Hong Kong’s Ng On Yee has made dramatic progress in ladies snooker in recent years, and hopes one day to compete on the professional tour.
By Tim Dunkley
When she first saw a snooker table at the age of 13 at the General Club in Sham Shui Po, where her dad worked, Ng On Yee couldn’t have imagined how much that green baize oblong would affect her life. She is now one of the world’s leading female players, with a string of titles to her name.
Her father, Ng Yam Shui, one of Hong Kong’s top 16 players who now works at World Snooker Club 147 in Sheung Wan, was a major influence on On Yee early career, developing her passion for the sport. Showing a rare talent, she progressed quickly through the junior ranks and at the age of 19 she won the first of two IBSF Women’s World Championships.
In 2011, On Yee, whose highest competitive break is 104, decided to test her skills against the best female players in the world and came to the UK to compete on the World Ladies Billiards & Snooker Association (WLBSA) circuit.
And with three WLBSA ranking titles already to her name, On Yee is now setting her sights on qualifying for World Snooker’s main tour and competing against the men.
“Snooker’s most successful women, Allison Fisher and Reanne Evans, have managed to bridge the gap and play on the Main Tour in the past,” said 24-year-old On Yee, who is based at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) and works with head coach Wayne Griffiths, son of the 1979 World Champion Terry.
“This means it is already possible. This is a great achievement and I would like to achieve this – but I know it is very difficult.
“There are far fewer ladies playing than men and maybe less opportunities for women to pursue a full-time career in the sport.
“However, there are many strong female players in our sport. Reanne Evans, Wendy Jans, Maria Catalano, Chunxia Shi, my team mates from Hong Kong, myself and others have proved ourselves in major competitions and I hope, in time, more ladies will have a chance to prove that we are capable of competing against men at the highest level.”
Mandy Fisher, the mother of women’s snooker, returned this season as chairman of the WLBSA after a two-year break and was amazed by how much On Yee’s game had improved.
She said: “Thanks to Wayne, she is one of the most improved players on the circuit and, I would go so far as to say, one of the most rapidly improved of all time.
“I hadn’t seen her for two years so I couldn’t believe the difference. She is a very presentable young lady, very dedicated and plays a lovely game.”
Mandy, the 1984 women’s World Champion, reckons a larger quantity of women players would drive up the quality so they could compete against the men.
“I have always maintained that there is no physical reason why a woman should not be as good as a man at a cue sport,” she said.
“I just feel that the women don’t get the same opportunities and there aren’t enough players like On Yee, Reanne and Maria to push each other to greater standards. Therefore, bridging the gap is harder, unless you can play regularly against the men like Reanne has with some fantastic results.
“There are also not enough youngsters like Hannah (Jones) and Jasmine (Bolsover) coming up to push the top players to greater levels which is why we offer the WLBSA scholarship so that this will change in a few years.
“I’m also sure that if On Yee was to win the WLBSA World Championship, it will do wonders for the women’s game globally.”
Wayne Grittihs admits that qualifying for the Main Tour is a “huge challenge” for anybody but he believes On Yee has the potential.
“When I arrived in Hong Kong, she had already received very sound basic principles and training from Yam Shui and former Hong Kong coach, Chen Chor Kwan,” he said.
“My aims were to build on these strong foundations, form a training and competition plan to seek further improvement, and to help On Yee achieve the exacting goals she has set for herself.
“She is very capable. To be a three-time IBSF World Champion and Asian Games gold medalist before the age of 23 is a fantastic achievement and testament to both On Yee’s motivation and ability.
“Winning these major events at such a young age also shows that she has significant potential to improve. It is this potential we will continue to work on as she strives to become an even better player in the future.
“Even though this goal is a huge challenge for any player, male or female, I think she has the potential to achieve it – given time.
“On Yee’s commitment, her desire to improve and her will to win are impressive.
“For now, she is focusing on the process of becoming the strongest female snooker player in the world. The rest will look after itself.”
Away from snooker, On Yee’s hobbies include scuba diving in Thailand, playing golf and tucking into her favourite dish of oysters and sushi. But she insists she is never happier than when walking her eight-month-old golden retriever called Muffin.
“She helps me relax when I get home at the end of the day. It’s a welcome distraction,” said On Yee.
On Yee’s tournament wins
2014: WLBSA Southern Classic
2013: WLBSA UK Championship
2013: IBSF Women’s Six-Reds Championship
2012: WLBSA Northern Championship
2010: Asian Games Women’s Six-Reds Team Championship
2010: IBSF Women’s World Championship
2009: IBSF Women’s World Championship
On Yee, who is also studying accounting part-time at the HKU SPACE Community College, owes much of her success to the Hong Kong Billiard Sports Control Council, which has been instrumental in making Hong Kong a successful nation in world snooker – even though it only has the population of an average-sized Asian city. She trains at the HKSI, which provides funding, coaching, physical and mental training, sports science support and many other support services to ensure its athletes are in the best shape to compete at international level.