|Donny Mills is a pool player from Clearwater, Florida. His most notable finish is third place at the 2009 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships. He has placed high in other major events in addition to winning many regional events. Mr. Mills answered one of my Questions for the Masses a while back, so I asked him to answer ten more. Those ten more turned into slightly more than ten more. Read on.|
This was the Question for the Masses and Mr. Mills’ expanded answer.
What did you buy with your first score?
One night back in late 1995 or early 1996 I was practicing at Family Billiards with twenty bucks in my pocket (twenty bucks to my name by the way) and in walks Trevor Braymore looking for action. He was the best in the area at the time and I played half a ball under him. I told him I’d take the last three for ten bucks a set (if I lost the first set I was going to quit, after all I only had twenty). I won the first set hill-hill. Then we play again and again and again, double or nothing every set. We adjusted to the call eight and played a hundred a set. I ended up winning 520 bucks in the end. I was so excited! I never had that much money in my hands before. I went to the auction and bought some Isuzu for 350 bucks shortly after that. It was the first car I ever bought.
What, in your opinion, determines who is a professional pool player?
By definition a pro is a player that makes a living doing it. Unfortunately there are few that do.
In my mind a pro is a pool player that plays at a certain level, regardless of how many tournaments they’ve won or done well in. A good example of a pro is Chris Bartram. He hasn’t done much in tournaments, but he could beat some pros that have done well in big tournaments.
Do you consider yourself a professional player?
Although I don’t play pool for a living I definitely consider myself a pro because of the level I play at. I wish there was more money in it. Playing in big tournaments [U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, U.S. Open 10-Ball Champions, Turning Stone, Seminole Tour finale] is my favorite thing to do on earth.
Have you played internationally at all?
No. I’d like to some day. I haven’t traveled internationally either. I didn’t start flying until 2011. I was afraid to fly. Finally got over it and started flying in 2011. It’s a shame because in 2008 and 2009 I did well in a couple of big tournaments and I most likely would’ve made the Mosconi Cup team if I flew to all the [qualifying] events.
Fear of flying?! Fascinating. Tell me more!
|Did wanting to play pool contribute to overcoming the fear of flying?|
|Absolutely, yes. I procrastinated getting over my fear for far too long. One day I had a talk with myself about how ridiculous and irrational this fear was. I felt like a caged bird in the pool world. I had to “get busy living or get busy dying” like Shawshank Redemption. Statistically speaking, flying is safer than eating a corn muffin.|
|Where did you get that statistic? Did a corn muffin try to kill you?|
|Corn muffin or any food, meaning you’re more likely to choke to death on food than to crash and burn on Delta.|
|According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there were 485 aviation-related fatalities in 2011. A 2009 study done by the National Safety Council stated a total of 4,600 deaths from choking, the “unintentional ingestion or inhalation of food or other objects resulting in the obstruction of respiratory passages”. Both these studies were the most recent I could find. In conclusion: have a martini when you fly, but do not eat the olive.|
|What was the tournament you flew to (assuming your first flight was pool-related)?|
|First flight was to the Ultimate 10-Ball Tournament in Texas back in April 2011. I had just made the switch to a low-deflection shaft. I didn’t play well. I went two-and-out. The two guys that beat me I could give the last four to, easily. I wanted to throw up.|
|Did the stress of flying affect your play at all?|
|No. Not that I knew of, anyway.|
|You just chose to make things super-tough on yourself for that one tournament?|
|Yup. Maybe I was bored.|
In 2009, you played TAR17 (9-ball, race to 100, break from the box) against Shane Van Boening. Why did you choose to play 9-ball instead of 10-ball?
Because I knew I would outbreak him playing 9-ball. Nobody outbreaks him in 10-ball.
|Did you outbreak him?|
|I did out break him. But, he changed his break from soft to his power break and caught a gear and didn’t leave me much when he didn’t make a ball on the break. It was weird. He changed it when the score was around 70-70. Pretty damn lucky is what it was. A perfect storm.|
|Mr. Mills made a ball on 82 of his 83 breaks.|
|How did you practice for your match?|
|I would practice by breaking and making the corner ball and leaving a shot on the 1-ball. In practice, I broke and ran nine racks in a row three days in a row. When I played Shane I never ran more than five or six. I don’t get it.|
|Do you have the DVD of your match?|
|Yes, I do have my TAR match. !@#$%|
|You watch it?|
|Watched it about three or four times. I sat through it and took both of our Accu-Stats TPA [Total Performance Average — see the Accu-Stats blank scoresheet with instructions here] score and break and run percentage. I’m sick in the head.|
|What were the stats?|
|I forget. I did it three years ago. I had it all written down. I can’t remember if it’s at home or if I got mad and threw it away. Technically I was on track to win 100-85 [Mr. Mills had predicted this score in an informal pre-game interview]. I was up 66-57. It went to sh#t after that.|
|Would you play that game again?|
|No, I wouldn’t. He plays better and breaks better at 9-ball nowadays. Can’t beat him.|
Do you prefer gambling or tournaments?
