I’m just kidding … no disrespect to the players!
All four had to battle extremely hard to earn their new tour card. They deserve respect and huge congratulations. I hope that they will fully enjoy the next two seasons.
O’Brien, Lawler, Lee And Bai Earn Tour Cards
Rod Lawler, Fergal O’Brien, Andy Lee and Bai Langning came through Q School event one in Sheffield to earn two-year cards to the World Snooker Tour.
The quartet have earned the right to compete on the pro circuit for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons.
Former British Open champion O’Brien was relegated from the tour at the end of last season but the 50-year-old Irishman has bounced straight back. In the final round he beat Rory McLeod 4-1 in a battle between two players with a combined age of 101.
“It’s a tough week,” said former Masters finalist O’Brien, who turned pro in 1991 and had never been relegated before last season. “If you don’t get through the first event here then the pressure is only going to build. I’m really proud of the way I battled for everything and kept a good attitude. A couple of weeks ago I wasn’t even sure whether I would play in Q School. If I was going to play then I was going to give it everything.
“I don’t see myself playing more than two more years and I plan to play a limited schedule. Over the last couple of years I’ve been chasing points and haven’t always enjoyed it. That frees me up to choose the tournaments I want to play and take more breaks.”
Lawler is another veteran with more than 30 years experience on the tour. The former International Open finalist, age 50, dropped off the circuit in 2021 but is now back for two more years. He let slip a 3-1 lead against Brandon Sargeant in the final round but then dominated the decider to win 4-3.
“I’m really delighted to be back on tour,” said Liverpool’s Lawler. “I can’t give up the enjoyment of the battle, that’s what I have really missed over the past year. I’m coming towards the end of my career so I have to embrace the next two years and enjoy it.”
Hong Kong’s Lee last played on the pro tour in 2020 and now returns after a two-year absence. The 41-year-old scored a 4-2 win over Luke Simmonds, pulling away from 2-2 to take the last two frames with a top break of 57.
“It’s disbelief, I’m shocked to have got through,” said Lee. “When Covid hit in 2020 I went back to Hong Kong and I couldn’t come back to the UK. So I haven’t been playing to any kind of elite level over the past two years. I have practised occasionally with Marco Fu which has really helped.
“The last round of Q School is the worst match that any snooker player can be involved in. There is so much at stake, it’s all or nothing.”
China’s 20-year-old Bai was relegated at the end of the 2020/21 season, though he played in most ranking events last term as a top-up amateur. He now regains his tour card thanks to a narrow 4-3 victory over Sunny Akani. Thailand’s Akani led 2-0 and 3-2 and had chances for victory in each of the last two frames, but Bai won them both on the colours.
That said, objectively, it’s not great for the future of the sport that two laureates of this first 2022 Q-School Event are in their 50th, and a third one in his 40th.
Fergal doesn’t intend to play in everything. I can understand why given his age and where he stands in his career. That said, he’s a competitive animal and I’m not sure that he will actually take that many breaks!
I fully expect Rod Lawler to play as much as he can. Behind the slow going man – on and off the table – hides a determined and ferociously competitive animal.
Andy Lee’s win though may prove very significant for the future of snooker in Hong Kong. The following post was made by Wayne Griffiths on Facebook almost immediately after Andy’s victory:
HONG KONG BILLIARD SPORTS PUNCHES ABOVE ITS WEIGHTCongratulations
to Hong Kong’s Andy Lee for once again securing his place on the WST main tour for the next two seasons. Hong Kong now has more professional players on the main tour (per capita) than any other Asian country.This qualification through Q School is a huge boost for Hong Kong Billiard Sports as they are threatened with losing elite status from April, 2023. The players, in both snooker and pool, keep showing why they belong in the Elite Tier A level. Let’s hope that the Hong Kong Sports Commission can also see the ongoing potential in our sport in Hong Kong.Well done Andy
Being in Tier A level is extremely important when it comes to the funding of the sport.
The match between Sunny Akani and Bai Langning was torture for me.
I like Sunny who I have met personally on multiple occasions. Long covid has hit him hard and this is probably the reason why he is in this situation now, needing to qualify for the main tour again. I’m wishing him the best for the two remaining events.
I never met Bai but he impressed me when, having spent nearly the whole 2020/21 season in China because of covid, he came back for the 2021 World Championship and reached the last 48 stage. He’s still only 20. He has a sound technique. He hasn’t got many good results on the main tour so far, but he certainly has the potential to do well. The tour needs more young players like him.