It has been an eventful few months for Lee Walker, who has gone from making his maiden ranking semi-final appearance, to overcoming a tour survival battle and witnessing close friend Mark Williams lift a third Crucible crown.
The Welshman is currently out in Hong Kong coaching the national squad at their impressive Sports Institute. We caught up with Walker to discuss the past season, the season ahead and much more…
Lee, you went into your first round match at World Championship Qualifying against Kristjan Helgason knowing you needed to win to retain your tour status. Although you lost out in the next round to Ricky Walden, how relieved were you to secure the 10-6 win over Helgason?
“That wasn’t a very enjoyable match. I knew that if I lost, I was off the tour. I know Kristjan is a very good player and that he has been doing well in amateur events. He had nothing to lose, because as an amateur his place on the tour wasn’t up for grabs. I went 3-0 down as well, so it was very pleasing to step up under that kind of pressure.”
Despite the fact your tour survival came under threat. There was a high point to the campaign for you in reaching your maiden ranking semi-final at the Gibraltar Open. Did you start to believe a first ranking title could have been within reach?
“I played some really good stuff and that was pleasing. However, it was also gutting not to reach the final, as I would have played against Ryan Day. I was Best Man at Ryan’s wedding, so to play him in a ranking final would have been very special. Having said that, it was a great run and I beat top opposition in Anthony McGill and Kyren Wilson on the way. It was nice to get a taste of being in the last four and hopefully I can do it again.”
How much of a thrill was it to be in Mark Williams’ camp during the World Championship and see him pick up his third Crucible win 15 years on from his last one?
“It was a fantastic few days. I thought he had a good chance considering how he had played across the whole season. It was an incredible final from both Mark and John Higgins, two of the best of all-time going right at it. Mark and I have been friends since we were kids, so it was special to be there.
“To go there and see him lift that trophy as a friend, as well as being involved in the coaching setup was amazing. It is a moment that will live long in the memory.”
Mark used to be very sceptical about the SightRight coaching method. However, it was you that convinced him to adopt it this season. How did you manage to change his mind?
“I’ve been around for a long time and I have seen a lot of different things in snooker. Mark trusts my opinion and I just told him to try it. He had obviously given it a bit of stick in the past, but I finally convinced him to give it a go and after ten minutes I could see that he liked it and what Steve Feeney had to say. The rest is history.”
You are currently out coaching at the Hong Kong Institute of Sport. Tell us a little bit about the work you do out there.
“Wayne Griffiths runs the academy out here and he brings me over about four times a year to help out. It is something I really enjoy. I get to work with the Hong Kong squad, which includes the women’s team, the juniors and the seniors.
“The appetite for snooker is huge out here. In all of the snooker clubs there are usually 30 to 40 tables and if you go there in the evenings they are almost always full. Hong Kong would be a great place to host a ranking event because the sport is so popular.
“In terms of my coaching, I am not sure how much longer I have as a professional and being a coach is something I want to go deeper into. I eventually want to start coaching new professional players. I’m teaching a few young players at the moment who I hope can come through.”