Coming through Q School was an emotional moment for Heathcote.
Leicester’s Louis Heathcote admits that he had doubted his credentials at the top level, but after emerging from the Q School cauldron he now feels like a better player than ever.
Former Rookie of the Year Heathcote dropped off the circuit at the end of last season. However, a brilliant performance at Q School saw him come from 3-2 down against Ryan Davies in the final round to emerge a 4-3 victor and earn a fresh two-year tour card. Breaks of 111 and 74 in the last two frames turned the tie on its head.
It had been a difficult previous two seasons for the 26-year-old, but he now believes that technical changes, instilled by coach Steve Feeney, are starting to reap rewards.
We’ve spoken to Heathcote to hear about how he found the Q School experience, discuss his ambitions going forward and find out why running has helped his snooker mentality…
Louis, how difficult was it for you when you fell off the circuit initially?
“I started to doubt myself about whether or not I belonged on the tour. When I dropped off, I had half prepared for it, but there is no feeling like it. I was gutted and it didn’t really sink in until the next day. When I travelled home and saw my family, it really hit me. I have worked my whole life to become a professional and getting there was the best feeling ever. When you get comfortable, you can start moaning about things like going to qualifiers and take things for granted. After falling off, I realised it means everything.”
How did you manage to get yourself together and prepare properly for Q School?
“I regrouped, focussed and had a really good practice heading into Q School. Tom Ford gave me the keys to his unit. I played on his Star table for a month and that was really good preparation. I was in my own little bubble and the unit was just 25 minutes from my house. I wasn’t in the club and had my own space, with time to focus. I also started running a lot to clear my mind and I think that really helped with the mental side of things.”
In what ways has the running helped you?
“I’ve been getting up to a park near me for 7am each morning with two of my mates and it is a brilliant way to start the day. The rest of the day is going to be positive when you start like that. We are continuing this into the new season. I am trying hard to get fitter and I really hope that will help me. It is the mental side of it, that fight or flight element. When you feel like you are knackered and want to stop, you have to fight it and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Subconsciously I think that will help going into tournaments.”
How important is it to have the mental side of your game right to be able to compete?
“I never really knew the mental side was a problem until the last couple of years. I would be sitting in my chair, having lost the first frame, thinking about what I’d say when I lost the match. You look back and think how damaging those negative thoughts are. It is lonely out there on your own, but I hadn’t realised it was a problem. Everyone tells me how good I am and I do think I am a good player. I then had to ask myself what the problem was. I was thinking about not missing and having bad thoughts in the chair. I think it helps working with Steve Feeney as well and having a cue action that I can trust under pressure.”
How did you find the process of initially making the technical changes alongside Feeney?
“It has been a transitional period for me. It has been about changing where I am sighting and where I would usually be on the shot. To get my eyes and brain to adjust to the feelings has been a long process. I feel like in the second half of last season, I was playing good stuff and I was comfortable. I really trust it. I had to take maybe two steps back to go ten steps forward. I couldn’t have carried on the way I was going as I wasn’t winning much. Something had to change. I now trust in myself and I can move forward with belief. The changes have helped out in the pressure moments. ”
How much confidence has coming through Q School given you and what are your ambitions going forward?
“It has given me a lot of confidence. Nothing was really going my way in the last round against Ryan. To just try to stay with him at 3-2 down and take my chances gives me so much confidence. I have got better and can play good snooker under immense amounts of pressure. It is a completely different pressure to playing on tour. You don’t have another tournament next week to play in. This is literally to either have a job or not have a job. To produce two one visit breaks when nothing had gone my way is a massive boost.
“I want to start getting to the deep end of events and be in finals and semi-finals and start winning tournaments. If I look at the last four years I’ve won a lot of first and second round matches, but I’ve only ever been to one last 16. That isn’t good enough. I deserved to lose my tour card. If I want to get to the top I have to be in the deeper end of tournaments.”
Your close friend Joe O’Connor had his best ever campaign on the circuit last season. How much have his successes motivated you?
“It’s been like that my whole life with Joe. We grew up playing pool together. When I was starting out at pool at the age of 11 he was the European Champion, so I looked up to him then. I got into the Leicester team and the England team and I became European Champion and he was World Champion. Every step of our career, he has always been there in that step just above me. We moved into snooker and he turned professional. Then I turned professional and he made it into a big semi-final. He’s established now and I am trying to get there. I’ve had it for the last 15 years with him. He always motivates me. I see how hard he works and how well he is doing. We’ve been mates since we were young and I want to be there with him. Hopefully we can have some good battles over the years. It is good to have someone on tour with you that you are close with.”