By Craig Marx, Editor
When it comes to an 8-ball break, shooting pool one-handed, or any other form of billiards mastery, Antigo has one of the best of the best in the Midwest in current state masters champion Billy “The Kid” Lasee.
The young phenom originally lived in Milwaukee, but had family that lived in the Antigo area. After his mother was diagnosed with diabetes, Lasee made his way to Langlade County to take care of his ill family member.
Lasee recalls being six or seven years old when he first started playing pool, spending his younger days in the city playing at Krueger’s Bowling Alley in Menominee Falls. After returning to Antigo in his late teens, Lasee started playing locally at Strictly Billiards, a five-table pool hall on Fifth Avenue that closed up after two years of being open.
“Closing up Strictly Billiards really hurt the area. Kids would go there and actually stay out of trouble, but after they closed there weren’t a lot of places to go,” Lasee said.
Spending years on the road traveling, Lasee has since taken on sponsorships that help him with funding at tournaments. Proving himself to be one of the best in the state has given Lasee the opportunity to play regionally and even on a national scale.
“I put up most of the money to play in these tournaments because that is the job I’ve chosen, but for the big-time events on a state or national level, the sponsorships really help me out,” Lasee said.
Lasee is equipped by Jacoby Custom Cues out of Nekoosa, a company that has proven to be one of the most popular in the world and has also been featured on a PBS documentary detailing its factory.
“[Jacoby] has all kinds of celebrities from football players to singers that fly in just to have cues made for them there,” Lasee said.
Lasee won the state pool championship for the first time eight years ago, a feat that he cites as his first big break in the pool scene. The title win in Oconomowoc that year helped Lasee pull down the endorsements that have helped him to this day.
The local pool virtuoso’s accolades include 11 state titles, featuring four 8-ball masters champion wins in which Lasee also picked up back-to-back championships – an accomplishment that had never been obtained before.
Lasee is considered a master at the semi-professional level, with the top tier titles depending upon the size of the pool tables in use (seven or nine feet, respectively). The majority of tournaments in the Midwest are played on the seven-feet long “bar tables” that Lasee is most accustomed to after moving to Northern Wisconsin.
“Since there are not a lot of nine-feet tables around here, most of the tournaments that are closer by are ‘bar tables.’ After adding up all the airfare, hotels, and expenses to travel and play the best in the world, I’d rather play in tournaments around here on a more equal level. I still get to play against some of the best players in the world,” Lasee added.
Despite playing tournaments across the nation, including Las Vegas, Lasee prefers to stick to the Midwest, in particular his home state of Wisconsin. While only spending a few months of the summer at home to recoup and spend time with his friends, the champion pool player is on the road almost every weekend before and thereafter for tournaments.
“I pretty much play everywhere in Wisconsin, from Superior to Milwaukee, Wausau to Madison – everywhere,” Lasee said.
Making his income based almost solely on pool, Lasee says the most he has ever won in a sanctioned tournament was close to $5,500 at the state tourney. In the double elimination, bracket-style tournament, the field of master-level competition in Lasee’s ranks includes typically 40 of the best players in the Wisconsin.
To put the competitive field into perspective, there is only one registered “pro” in the state – Larry Nevel. The line between the professional, master, and semi-professional levels, however, is “real grey” according to the current masters state champion.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘What are you going to do in the future?’ and I tell them that this pays my bills,” Lasee commented. “The traveling aspect is really cool, but I’ve put in my dues too. It’s pretty hard to go out every weekend and risk everything you have.
“There is a lot of stress behind it. It’s a grind,” Lasee added. “When I go out and play, I give it a 110 percent every time. I will never say that I am going to win. I am not a cocky guy like that, but I will try like it’s no tomorrow.”