Junior International Championship Player of the Month – Landon Hollingsworth

Landon Hollingsworth

Over the past four years, the country has watched Greenville, SC’s Landon Hollingsworth grow up. Administrators and staff of junior events from coast to coast, spectators at those events and through the magic of modern media, countless others engaging on Facebook and Twitter have seen him transform from a 12-year-old kid to become a 16-year-old young adult and a Billiards Education Foundation’s (BEF) Junior National Champion, twice, in the same year. They will watch him, in about a week, (October), represent the USA at the World Junior Championships in Austria.

When his Dad (Randy) first introduced him to pool, getting him in to establishments in Greenville, SC that were appropriate and would allow it, Landon, like any youngster, had to be juggling a gazillion things that would normally be running through the head of a 12-year-old. Now he had to figure out which end of a cue stick to hold and how not to tear the cloth on a table by hitting (and missing) a ball so hard, that hit perfectly, was on its way to a different time zone.

“In the beginning,” Landon said, “I wanted to hit them hard all the time, until I figured out that I couldn’t be doing that all the time.”

His father, watching him shoot back then, liked what he saw.

“He picked up the form so quickly,” Randy recalled. “Straight arm, head. In no time, he started making balls.”

There was a lot of work ahead for the youngster, but most of the more important components of that work were about avoiding bad habits. So Landon got through the basics. Learned how to hold the cue and soon enough, learned how to hit the ball cleanly and put one of the colored balls into a pocket by hitting the white ball into that colored ball with a cue stick. Then, he began to figure out how to pocket two balls in a row, and then, three. And that really caught Landon’s attention.

“Making more than one ball in a row was fun to me; different,” said Landon. “I wanted to make them all.”

“So, then,” he explained, “My Dad told me that he’d let me play in tournaments once I’d learned how to clear a rack.”

Well, that didn’t take long.

It should be noted that Landon has not been the only youngster growing up in front of our eyes these last four years. There were other junior national champions in those four years and some of the juniors found themselves competing outside the arena of competition designed for their participation. Landon’s been playing on the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour since he was 13, when he took home his first cash payout ($75) for finishing 9th at a stop in Spartansburg, SC. Watching all these juniors compete via live streams on the Internet, people could see what was happening to them, watch virtually every drama of their maturation as it played out in and around the sport of pool.

Landon’s growth, as it was happening, had a way of playing out visually. Many of the juniors who’ve been a part of this past year’s surge in junior event activities, especially the ones aware that their match was about to be streamed live all over the country, possibly the world, tended to be a bit shy about displaying anything but the most common and acceptable emotions. A laugh here, a little frown there, but awareness that others, possibly hundreds, are watching had a way of making them self-conscious, a little shy about letting their emotions get the best of them in front of a camera.
Landon, though, did not have this problem. In fact, he had quite the opposite problem.

Like growing up in general and success in any professional sport, competitive pool demands that players learn to control their emotions. Not to sublimate them to the point of eradication, but to make informed decisions about when (and what kind of) emotional outbursts are appropriate, along with when (and what kind) are not. In the developmental stages of life, temper tantrums or evidence of frustration will bring the bullies out in the playground. In pool, they have a way of attracting the sharks.

Landon Hollingsworth

Landon and lessons from LoreeJon
In his first year at the tables, Landon had the good fortune to be taught by World Champion and WPBA legend, LoreeJon Hasson (now, Ogonoski). Her instructions initially focused on the basics and she asked him, bluntly, whether he wanted to be the best pool player in Greenville, SC or whether he wanted to be the best in the world.

“If you want to be the best in the world,” she told him, “you have to hone in on these mechanics I’m teaching you, because when you look at the greatest players out there, they all look proximally the same. They all have unique strokes, and style and speeds – the things that are all theirs, but (while) Shane (Van Boening), as an example, is like a robot out there, his mechanics are all correct.”

“That was kind of what I taught him,” she added, “and then, I watched him play in a junior event.

“Landon!” she told him, afterwards, “you wear your whole entire match on your sleeve! When you throw your arms up in the air or slump in your chair, you’re telling everybody, ‘I’m upset! See me!”

She used Elm City, NC’s Joey Tate, a developing rival in a lot of junior competition, as an example to drive the point home.

“Whether Joey Tate plays good, bad or in between,” she told him, “it doesn’t matter. His emotions are always in check.”

“Because,” she went on to explain, “when you miss a shot or scratch or do something that you should absolutely give yourself a break for, and throw your arms up or slump in your chair, people like Joey Tate are like sharks. They will pounce and eat you.”

Early on, part of Landon’s penchant for an excess of emotional responses stemmed from his being intimidated by some of his fellow junior competitors, like Tate and Lazaro Martinez.

“I used to be fearful of the top players, like Joey and Lazaro,” he said recently. “You can’t let names intimidate you.”

It was more than just an anecdote about sharks that characterized LoreeJon’s contributions to Landon’s development. It was also about staying within yourself and not allowing anything you may or may not know about your opponent to influence your game.