It’s been so long since I’ve had a gambling match I almost forget what it’s like. I’m not sure on that one.
Compared to 2009, when you had your third-place finish at the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, are you playing more or less pool these days?
I was playing more pool back then. For one reason the Seminole tour was having multiple tournaments in the area. I would say I’m a better player today but my confidence was much higher in 2009. I was finding a way to get out or win more often because I was really confident.
|What tours and events do you play nowadays?|
|I play a couple of Poison Tour events here in Florida and I play in the bigger events — Turning Stone, Super Billiards Expo, U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, and U.S. Open 10-Ball Championships.|
|Are you going to play in all the professional events [U.S. Open 8-Ball, U.S. Open 10-Ball, and U.S. Open One Pocket] at the BCAPL National Championships in July?|
|Only the 10-ball. No two-week vacations for me.|
|Work gets in the way?|
|Mr. Mills has his own business selling cars.|
|Do you feel work holds you back from being a better pool player?|
|Yes, a little. I practice for two hours every other night and I get no action. I could play nonstop if I didn’t work.|
|Would you ever consider cutting back or quitting work in order to better your pool game?|
|No way! Not until I retire. With my ability I could get a ball better at the most.|
What goals in the game do you have for yourself?
My goal was to win the U.S. Open [9-Ball Championships]. It still is.
It sucks coming so close (by one game back-to-back) to do it [in 2009]. I lost hill-hill to Mika [Immonen] and Ralf [Souquet]. Ralf had me down 9-4. I ran out and broke and ran five to take the lead 10-9. I didn’t make a ball on break and never shot again. Mika had me 10-8 down. I made a super shot and tied it hill-hill. Then I scratched on break and left him a road map.
My other goal is to play on the Mosconi Cup.
|I bet you have that match on tape. Do you watch it?|
|Not in about six months.|
|What do you look for when you watch your old matches?|
|I don’t know.|
|You just watch them?|
|Doesn’t it hurt to watch yourself lose?|
|Yes, it does.|
|Are you a masochist?!|
|Maybe I am. A tiny bit.|
How did you get started playing pool?
We had an eight-foot table in our garage when I was fifteen. Me and three friends would play 8-ball. I was second best out of the four of us with my wrist cocked sideways.
My dad took me to a pool hall called Family Billiards to play pool right before I turned sixteen. I got my license and started driving there to play alone on eight-footers. I remember there was this guy named Marco who would play on the front nine-foot table (he was the best there). After I saw his stroke and game I fell in love with the game. I kept playing on eight-footers alone until one day a guy came over to me and said, “You have a great stroke, you should play on nine-foots.” So I did, and learned lots of stuff from those guys. Two years later I’m beating Marco, the best player there, even. It’s on video, summer ’96.
|Do you have everything on video?|
|I have quite a bit.|
|What was your first major tournament?|
|September 2001: I’m sitting in my chair playing Tiger Woods Golf one night. The 2001 U.S. Open [9-Ball Championships] players’ meeting is about fourteen hours away. I say to my girlfriend, lets pack our bags and drive to the U.S. Open (twelve-hour drive, FYI). So, in the middle of the night, we drive to the U.S. Open in Virginia. I had never played on a Diamond before. I go two-and-out. [Earl] Strickland beat me 11-2 and some other guy beat me 11-5. I found action at Q-Masters and everyone I played robbed me. It was a humbling experience. I felt the size of an ant.|
|What did you do afterwards?|
|Bought a couple of Accu-Stats VHS tapes and drove home to Florida.|
|Went home to my life: car business and pool on the nine-foot Gold Crown. No tournaments again until 2003.|
|I went to the U.S. Open that year and got 25th. Felt pretty good.|
|And then in 2009?|
|I felt great. Every match I played I felt like I was stealing. Except the TV table matches. Those two matches were the worst two I played out of the whole tournament. I didn’t play bad, just not like my others. The TV table played different.|
|How did it play different?|
|Bouncy. Played shorter, too.|
Thinking back to your fifteen-year-old wrist-cocked second-best-of-four 8-ball-playing self in a garage — did you imagine then you would be the player you are today?
When I was fifteen I never thought I’d be the player I am today. I didn’t know what great pool was. I mean, I thought my uncle who played bar pool was the best player in the world. Even ten years ago I never thought I would reach this level.
|What about the game made you dedicate yourself to it?|
|I really don’t know what made me dedicate myself. I just love to play.|
|Have you ever thought about quitting the game?|
|The thought of quitting pool has never even crossed my mind.|
Do you hate it when people spell your name “Donnie”?
Well! That was interesting. I have a friend who likes my interviews because they are generally very fast reads. So much for that. Thanks go to Mr. Mills for being a good sport and making this interview the most thorough to date.
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