Liam Pullen believes that his loss to Stan Moody in the WSF Junior Championship final earlier this year was a crucial experience for him gaining a professional tour card at Q School earlier this month.
The 17-year-old from York faced off with Halifax rival Moody in Sydney, with a World Snooker Tour place on the line. He came up short in a 5-1 defeat and although he admitted the defeat initially was hard to take, he eventually used it to his advantage.
Pullen and 16-year-old Moody have developed a rivalry due to their geographical proximity to one another. However, they are part of a band of young players who are making big moves in the sport, including Ukrainian 17-year-old Iulian Boiko and Welsh 16-year-old Liam Davies.
“I think there has always been a thing with me vs Stan. He will probably say the same. We live pretty close to each other in Yorkshire. Since the age of about 11 and 12 it has always been us up against each other. I’ve started to see Liam Davies and Iulian Boiko over the last year. They are all nice people and we respect each other. Once we get on the table it is competition,” said Pullen, who will make his professional debut in the upcoming BetVictor Championship League.
“It is good to have people around my age to compete with. Myself, Stan, Liam and Iulian are all around the same age and in Australia we all knew it was probably going to be one of us. Obviously it turned out to be Stan. It is good that we all have bright futures and hopefully we can compete on the top stage against each other.
“It felt huge that match. That was my first big test of the tournament and it was the final. I obviously wasn’t ready to turn pro there and then. It felt massive at the time. Afterwards I did use it to my advantage, but it took a couple of months to get my head around it. I had to get over it. The experience I got from playing for a tour card helped me a lot in the final round at Q School. It was such a big defeat but it turned into an advantage.
“I’d never really been so close before. I lost in the semi-finals of the European under-21s to Ben Mertens but I definitely wasn’t ready at the time. The match in Australia was the first proper game for a tour card and I crumbled really. The pressure got to me. It is such a unique situation to be playing for a tour card. You can only really understand how it feels if you’ve been in that situation. It is a different kind of pressure.”
Pullen bounced back from that loss to come through six matches at the first event of Q School and earn a rookie tour card for the professional circuit. A crucial fightback against former professional Craig Steadman saw him come from 3-0 down to win 4-3 in the last 32. Pullen faced Alex Taubman in the final round and swept to a 4-0 victory. The main thing he has taken from his time in Australia was to try to take the pressure off himself.
“It’s the dream really isn’t it? To compete on that big stage. I think I’ll just allow myself to enjoy it more, rather than put pressure on myself. That is the key thing I learned from Australia, let yourself enjoy it more or otherwise you won’t be able to play well at all. At Q School, I didn’t any pressure on myself. Even in the final round, I wasn’t thinking about turning professional. It was a one frame at a time sort of mentality. I was just playing who was in front of me at the time. When I got to the last round I felt less pressure and relaxed.
“It takes time to figure these things out. You need to work at it and deal with it. You need to learn along the way. I didn’t actually feel like I played well at the time, I felt that I was struggling. The only time I did play well was the four frames in a row to win the final round. I just managed to get through each match and get over the line.”
Former World Seniors Champion Peter Lines has been an important figure in Pullen’s development since he spotted him and took him under his wing over seven years ago. Away from the baize they have been pushing each other, along with Peter’s son and tour professional Oliver Lines, to start running, hit the roads and get in the miles in.
“He’s helped me loads. So much. Before I was full time it was more technical because we didn’t see each other too much. From then onwards it was everything. He covered each part of my game and I am very thankful to him,” said English Under-18 Champion Pullen.
“The morning of the last day he just messaged me asking if I was ready to turn professional. I just replied saying yes and then it happened. Him and Ollie (Lines) came to watch me which was great. My dad was there as well. I went to do the interview and hadn’t seen anyone yet. It was the biggest interview I’d done before, so that was new. I didn’t know what to think. I was scrambled and I went to the players lounge and hugged Pete, Ollie and my dad.
“We have a little running club between myself, Peter and Ollie, which we do on an app. We are pushing each other at that. We are all level on about 10km at the moment. It is the feeling after a run which I like, you feel very good and as if you actually accomplished something. The feeling during it isn’t so nice! The last couple of kilometres are usually torture.”