Jack Leu, who sells, installs and repairs billiard tables and equipment, stands next to his billiard table Friday in his home at Crooked River Ranch. (Ryan Brennecke/Bulletin photo)
Former pool shark builds billiard business
A little ego is part of the game
By Joseph Ditzler, The Bulletin, @josefditzler
Apr 3, 2017 at 05:29PM
What: Green Felt Billiards
What it does: Sells, installs, repairs billiard tables and equipment
Pictured: Owner Jack Leu
Where: 3500 NW Ice Ave., Terrebonne
CROOKED RIVER RANCH — Jack Leu is egotistical and a bit arrogant. He says so himself.
“I haven’t been known to be the best personality when I play pool,” he said Friday. “I’ve been egotistical and arrogant my whole life.”
Bravado in a pool player is part of the hustle, said Shane Tyree, communications manager for the Billiard Congress of America, based in Chicago.
Leu, 64, started shooting billiards at age 10. Twenty years later, while still a hot stick in the pool halls of Central Oregon, he started selling, installing and refurbishing pool tables — and made a handsome living at both, he said. Leu also worked full-time at mills that made molding, doors and windows in Central Oregon.
His pool-shooting acumen has faded, but he’s still in the pool-table business as Green Felt Billiards.
Billiards as a pastime declined in popularity as states passed laws banning smoking indoors, Tyree said. The Great Recession also put a dent in sales.
“When the housing bubble burst, people stopped building houses,” he said Monday, “and they stopped making billiard rooms and buying new billiard tables.”
To round out the trifecta, Tyree said, young people generally prefer video games, so the next generation of would-be pool players is shunted off in another direction.
Jim Lebold, a billiard equipment dealer and owner of The Cue Ball, a 25-table pool hall in Salem, agreed. Young people come to his pool hall but play on an electronic device more often than they shoot pool, he said.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I used to sell 125 to 150 tables a year,” Lebold said Monday. “Now I sell about 50 or 60, and that’s the way it is in the U.S., not just this area.”
Lebold supplies Leu with pool tables and other equipment. Leu said he prefers the Olhausen brand over any other, but he’s just as likely to hunt down a used, affordable table for a customer as he is to sell that person a brand new pool table. In his home deep in the Crooked River canyon, at the bottom of a twisting dirt road, Leu still keeps an Olhausen billiard table front and center.
He talked about his decades as a top shooter in pool halls around Central Oregon. His responses have been edited for content and length.
Q: When did you first start playing?
A: Jack Leu: When I was 10. My sister lived in Portland. My family went up to see her at Christmastime. My dad and my brother-in-law went to shoot some pool; we went down, it was on Powell Boulevard in Portland. There was a pool room there. I remember where it sat. It’s not there anymore.
I got hooked.
In 1969, I was a senior in high school, I had a ’68 Pontiac GTO that was paid for, and I bought all my gas by my pool playing.
Q: Like we see in the movies, you played for money?
A: “The Hustler,” the old days? I don’t know. But the other one, Tom Cruise, “The Color of Money”? That’s real life, as real as you can get. When Paul Newman was sitting there, at the bar, and Vincent was breaking a 9-ball rack, he said, “Man, that guy breaks with a sledgehammer.”
You don’t even have to know it. You know who can play and who can’t.
Q: Just from the sound of that break?
A: Just from the sound, you grow up with it, you know what it is.
Q: Where did you play?
A: I first started at the Golden Cue in Bend. Then Dick Huff opened up the 8 Ball in Redmond; I started playing there real heavy. I can’t remember what year it was, but I won 31 straight pool tournaments there as a kid. I remember an advertisement for the 8 Ball on the radio, and the announcer was talking, he goes, “Dick’s got these pool tournaments every week and he really wants people to come out and try to play in them because we really need someone to beat Jack Leu.”
I still remember that. I’ve dominated pool in Central Oregon like Tiger Woods has dominated golf.
Q: In “The Color of Money,” for example, they play a hustle, luring people further into the game by not showing their hand right away …
A: I didn’t do that. I just went in and said, ‘Who’s the best?’ and tried to beat them. But if somebody wanted to play for money, that’s fine. I won $8,000 in one match in Redmond one time.
Q: In that movie, Paul Newman’s character has a line: “Pool excellence is not about excellent pool.” What’s the key to excellence in pool?
A: I think God gives you two gifts; I don’t care if it’s playing pool or playing basketball. One, having the ability to do it well, and the second one is the ability to not burn out. Like Tiger Woods, when he was playing, he ate, slept, breathed golf. That’s all he did.
Q: Is there a basic technique to shooting pool?
A: If you watch (professional players), a lot of them, when they shoot, are rubbing their chins on their stick. Their cue is their rifle barrel, and when you do that, here’s your target (points to billiard ball), here’s your front sight (points to cue ball) and here’s your barrel (points to stick). When you shoot really low, you look through the cue ball so you see the cue ball hitting the target. Stand square, bend down and point your stick.
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