DAVID GRACE has gone from playing at the Crucible to snooker’s amateur ranks in just over 12 months.
It may be a headline writer’s dream, his ‘Fall from Grace’, but the 33-year-old Leeds player has been left ‘snookered’ after dropping off the professional Tour.
From reaching the semi-finals of the UK Championship in 2015 – where he grabbed the national spotlight in his journey to the last four in York – to his debut at last year’s World Championship finals in Sheffield. He was seen as one of snooker’s emerging stars.
But, such is the cut-throat business in snooker, Grace has tumbled out of the world’s top 64.
And after failing to earn a Tour card via last month’s Q School, Grace has been forced to join the newly-formed Challenge Tour, aimed at helping snooker’s top amateurs.
Ten Challenge Tour events will be staged across Europe, with the top two players on the final Order of Merit earning a two-year card to the main professional Tour.
Grace picked up £700 for reaching the semi-finals of the first Challenge Tour event in Burton, a far cry from the £30,000 he banked for his UK Championship run in York.
Not that you will hear Grace – who works part-time at Leeds’ Northern Snooker Centre to help pay the bills – complain.
“Nobody is going to get rich out of it, but there’s 10 events so there’s the chance to pick up decent money every month,” he said.
“That’s the reason why everyone wants to get on the Tour, because the money is so good there.
I lost too many first-round matches, especially early in the season, where I went out in the first round four or five times on the trot. You can’t afford to be picking up no points.David Grace
“If it was good on the amateur scene, there would be no reason for anyone to turn pro’. It keeps you hungry.
“I have just taken it as a hazard of the profession, nobody has a God-given right to be on the Tour.
“Unless you are performing well, and in the 30s in the rankings, you are always going to be in a dog fight to stay on the Tour.
“I am lucky enough that I haven’t had to go to Q School for seven years.
“I think being off the Tour will kick in when the season starts, the draws come out, and I am not in them.
“When Peter (Lines) and all the lads from the club are going away to the big tournaments.
“When York comes around, obviously that will be a sickener,” said Grace, who reached a career-high 43 in the world rankings last year.
But with snooker’s two-year rolling ranking system, and the prospect of losing those points earned at the Barbican in 2015 – which had effectively propped up his ranking – meant he faced a stiff challenge to stay in the world’s top 64 last season.
“I was aware I was only going to keep those points for two years,” he said. “I had to lose them at some point.
“Halfway through last season, before that money came off, people were showing me the rankings and saying ‘you’re doing well, you’re 40-odd’. And I am thinking, you’re looking at the wrong list. I was looking at the provisional end-of-season list, which had me hovering around 64, so right on the borderline pretty much all season.
“Unfortunately, I just fell a little bit short at the end.
“You can’t have any complaints at the end of a two-year cycle, 40-odd tournaments. I lost too many first-round matches, especially early in the season, where I went out in the first round four or five times on the trot. You can’t afford to be picking up no points.”
The game’s governing body, WPBSA have put in £100,000 prize money for the Challenge Tour, which will see events in Latvia, Germany and Belgium, before culminating in Barnsley next March. In Burton, Grace was joined by several other local players including Sheffield pair Adam Duffy and Joel Walker, Dronfield’s Oliver Brown and Leeds’ Daniel Womersley.
Grace said: “The Challenge Tour is something that wasn’t there before. It’s match practice, and the prize money is good for a two-day event.
“I am just trying to look at the positives really, as it’s had a lot of flak on social media. I am just trying to embrace it.
“It’s an opportunity to develop the younger players. It’s not designed for the likes of me, if I am honest, it’s for younger players to get a feel for being a professional before they actually get on the Tour.
“But they will have to find a way to beat the older guys.
“It’s something to keep you practising, and keep you focused. There’s a tournament pretty much every month throughout the season now.
“If you just had Q School, you are kicking your heels for 12 months waiting for it to come round again.
“Some lads who don’t play any events all season, by the time Q School comes around, they put so much pressure on one tournament, they just can’t handle it.”
Losing his spot in the professional ranks has been tough for Grace, but he hopes for a swift return in the next 12 months.
“I still work at the club part-time, that’s a little bit of security,” he said.
“And I am lucky that my sponsors – Northern Snooker Centre and Quickslide – have still backed me.
“I am just trying to get on the Tour as soon as I can.
“I want to try and avoid going back to Q School, there are plenty of routes open, events offering Tour cards.
“There is pressure on playing, knowing you have bills to pay, but there’s also that extra need and desire to win.
“Since I bought my house with my wife a couple of years ago, you do have bills – which you didn’t have before – and it’s a real eye-opener.
“It adds a bit of pressure, but you also have that desire not to let this chance go, you need this money.
“At the first round of the World Championship this year, it was £9,000 or nothing. That’s such a big match for everyone, who has bills to pay.”
With the current world champion, Mark Williams, aged 43, and players like Stuart Bingham and Mark King enjoying success in later parts of their careers, time is on Grace’s side.
“I knew I needed to improve, even on the Tour,” he admits. “Even in the first Challenge Tour event at Burton, I was still making mistakes which I had made on the Tour. It’s still snooker, at the end of the day, at a decent level.
“I need to raise my level, to not only get back on the Tour, but do better when I do get back.”