Former Shoot Out champion Michael Holt believes a positive mindset is crucial if he is to earn an immediate return to the World Snooker Tour at Q School.
Holt is just one of a number of top players who suffered unexpected relegations from the professional circuit after World Championship qualifying last month. The Nottingham cueman was joined by the likes of Kurt Maflin and Fergal O’Brien in falling off the tour. Q School begins on Monday (16th), with Holt getting his campaign underway on Tuesday.
Dropping off the circuit was a difficult moment for Holt to come to terms with, having been a professional for 25 seasons since joining the tour in 1996. However, he admits that the damage was done long before he arrived at the English Institute of Sport for his qualifying matches.
The final death knell came with a 6-3 loss to Tom Ford, a match which had he won would have ensured his safety. Looking back, he admits that the qualifiers came with a brand of pressure which he hadn’t witnessed thus far in his career.
“I was disappointed, but I can’t put it on that match. I shouldn’t have been in that position going into the World Championship. It is my own fault and it is heartbreaking to have dropped off. I am where I am. I now have to go to Q School and get through. My game is still there. What can I do? I just have to prepare for it and see how I go,” said 43-year-old Holt.
“The situation completely took away any thoughts about the Crucible. All I wanted to do was to win my next match and be safe. If I’d got to Judgement Day, then I’d have thought about it. All I wanted was to save my tour spot and it was all or nothing. You have to win your matches and I didn’t. It happens every year to players and this time it happened to me. I tried and I failed.
“It is a different sort of pressure. The pressure of a final is trying to win the event, with a worst case scenario of a nice cheque. The pressure of falling off tour brings a different feeling. It is more heartbreak if it doesn’t go right. I actually played alright at the World Championship. If you let it come down to one event, the balls can go the wrong way and you can lose. That wasn’t why I fell off, it was what came before.”
Holt captured his first ranking title at the Shoot Out in 2020.
Throughout Holt’s career he has been open about the mental battles which he has faced, as he chases his own expectations and the fulfilment of his potential. Despite having reached three ranking finals and landed maiden silverware at the Shoot Out in 2020, he has been left frustrated not to have accumulated more accolades in his career. However, he hopes that if he can battle his way back onto the circuit, it can act as a catalyst for a more positive mindset, which in turn could yield better results.
Holt explained: “If I do get through, I’ve said to myself that I have to try to enjoy it more. You don’t know what you have until it has gone. As much as I have been appreciative of snooker over the years, I haven’t enjoyed it anywhere near as much as I should have. It’s a tragedy that I haven’t enjoyed it more, as I don’t have that many good memories. It has been a bit of an ordeal at times. Life is too short.
“If I don’t get back on I know I’m certainly not too old, so I will only stop when I can’t play to the required level. That simply isn’t the case and ironically I’m playing better than I ever have before. I’m not too proud to play in anything, I’m not like that. If I need to play events in clubs to get back on, then I will do that.
“It means a lot to everyone. Even the guys who make out that they don’t care like Mark Williams, do care and it means a lot to them. I can’t say that I want it too much or that I should have done more. In anyone’s career, you achieve what you deserve. It is the underperforming that kills you, not the losing. Ronnie O’Sullivan has lost more events than he has won and he is the best player in history. You can get contentment from doing as well as you can.
“I’ve said all the way through this nightmare, that the game is there. I thought to drop off tour I would have to be completely gone in every way and that hasn’t been the case. It is about results and I just haven’t got them. When I allow myself to play, I am performing at a very high level. It is all about allowing myself to play well, that is the battle. If I take the shackles off then I’ll be alright.”
Due to the season finishing, many of Holt’s regular practice partners have stopped playing for the summer. However, the Hitman has partnered up with a fellow victim of tour relegation Steven Hallworth. The pair have been working hard together on the practice table and hope that they will reap the rewards when Q School gets underway in Sheffield next week.
“There aren’t many players still practising, but Steven Hallworth is in the same position as me and we have been playing together. The first session wasn’t that good, because our hearts were still broken. We have both been working towards this though and it is on the horizon now. We have another session booked in this week. It is all about mentally preparing for it. Those who are entering it for the first time will be chipper and looking forward to it, for the guys dropping off tour it is about coming to terms with being there. The ex tour players have to deal with the mental side and try to turn up with the right attitude. You need to have a positive mindset to get through.”