Charlie Darling has traveled the world showing off his artistic billiards skills.
“I’ve been all over Europe, Holland, Belgium, France, Argentina,” Darling said. “There’s not a stretch of highway I haven’t crossed in the United States. There’s not a major city that I haven’t shot pool in.”
His most recent trip was in October, where Darling was one of three Americans who traveled to Argentina to participate in the USA vs. the World Tournament.
Representing the American team were Darling, Mike Massey and Andy Segal.
Massey is in the artistic billiards hall of fame and one of the biggest names the industry has ever known.
Segal is the current No. 1 ranked artistic billiards player in the world.
“It was kind of like the big three Americans together again. We lost by one point, 32-31,” Darling said. “It was the first time I’ve ever been to South America. It was beautiful.”
Darling, who grew up in Pacific and is a longtime Washington resident, enjoyed the experience of returning to the trick-shot business after somewhat of a hiatus.
“It was one of the nicest trips I’ve ever been on. I went to China for an event last year and we didn’t go five or six blocks from our hotel. I didn’t get a chance to see the countryside,” Darling said. “This time, I tossed in three days at the end of the trip for sightseeing. I spent some time with friends, including Mike Massey. We got the chance to see a lot of great things over there.”
Nicknamed “Spitball Charlie,” which comes from his signature shot, Darling has been the subject of many news stories and sports programs, including ESPN’s “Trick-Shot Magic” in 2002 and 2003.
The crowning achievement for Darling came in May of 2001 in Las Vegas at the Riviera Hotel and Casino. Before a packed house of billiards enthusiasts, Darling defeated Massey by a single point to win the World Championship.
In addition to the world title, Darling also holds the North American championship in 2002 and 2003.
Trick Shot Background
A trick shot is a shot played on a billiards table, which seems unlikely or impossible or requires significant skill.
The balls frequently are organized in ways that are unlikely or impossible to appear in normal play, such as balls being in a straight line, or use props such as extra cues or a triangle that would not be allowed on the table during a game.
As an organized cue sports discipline, trick shot competition is known as artistic pool.
Billiards trick shots are the subject of increasing international competition, both amateur and professional.
The formats vary depending on the competition.
Some, such as the World Snooker Trickshot Championship, are purely exhibitions, with a panel of judges scoring subjectively to determine the winner.
The greatest contemporary champions of artistic pool include 22-time World Champion Paul Gerni, and more recently, Massey, Andy Segal, Tom Rossman, and yes, Darling.
From the Start
Darling has been shooting pool since he was 10 years old.
“I’ve always been a good pool player. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was beating everyone in Pacific. When I got to be 15 and 16, I went to St. Louis and played on the weekends for money. Me and my buddies would pack in a car and go find a pool hall to play.
“During the summer of my college days, I would hitchhike down south, as far as Florida, with only a backpack and a pool cue, and hit places along the way, playing for money. I always came back with just as much money as I went with, if not more. I also hitchhiked several times to nearby towns like Rolla and Springfield to play, and didn’t think anything of it. Back in the 1970s, hitchhiking was no big deal.”
While attending college at the University of Missouri, Darling represented the Tigers at three Big 8 Conference Billiard Tournaments.
Darling first came up with his “spitball” shot nearly 40 years ago. It never fails to bring down the house.
He has the ability to launch a cue ball from his mouth to make a number of remarkable shots. In one of those shots, the cue ball hits five rails on the table and pockets the ball.
“It always gets a lot of laughs, even when I miss it. When I was on ESPN, they wouldn’t show it because the producer’s wife didn’t think it was dignified. She was disgusted by it,” Darling said. “Most people enjoy it. I always make sure I wipe off the ball before I put it in my mouth.”
So how did Darling come up with that idea?
“I was at a show one time and saw a man spit the ball from his mouth,” Darling said. “So I tried it, and made the shot on my very first attempt. I’ve added a lot of variations to it.”
Darling had the opportunity to show his shot to an artistic billiards legend.
“In 1976, ‘Minnesota Fats’ came to Columbia for a show, and I attended it. I got a chance to show him the shot, and he got a kick out of it,” Darling explained. “He had his manager with him, George Edick, who was the owner of Club Imperial in St. Louis. It was a famous dance club where people like Chuck Berry and Ike Turner performed. So George Edick invited me to perform for four days in downtown St. Louis at Cervantes Convention Center, which is now America’s Center.”
Darling’s connection with ‘Minnesota Fats’ opened a lot of doors for him.
“Any time ‘Fats’ had a gig in St. Louis from 1976-79, which was about 12 to 15 times, he invited me to be a part of it,” Darling said. “Things just took off from there. I was on a show called ‘PM Magazine,’ which was a local and a national broadcast. I heard from people all over the country about what I was doing. I got to meet a lot of people and make a lot of connections.”
The “spitball” is not Darling’s only shot.
To be a former world champion and a two-time North American champion, Darling needed an entire arsenal of trick shots up his sleeve.
He’s still working on new shots these days.
“There are certain things that I do on the table that no one else does,” he said. “I’m working on getting more videos of my shots on YouTube. I have about 20 on there now.”
Along with his participation in artistic pool events, Darling designs and makes signs for businesses at his shop, Darling Graphix, 309 W. Fourth St. in Washington.
He’s produced a number of signs for area businesses, including Old Dutch Tavern, Marquart’s Landing, 305 Liquor, John G’s Bier Deck and Cowan’s Restaurant.
Darling recently completed a handpainted mural at Riechers Tire & Auto on South Point Road in Washington.
“I’m real proud of that mural,” Darling said. “It took about 2 1/2 months to complete. It was four to seven hours a day, five to six days a week.”
Darling also designs, prints and sells T-shirts.
“I produce shirts, signs and just all forms of artwork for businesses or individuals. I’ll do whatever you need,” Darling said. “A majority of the stuff I do is hand-done.”
Darling’s work can be found at www.spitballcharlie.com.
When Darling is not working in his design shop or practicing on the pool table, he enjoys a little peace and quiet.
“We own some property out in the country. I like the quiet, the sounds of nature. There’s so much noise in our day to day lives. Sometimes I just want to relax and put my feet in the water.”
Married to Lisa Darling, “Spitball” has two daughters, Claire and Emma. Claire is a graduate student at Rockhurst University and Emma is a senior at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School.
Being healthy is a top priority for Darling.
“I had four stints put in my heart three years ago. I’m still breathing, so that’s good. I watch what I eat, although they tried to kill me in Argentina with all the food they served us,” he said. “I walk for exercise and swim during the summer. We have a great park system in Washington. Everyone should take advantage of all the trails and paths we have in town.”
While Darling has had success in the business world, his biggest passion is pool.
“I’ve never gone a few days without playing. Any time I walk by a pool table and someone wants to play, I’ll stop what I’m doing and play. More than anything, I like to entertain and make people laugh,” Darling said. “My first love is playing pool. That’s the way it will always be for me.”