“I’ve ate, slept, bled pool my whole life.”
Greg Hogue admits to being focused on pool. He has been all-consumed by the game since 1981. At the age of five, Grandpa Frank (“Pops”) took him to a restaurant called Self’s Coney Island in Wagoner, Oklahoma, put him on a milk crate in front of an old American Eagle bar table and handed him a house cue. Greg made six shots in a row. He was hooked.
That was 33 years ago. Since then, pool has woven itself into Greg’s blood.
At the age of 11, Greg graduated from playing at Self’s Coney Island to a rec center called Sure Shot, owned by Norman Rowe. Here he entered his first tournament playing Snooker. He was the youngest player, competing against all older men, the oldest about 55 years old: farmers, salesmen, and a stay-at-home dad. Greg walked out the winner. While they weren’t professionals, Greg was only 11.
It was pretty impressive, and it felt good to win.
Greg remembers Sure Shot’s owner’s son: “I’ve been all over the country and played all sorts of pool players. Gary Rowe, his son, was one of the best players I have ever met. And the local sheriff. He did nothing but play pool in that rec center and do his job as sheriff. I have a long list of Champions I have competed against all over the United States and Gary Rowe was as smooth and played as well as anyone I have ever witnessed or competed against…”
Raised by his grandparents, Greg’s grandmother worked for a car dealership in Tulsa and had commuted 110 miles a day to get to work. After 30 years, the dealership showed their gratitude by buying her a house in Tulsa so she didn’t have to commute anymore. This meant that at 13, Greg moved to Tulsa.
Tulsa. It is and always has been one of the best pool towns around.
Everyone in Tulsa plays good pool. Scotty Townsend and Charlie Ford are the only two players that have ever come through Tulsa having won all the money.
Moving to Tulsa meant moving to a new poolroom, Q-Spot. This is where he got his first taste of action. Greg told me, “A lot of people have a negative outlook on action, but if it wasn’t for me growing up with action I wouldn’t be the player I am today. When you are playing for cash out of your pocket at a young age, you have to be serious about your game. I played my first $500 set out of my pocket at 15.”
Greg with his friends, Shane Jones & Darrell Cowen in the early years.
Q-Spot was also where he got his nickname, Spanky. Richard Templeton gave him the name when they were playing a 4-handed ring game, and Greg had just won six in a row. Richard said, “You better not win another game or I’ll have to call you ‘Spanky’ cause you keep spanking our asses…” Naturally, Greg won the next game, making it seven in a row.
And that is how Greg Hogue came to be called Spanky.
Greg played at Q-Spot for the next year and a half. There wasn’t enough action there for him, so he asked Pops where he could go to get more. Pops took him to the best action room of all time, in Greg’s mind. He took Greg to the Tulsa Billiard Palace, on 11th and Harvard, then owned by Jim McDermott and John Lapardis.
When he walked through those doors for the first time, it was like walking into a holy place, a sanctuary devoted to pool. The second he walked in, he knew he could not be a 14 year old boy anymore. There were nothing but pool players, gamblers, and professionals here, and they weren’t going to tolerate any 14 year old coming into their space, acting like a kid. He had to instantly grow up. If he couldn’t act a certain way, if he couldn’t cut it, then he couldn’t be in Tulsa Billiard Palace.
And Greg really wanted to be in this place.
The caliber of players in this place was like nothing Greg had experienced before: Fat Randy Wallace, Randy Jones, Jim McDermott, Mike Betts, Bobby Baldwin, Jay Ecohawk, Mark Coats, Jeff Melton, Justin Whitefield, Larry Burns and Charley Ford.
Roger Estell was also there.
Roger was the man who taught Greg plenty of life lessons along with the mental side of the game, and holds a special place in Greg’s heart. There have been plenty of players he has learned from, but none of them like Roger.
Now, you can go broke in a poolroom, especially if you were a kid like Greg was. Most of the older guys that hung out at Billiard Palace would see him walk in and think, “Fresh money…” Most of them beat Greg to death and took his money, but Greg feels every beating he ever took was part of paying his dues. As Greg said, “If you don’t pay your dues, you can’t call yourself a pool player.” The quality that separated Roger from the others was that he saw the potential in Greg, just a teenage kid.
Estell made Greg pay for his lessons in his losses at the table, but Roger played him cheap. Greg can’t begin to count how many $30 sets and breakfasts he lost to Roger during his early years. Roger made sure Greg took something away from each of their sessions, something that advanced him a little each time.
Truly, Roger Estell was Greg’s mentor.
Estell left Tulsa in 2008, and moved to California. In 2010, Greg was in California and ran into Roger. It was like the best family reunion anyone could ever have. They spent hours catching up.
Once Greg found Tulsa Billiard Palace, his grandparents couldn’t get him to go to school anymore. Grandma tried tough love, anything and everything, to get him to go to school. Finally, she gave in, and allowed him to pursue his passion. She even supported him by allowing an account to be set up at the Palace, where he would charge everything and she would settle up the bill at the end of every week for him. Thus, Greg quit school at 14 to pursue a life of pool. There have been a lot of struggles on his path, and there are moments he wonders what would have happened if maybe he had gone to school, to college—maybe there wouldn’t have been such a struggle. But then again, maybe he’d be going crazy sitting at a desk all wondering about what may have happened if he had just followed his dream of pool.
Greg was also the BCA State Junior Tournament Champion in 1990 and 1991, which was hosted at Tulsa Billiard Palace. This qualified him to compete in nationals in Louisville, KY. Jim Mc Dermott and John Lapardis took him to both of these the big tournament. In 1991, “Oultmulgee” Jack Arnold went with them to the tournament in Nashville, TN. Unfortunately, in 1990, Greg got too busy paying attention to the action instead of his game, and he came in 9th place…and, as he remembers, there was a action room in Nashville as well. Greg was older but no wiser; it was the same as the year before. He blew the BCA event off to stay in action.
In 1991, at age 15, Greg was privileged to play an exhibition match with Willie Mosconi. Seventy years old, Mosconi was on his last tour around the U.S., and Tulsa Billiard Palace was one of the last stops on Mosconi’s tour. To this day, it is one of the highlights of Greg’s life. Mosconi holds the straight pool high run record of 526 consecutive balls, and no one has touched his record in 60 years. It felt good to be in the presence of one of his idols and actually play with him. An added plus, Greg had everyone connected to pool in town watching him play, which was very cool. They played 9-ball, and they raced to five games. He thinks the final score was 5 to 3.
Greg Hogue beat Willie Mosconi.
Mosconi came over and shook his hand and told him he played well. Greg still gets emotional now just thinking of it.
This moment was truly the highlight of Greg Hogue’s young life.
Photos (except Mosconi) provided by Author.