IAN Preece was just 17 years and 147 days old when he became the then youngest winner of snooker’s World Amateur Championship in 1999.

The Newport cueman seemed set for a bright future in the professional ranks, with some even tipping him to go all the way to the top.

However, fast forward to 2010, and with his love for the sport at an all-time low, Preece slipped off the game’s main tour for a second time.

It has been a long road back for the left-hander, but six years later and the dad-of-two now finds himself among the green baize elite yet again.

“I didn’t pick up a cue for four years and it was only about a year ago that I started playing again and then decided to give Q School (tour qualifying) a go,” said Preece, now 33.

“I’d played snooker since I was nine but I wasn’t enjoying it towards the end of my last season on the tour – I fell out of love with the game.

“I didn’t think I would play snooker again, and I even gave my cue away to a good friend of mine.

“When I decided to play again I didn’t have a cue, I had to go out and buy a new one.”

He continued: “I kept in touch with some of the snooker boys and I suppose that probably helped me fall back in love with it.

“It made me think about all the good times I had with them and going away to play for Wales.

“When I started playing again I really enjoyed it and thought I was still good enough, so I believe my break did me good.

“My girlfriend Lauren has backed me since I said I wanted to play again and I can’t fault my family for all their support.

“I want a fresh start and as there are a lot more tournaments now compared to when I fell off the tour, it means there are more chances to keep my tour card.”

Preece secured a two-year tour card earlier this month after finishing third on the Q School order of merit.

He believes he is close to the form that took him to the world amateur title, a triumph that holds many fond memories but which at the time also put a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.

“I was looking at the pictures the other morning and couldn’t believe it was 17 years ago,” he added.

“I still have the cue I played with then, and I’m probably going to go back to using it once I’ve had it lengthened a bit.

“The world amateurs is a massive event and if I didn’t get through Q School my aim would have been to play in it again.

“There was a lot of expectation after I won it. People were saying I was a future world champion and I was still only 17.

“I had quite a bit to handle but I don’t blame that for me falling off the tour.”

The event Preece is probably looking forward to the most now is the Welsh Open, a tournament he played in on two occasions when it was held in Newport.

And he is eager to right the wrongs of those previous appearances – Preece suffered 5-0 defeats to Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire in 2007 and 2009 respectively.

“The main thing I’m pleased about is that I don’t have to qualify for the Welsh Open,” he said. “I’ve been more excited about that than anything.

“I’ve played in it twice before and I’ll be in it next year, regardless of what happens between now and then.

“I didn’t have great experiences when I played in the event before. It was my first tournament playing on the television tables and I was very nervous.”

Preece doesn’t have long to wait for his first match back on the main tour.

He heads to Preston Guild Hall this weekend as the 2016/17 season kicks off with the qualifiers for the Indian Open, World Open and Riga Masters.

*Preece would like to thank Eazy Glaze in Newport for helping fund his trip to the Q School events in Burton-on-Trent, while he is also looking for new sponsors. Anyone interested should contact him via facebook.com/ian.preece.148