Michael Holt: ‘Leaving school early to play snooker remains a huge regret in my life'
Michael Holt upset Neil Robertson in the World Championship first round with some stunning play. Speaking to Eurosport at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, Holt tells Desmond Kane about how he is trying to make up for lost time by studying a business degree away from snooker, a sport he feels he should never have sacrificed his schooling for.
Same venue, changed sport.
“I’ve not watched Terry winning the World Championship yet,” says Michael Holt. “Not really had time..I’ve only had two days off,” smiles the man from Nottingham, aware of his tutor’s reputation as a figure who was slower than rust back in his pomp.
Holt’s coach is the methodical Terry Griffiths, the 1979 world champion from Wales, a character who fairly plodded to the summit of snooker by playing safe with safety in mind in a completely different version of the game that we witness these days.
It is fair to say ‘Holty’ would not have toppled the 2010 world champion Neil Robertson on Tuesday night if he had fraternised with the methodical outlook Griffiths deployed to wear the Crucible crown in 1979. Snooker’s grinders are certainly a dying breed.
There are none left in this year’s tournament. Peter Ebdon was probably the last at this particular event before he was bludgeoned 10-2 in the first round by Marco Fu. The game in the modern era is more about attack, attack and attack some more. It is important to get your blow in first rather than opt for an obvious percentage shot.
Griffiths, like a Jedi snooker version of Yoda in all his green baizery, has installed some ways of his force into Holt’s armoury. Certainly in maintaining composure of which Griffiths was one of the best back in the day.
For a man who has a reputation for being prone to wobble, the way Holt took out Robertson the other night justified his ‘Hitman’ nickname.
“Terry was a bit of a grinder, but it is a bit of different game these days,” acknowledges Holt. “From what I hear from the players who were around then, the game has improved. There is a lot more attacking play.
"You can only play as good as you are at the time, and if Terry had been around now he would have played a bit differently with faster cloths and more reactive balls. He would have been a champion in this era because he would have learnt the game differently. "
“Terry has been a great help in helping me to improve, and staying calm.”
Griffiths was certainly a composed figure during his peak years. Little wonder as the players of yesteryear used to enjoy free snouts courtesy of title sponsors Embassy along with a few halves while the other bloke sitting next to him was doing his stuff. Or not as the case might be.
Holt would baulk at such a thought. This is a bloke who is a qualified fitness instructor, who is studying a degree in business as he bids to make up for what he felt were lost years when he left school early. Not quite the sign of a misspent youth, but Holt thinks he could have used his formative years more wisely.
"I’m studying a business degree at the open university. It is tough to take in because I’m not an academic. I didn’t have much interest in school which is one of my biggest regrets."
“I should have gone to university and could have still played snooker afterwards. It wouldn’t have been the end of my life if I had done that.
Michael Holt celebrates a 10-6 win over Neil Robertson.Eurosport
“Instead of watching a box set of 24, I’d rather study. I’m not one who likes sitting on their backside.
“I don’t have enough money to do that, but even if I was a Premier League footballer, I’d still like to stimulate myself in some other way.”
Holt is world number 28. He has picked up around £88,000 so far this season with another £22,000 guaranteed for reaching the last 16 here. Nice work if you can get it, but hardly largesse.
Holt is level at 4-4 with close friend Mark Williams after an absorbing first session of their second-round match at the Crucible on Friday morning. Holt led 4-1 before the two-times world champion recovered to restore parity after eight frames of their best-of-25 frames get-together.
At the age of 37, Holt does not need reminding of his shortcomings.
“I don’t talk about that match (against Steve). I was 8-2 up. I basically imploded. I was a bit petulant and somehow lost an 8-2 lead because of me being an idiot,” said Holt. “I can’t remember much about it, but it was 11 years ago. I’ve changed, I'm older and hopefully wiser.
"There has been some dark times because my career has been frustrating."
"I’ve been in the top 32 for over a decade and always won matches, but I’ve never been able to quite string it together.
"Which is more about attitude, not my play, but in life it is not about what you think you should do or can do, it is about what you do. "
“You have to deal with that, and sink or swim. I’ve travelled the world, and I realise I’m blessed to have met some great people. I’ve always made a living.”
He enjoyed a 4-3 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan at the World Grand Prix in Wales last month, but is quick to point out he is no more animated than anybody else when the winning line comes into sight.
“It is not like I don’t close matches out,” he said. “At certain times, I’ve not finished matches off. Yet everybody who has played snooker has lost a big lead at some point."
Holt supports the notion that snooker is a sport. If golf can make it into the Olympic Games, Holt feels there is no reason why snooker should not harbour such ambition.
“People think if you don’t get out of breath, it is not a sport," comments Holt. "It depends what your definition of sport is really. You are competing against someone else.
“Mentally, it is brutal. There are so many variables that you can’t control, and it can be torture. For me, it is a sport because it is so tough mentally.
“There is no right or wrong way to help yourself relax playing snooker. If standing on your head for 20 minutes before the game works, then do it. I don’t think looking for one magic formula is the right thing to do."
Same venue, but Michael Holt sounds like a changed man.