“She helped my mind set,” said Landon. “She always said that it didn’t matter who I was playing, it was about how I played against the table.”

Landon Hollingsworth

The passage of time and the growth of a boy
LoreeJon was with him steadily throughout 2017 and this past February, she had an occasion to watch him play in the Billiard Sports Network’s Dynaspheres Cup Junior 9-Ball Championships. Evidence of his improvement got her “all choked up.” Hollingsworth competed in the 15-18 year old division of the junior event and made it to the hot seat, downing his regular nemesis, Joey Tate. Tate, though, came back to defeat him in the finals and claim the event title.

“I had watched this child go from having little control over his emotions, (to being) so together,” she said about watching him compete four years after she’d schooled him in the basics and the necessity of controlling his own emotions. “He was polite and kind when he lost. After he lost that last match to Joey, he told him ‘You played great!”

“If he continues to grow, stay with the right people and play in tournaments regularly,” she added, “I believe he’s another Skyler Woodward. He has all the makings of a champion.”

Like LoreeJon, other in-person and online spectators have noticed. They’ve witnessed the growth, emerging visually, and like Landon’s Dad, they’ve liked what they’ve seen. Herman Parker, tour director of the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, on which Landon scored his first cash payout, was initially not impressed.

“To be honest, when I first met him, he didn’t impress me at all,” said Parker. “Just another junior player. I didn’t see him as being a good player down the road. I did see that in Joey Tate, but not right away in Landon.”

“Over the last year,” he added, “he has really matured (and) definitely grown up in front of my eyes. His mental attitude has been able to improve and get better. The attitude and mental toughness have helped his game to improve.”

Since his first cash payout on the tour, Landon has gone on to bring cash home from 20 events on the tour, claiming an event title four times. He went undefeated on the tour last month to chalk up the fourth one. This year, already his best recorded earnings year, to date, his geographic reach stretched to (among other places) Maryland in the Dynaspheres Cup’s Junior Championships and its 10-Ball Championship, as well, where he finished in the tie for 9th place with NYC’s Matt Klein, Texas’ Clint Palaci, and Mid-Atlantic veteran, Shaun Wilkie. He also traveled to the West Coast where he was runner-up to Gabriel Martinez in a Junior 9-Ball Open (19 & Under) at Hard Times Billiards in Sacramento.
But the performance that really sticks out for Herman Parker with the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, was Landon’s work in the 1st Annual Ronny Park Memorial held in Gastonia, NC this past May. He finished in 3rd place, but getting to that point was what impressed Parker, then and to this day.

“That, to me, has been his biggest accomplishment, because of the size of the field (90 entrants),” said Parker, “and the overall quality of the opponents he faced.”

In that event, Landon won two matches on the winners’ side of the bracket before being forced to embark on an eight-match, loss-side winning streak that would take him all the way to the semifinals. He got by two of the tour’s top-ranked players, Josh Heeter and Dave Anderson during the run, and moving into his fifth loss-side match, drew former US Open 9-Ball Champion, Tommy Kennedy. In that match, Landon, ahead by two at 4-2, put himself in a position to run out and finish with what Parker described as a “ridiculous jump shot on the 8-ball,” which caromed off of an opposite rail and came back to knock the 8-ball into a pocket.

But the youngster wasn’t done. He next faced former junior competitor Hunter White in a battle for advancement to the quarterfinals. He shut White out and turned to face his second former US Open 9-Ball Champion, Johnny Archer. He defeated Archer by the same score with which he’d dispatched Kennedy, 5-2. The semifinal score was 5-2, as well, although Daniel Heidrich spoiled Landon’s hopes for a spot in the finals, eliminating him by that score.

Landon Hollingsworth

Landon and dozens of fellow junior competitors benefit from increased opportunities
Landon and dozens of his fellow junior competitors became the beneficiaries of a veritable flood of junior events this year, which commenced in January when Ra Hanna and his On the Wire Creative Media organization picked up the junior-event ball and ran with it. Under the banner of the Junior International Championships, Hanna launched a series of eight tournaments, featuring five different divisions; 18 & Under Boys and Girls, 13 & Under Boys and Girls and a ProAm division, designed originally to give competitors who had aged out of their age-specific divisions an opportunity to continue competing. What he did not anticipate was that the younger players in the 13 & Under Divisions wanted to compete against their older counterparts, as did the 18 & Under division players wish to compete in the ProAm events.

Many of them did just that. Landon, who initially did not perform in these JIC events as well as he was doing on the regional tour circuit, never did win any of the eight events in the 18 & Under Boys division. Although his appearance in all eight events, combined with respectable, if not stellar finishes in each of them, including a third place finish in the last one, allowed him to join 15 other competitors, who will compete in the JIC’s 18 & Under Boys division Championships on the last days of the International Open later this month (Oct. 28-30) in Norfolk, VA. He also didn’t perform as well over the eight events in the ProAm division, although he did come from the loss side to down two of the rivals that had intimidated him in the early years of competing. He lost the hot seat match to Tate, downed Lazaro Martinez in the semifinals and claimed the last ProAm title by defeating Tate in the finals. Initially slated to advance the top two players in the ProAm rankings, awarding them an entry fee to compete in the International 9-Ball Open, a decision was made to advance three, when Landon’s finish in the final three events (2nd, 3rd, and the win) led to a tie for second place in the Pro Am ranking points.

