Patti Goff leaned over the pool table, looked down the line of her custom-made cue stick, and calmly slammed the 8-ball into the corner pocket.
It wasn't the first time I've been beaten by a lady, but it was the latest. And there's no shame in losing to a woman who plays two nights a week and is headed to Las Vegas later this month as a member of a local 8-ball team to compete in the American Pool Players Association (www.apaof southcaro- lina.com) national championship.
"I've been shooting pool since 1999," said Goff, who serves as Judge Alex Sanders' assistant at the College of Charleston by day. "A friend brought me to this pool room one night and I just liked the game and the people and started playing."
The pool room is Terri's Sports Bar on James Island, where cigarette smoke and the crack of pool balls greets you when you walk through the door.
It's just one of many venues around the Lowcountry where teams are formed and compete in 8-ball and 9-ball tournaments for fun and profit, but mostly fun.
Goff is the first to admit she's not a pool shark. On the league's handicap scale of 2 to 8, she's a 4.
"You don't have to be that good to start playing in a league," she said. "I just wanted to play and not be embarrassed. You learn as you go."
But the 49-year-old is the only woman on her eight-person team, "The Goodfellas," that qualified to play in the Las Vegas tournament Aug. 22-28 for the national team championship.
"I started coming here because I was a single mom with two boys and needed a night out away from the kids," Goff said. "And I found a home away from home."
Now the boys are grown and she's still chalking up her stick and trying to get better.
"It's like any sport," Goff said as I set up another rack of balls. "You've got to learn the fundamentals. You know, it's hand-to-eye coordination and learning to follow through on your shots."
All the other stuff, like putting English on a ball to move it around the table for position, she learned from friends and teammates like Tim Russell, Ron Brown, Patrick Mosier, Ricky Fender and Phillip Lacson.
"My mama said ladies don't go into pool rooms," Goff said with a laugh. "But that was a long time ago."