The Scorpion is an eight-time player of the year and has topped pool's
scoring system, the Simonis Power Index, for three straight years.
Thorsten Hohmann 27
He served five years in the military before his breakout year, 2003; won
$350,000 at July's IPT event in Vegas.
Known as the Magician for his spectacular shotmaking, he is pool's answer
to Michael Jordan.
Earl the Pearl has won more than 100 nine-ball titles and was named to the
billiards Hall of Fame this year.
Nick van den Berg
El Ni�o was Europe's top-rated player when he was just 22 and is now making
a name for himself in the U.S.
To traffic in
understatement, pool has always struggled to capitalize on its popularity. In
the U.S. the game is played with some regularity by 50 million people, making
it a bigger participatory sport than golf. Until lately, however, a top pro was
lucky to make $50,000 a year in prize money. For perspective, the No. 100
player on the 2006 PGA Tour money list has already banked more than
Some of pool's
problems are inherent. The sport has never translated well to television, and
broadcast-rights fees are the lifeblood of contemporary sports. Plus, pool's
shadowy characters, rampant gambling and smoke-filled ambience can make it a
tough sell with sponsors.
history, the pool world nearly choked on its chalk last year when the
International Pool Tour (IPT) started and began throwing around cash as if it
were confetti. Suddenly, unfathomable amounts of money were being paid to
players who heretofore struggled to stay out of debt. This week's IPT World
Open 8-Ball Championship, which concludes on Sept. 10 at the Grand Sierra
resort in Reno, has a purse of $3 million. The winner will take home $500,000.
A first-round loser will still make $5,000. Says Greg (Spanky) Hogue of Tulsa,
"For a lot of us it means we can do what we love for a living."
Getting on the
IPT has become the holy grail of the pool world. Hustlers who traveled
incognito for years have come out of the woodwork. Two weeks ago Gary Abood, a
longtime road player, flew from his base in New Hampshire to London to play in
a qualifier in hopes of getting to Reno. "It's a good investment," he
says. "I didn't play near my best [at last month's IPT tournament] in Las
Vegas, and I won $10,000."
Pool being pool,
there are still questionable aspects to all this. The IPT was founded and is
run by Kevin Trudeau, the controversial author of the best-selling Natural
Cures books. In addition to having served a two-year prison term for felony
larceny, Trudeau, 43, has often been in the crosshairs of the Federal Trade
Commission and various consumer protection groups for allegedly making false
claims. He has been banned from making infomercials. Some skeptics fear that
Trudeau is simply using the pool tour as a platform to sell more of his books
nothing could be further from the truth. Having worked at a pool hall as a kid
in his hometown of Peabody, Mass., he had a longstanding passion for the sport,
which, he says, was deepened when he befriended Hall of Famer Mike (the Mouth)
Sigel. Trudeau saw an underfunded, undermarketed sport and started the IPT
because, he says, "I saw a huge void in the marketplace."
As for his
checkered past, Trudeau wavers between carefully worded defenses and mild
contrition. He settled his dispute with the FTC without admitting guilt, though
he paid a penalty of $2 million. "Some people will look for anything
negative," he says. "It's like, as a boxer why would you go with Don
King--he's a convicted murderer? The reason is that he's probably the best
promoter in the business. The past is the past."
Trudeau's expert marketing is abundant on the tour. The IPT fields of between
150 and 200 players include both men and women, ranging in age from 13-year-old
prodigy Austin Murphy to sixtysomething legends. The tour is truly
international-- Germany's Thorsten (Hit Man) Hohmann beat Marlon Manolo of the
Philippines to win in Las Vegas--attracting deals with non-U.S. networks such
as Eurosport. (In the U.S., IPT events have been broadcast, ironically enough,
by the Outdoor Life Network.)
If the players
have, thus far, been pleasantly surprised by Trudeau, the feeling is mutual.
One key, he says, is "paying these guys like the world-class athletes they
are." Put another way, big money has done a lot to remedy a struggling pro
sport. A natural cure, you might call it.