And, of course, in the middle of the JIC series, Landon competed in his third BEF Junior Nationals and came away with the win in two age divisions; the first time this was allowed at the Junior Nationals. He defeated Joey Tate in the finals of the 16 & Under division on Friday, July 30 and within the next hour or so, defeated Ohio’s Riley Adkins in the finals of the 18 & Under Division. He, Tate and Adkins will be among the 17 male and female junior competitors representing the United States in the World Junior Championships, originally scheduled to have happened already this past July, but due to travel restrictions, are now scheduled for this month (October 6-10) in Austria.

“It was unreal,” said Landon of those improbable and previously impossible two wins at his third appearance at the Junior Nationals. “It didn’t hit me, that first day. I mean, I knew I’d won twice, but it didn’t really hit me, what I’d accomplished, until the next day.”

He identifies which of the two upcoming events (the International Open and the World Nationals) is more significant to him as a toss-up.

“Both,” he said. “I’ve never played in a Pro event and the World Nationals will be my first trip overseas.”

Landon Hollingsworth

The now-young-adult looks to the future
While most of the people who have watched Landon develop have had limited opportunities to watch his development by being either at the actual events or seeing his matches play out on the live streams, Ra Hanna watched that development, up close and personal, through all eight JIC events. What resonated with him, stronger than Landon’s skills or what he may have learned about controlling his emotions, was his growth as a human being; his desire to give back.

“He was commentating with me at one of the events,” Hanna recalled, “and because he’d had somebody do it for him, he put himself out there for others. Told anybody watching that if they were ever feeling bad and needed to talk to someone, to call him.”

“He’s a bit of a slow starter,” said Hanna of his skills and presence at the tables. “He errs on the side of defense, but he plays the percentages pretty well. He makes good decisions, Pro decisions at an amateur level.”

“The first time he won (on the JIC series) was the ProAm championship,” he added, “but he was always out there, knocking at the door.”

Hanna noted, too, that while Landon is understandably wrapped up in what will more than likely be remembered as one of the most eventful years of his life, he doesn’t forget where he’s come from. Noting that at one point during Landon’s visit to commentate in the broadcast booth of an event, he mentioned that when he was through, he was going to go sit with his Mom.

“He talks about them all the time,” said Hanna, “which is pretty commendable.”

“He’s grateful,” Hanna added. “Just grateful.”

Landon credits Hanna and everyone involved with the JIC series for any number of things in terms of his developing career, up to and including his eventual comfort, playing in front of a camera for eyes everywhere to see.

“At the start, that made me really nervous,” he said, “but now, it gives me more grit when I know I’m on camera. The JIC series was a big part of that.”

His Dad gets a lot of credit from him for introducing him to the sport, in what is already beginning to feel like a long time ago. He also notes that it was his Dad who encouraged him on a plane ride back from one of the junior events, to think seriously about deciding on a supplemental career. He credits his Mom (Tasha Butler) for all of the effort she has put into supporting him; win, lose or draw.

“My Mom has been there for me all the time,” he said, “to keep me striving to win. In fact, that (discovery that) I can’t hit the ball hard all the time. . . that actually came from her.”

“She’s been a very strong influence on my life,” he added. “She has helped me out through wins or losses with consistent encouragement.”

Landon’s growth and development has not gone unnoticed by the wider pool community and Cuetec has reached out to sponsor him. According to Kyle Nolan, their Branding and Communications Manager, the company is thrilled to have the young man on their team.

“We believe that he has the work ethic and personality to excel in whatever he does,” he said. “We look forward to helping Landon achieve his goals, in the game and out.”

“Their support means a lot to me,” said Landon. “It’s reassuring to me and my parents that they are just as concerned about my education and character, as they are about my play schedule.”

“I’ve got the best equipment now,” he added. “Now I’ve got to put in the work.”

Landon is also supported by Break & Run Billiards and Runout Renegades.

The pool community is going to lose Landon Hollingsworth for a little while in about two years. Though basically, his aim is “to get to that pro level’ with pool, he has taken Dad’s advice to heart. He has already committed to join the Air Force when he turns 18, looking to become a pilot. It’s a decision that was prompted, in part, by his awareness that the “Air Force is the only branch of the military that’ll let you jump out of an airplane by yourself, with no support person.”

“And,” he added, “I can retire earlier. That set my mind to it.”

For now, he is preparing for his trip to Austria and later this month, heading for Norfolk, VA to compete in his first Pro event at the International Open. He is not working on any particular regimen in preparing for these two events. It’s just business, as usual.

“Playing every day,” he said. “Like normal.”