could want from a woman pool player.

Ng, in fact, made her TV debut this fall on ESPN's Trick Shot. She practiced about 50 hours to learn her trick shots, then submitted a video of her performance to ESPN. She was one of four women selected to compete at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. The Black Widow won first place.

"I learned it all by myself," Ng chirps. "It's just another area of pool to learn. It's like, if you were a doctor, you could specialize in bones rather than eyes. In pool, there's different games you can specialize in. I've always liked trick shots. It's very creative -- the execution, the stroke."

Ng is evasive about her early years, which were tumultuous, pervaded by poverty. She sums it up this way: "I come from a broken home. I've lived in a foster home. Here I am. So you know just a little bit about my background."

Ng opens up a bit more a few days later when she's joined by long-time friend Don Fedorow at a North Miami restaurant. She was born in Hong Kong, and at some point, her parents divorced and her mother moved to Miami. Her mother sent for Ming when she was 9, and Ming made the journey to Florida with her grandmother. Neither Ming nor her mother spoke English. She says she dropped out of high school to work to support the family. She's since earned a GED.

Asked what she expected out of her life in those early years, the question strikes her as absurd, and she laughs. "I don't know. I was just looking to make money to eat, to live. How can I think of tomorrow? There's no way. I didn't have a future. I'm on my own. How would I expect anything? There's no thought of anything."

Her passion for knocking balls around was present even as a teenager -- but only in the distinctly dowdy game of bowling. It was at Don Carter's Bowling Alley in Kendall that she met Fedorow, an avid pool player. "She was a pretty good bowler," he says. "Next thing you know, she's with her friends playing pool, and I could tell she had the knack for it. Eventually, from being there all the time, we became friends." Fedorow helped develop her game, and eventually she was making a living the way many pool mavens do: wagering.

He remembers when Ng was set to begin work at a new billiards club called Sharpshooters in the fall of 1992. Hurricane Andrew, however, destroyed the building before she could begin. Instead, she got a job at New Wave Billiards in southwest Miami, cleaning tables. For several months, National Guardsmen swarmed the hard-hit area and frequented New Wave, which had been spared. "They had no place to go because every place is closed," Fedorow recalls. "These guys like pool and like to bet -- five, ten dollars. She cleaned up on those guys, and they loved it because she's so small and so doggone sweet. She doesn't make an enemy doing it." He adds: "She has a way of stepping on your toes without ruining the shine on your shoes."

If Hurricane Andrew blew South Florida away in 1992, Ng absolutely blustered through the Sunshine State's pool tournaments and was ultimately named player of the year in the Ladies Florida Pro Tour. She then quit playing for three years for "personal reasons" and declines to elaborate. "We all have a life, you know?" she says.

The three-year hiatus, however, only invigorated her game. She was Florida champion of the Ladies Florida Pro Tour in 1996, 1997, and 1998, as well as rookie of the year in the Women's Professional Billiard Association in 1997. At the urging of a friend who was a billiards promoter, she moved to Los Angeles in 1999 to learn the business end of the game. "I was doing my pool thing, but L.A. was very, very big, and I didn't like the traffic," she says. "I didn't know my way around, and it was very expensive. But when you see an opportunity, you have to take it, good or bad."

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