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PICAYUNE PEOPLE: Marble Falls billiards buff Scott Johnson breaks down beloved game

Scott Johnson of Marble Falls

Scott Johnson of Marble Falls relies on his lucky gloves and vest (pictured) when he plays any high-level games at his private pool hall in Marble Falls. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

Psychology plays a major role in the game of pool, according to 66-year-old Scott Johnson of Marble Falls, who is somewhat obsessed with the game. 

“There’s bar players and there’s people that know how to play pool,” he said. “Bar players think that all you have to do is make balls. They think if you can make anything, you can beat anybody. People that know how to play pool know how to move the cue ball. If they know the odds are too low for them to make a shot, they’ll make it where you (the opponent) don’t have a shot either.”

Johnson’s love of the game is evident in his personal, members-only pool hall built out of a portable bank building he bought in Blanco and moved to his Marble Falls property in 2008. The space was meant to be an office for his real estate rental company, but his pool-playing pals had another idea.

“Some of my friends said, ‘You’ve got all this space you’re not using. You should put in a pool table!’” he said. “Finally, I decided that we’d put three in. And then I put in three more. And then my friends wanted some 9-foot tables, so we bought some of those.”

Only a handful of area players are allowed inside the pool hall, and they all have a reverence for the game.

A former Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout Troop 284, Johnson asks his guests to follow that organization’s motto — “Leave no trace” — when using his facility.

“The people who come over who are members cover the table a certain way and brush it,” he said. “It’s always perfectly kept.” 

Johnson learned to play pool in his family’s garage in the Dallas area nearly 60 years ago.

“I’m the baby of five and it was 1966,” he said. “My dad had two teenage daughters who were eight and six years older than I. He decided the boys chasing his girls should be at our house, so he bought a pool table and put it in the garage.”

Before long, Johnson believed he had perfected the craft.

“I played and played and played and played, so I thought I was pretty good by the time I was 10 or 12,” he said. “I played a lot until I was 24. I kind of backed off after that. When I got married and had kids, I never played.”

Over 30 years later — at the age of 58 — Johnson reintroduced himself to the sport.

“I started going to the tournaments around here at Pat’s and Pardners and Mr. B’s and I couldn’t win,” he said.

One night, a spectator named Terry McDonald approached Johnson, offering to teach him. McDonald was a certified pool instructor but wasn’t any good at the game himself.

“He was looking for someone to prove that you didn’t really need to know how to play pool to teach someone to play pool,” Johnson said.

After first telling McDonald no, Johnson decided to see what this pool sensei had to offer.

“I called him up and said, ‘Terry, I give. I’m ready to submit,’” he said. “He told me to forget everything that I knew and to let him take me from scratch, and so I agreed.”

During their first session, McDonald broke the news about the sorry state of Johnson’s pool-playing ability.

“He told me, ‘The bad news is I’m sorry to hear you’ve been playing pool for 50 years because you don’t know (anything),’” Johnson said. “He said, ‘The good news is you handle your pool cue well and you know how to hit the ball. Your stroke sucks, but you know all the angles on the pool table. I can teach you if you listen.’”

After two years of weekly practice, McDonald’s billiards experiment bore fruit.

“I went almost every Sunday — probably about 45 Sundays a year — for two years,” Johnson said. “I thought I was good (at 12), but I actually had no real knowledge of the game until I was 60. It’s a huge mental game. There’s all kinds of stuff that people don’t know.”

Mainly, Johnson learned to pay attention to detail.

“I can miss a ball by just being a little off on my stance,” he said. “Sometimes, I get down and I think, ‘Oh, that’s going to be an easy shot.’ I have to get up and go, ‘No. Get behind it like you’re Tiger (Woods) on the tee box.’”

Pool’s ever-changing nature, game to game, is central to Johnson’s love of the sport.

“I have never played the same game twice,” he said. “It’s physically impossible for the balls to go the same way twice. I can get beat by so-and-so, rack ’em, and then beat them. It’s a draw of some sort. I don’t know how to define it.”

Johnson is humble about his own abilities as a player. 

“I’m clearly not the best,” he said. “There are 10 people in here who are good. If I said I was fourth, there’d be several between five and 10 who would differ on that.”

The student has now become the teacher.  

“I teach, but I don’t have a student that’s done well or instructed someone that has won anything big,” Johnson said. “I’m not looking for money or business or anything, but if someone wants pointers, I’ll help them out.”

Before instruction begins, the veteran pool player warns prospective pupils of the game’s difficulties.

“It’s not an easy game,” Johnson said. “When you think about pool, you don’t really think that it’s an endurance game. It is an endurance game.”

Above all else, billiards demands dedication and time.

“The most important thing to concentrate on is to spend the time on your stroke,” Johnson said. “People don’t want to put that type of time in, but you have to if you want to be successful.”

nathan@thepicayune.com