Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mike Fagan Wins, Bill Simmons Loses

Walter Ray Williams has been my favorite bowler since he began to dominate the PBA Tour in the 1980's, and he's been my favorite bowler ever since. So naturally I wanted to see him win the One a Day Dick Weber Open Sunday and extend his record title total to 47. And if Walter Ray couldn't win it, I wanted to see Pete win it in honor of his father after whom the tournament was named.

Having said that, I'm not at all unhappy with who did win the tournament. I watched the qualifying and match play rounds on Xtra Frame and was very impressed by how well Mike Fagan bowled all week on lanes that looked really, really tough for almost everyone else but not for him. He led the tournament almost the whole way and more than earned his first singles title.

The aptly nicknamed "King of Swing" looks to me to be on his way to bowling stardom if not superstardom with that uniquely loose but powerful armswing of his coupled with an expanding versatility that makes him able to adapt to whatever's out there. The bowlers say that the lanes this week were as tough as the U.S. Open pattern, and they certainly looked that way to me. Ryan Shafer missed just a little right in match play and took out only the 6-10 for a two count after, as I recall, opening the game with a six-bagger. Others missed just a little left on their strikeballs and either knocked down only the 7 pin or ended up in the left gutter. You had to be on your game with the right ball rotation, the right speed, the right equipment, and the right line(s) or you were screwed. Mike Fagan was "on" in every way and roundly earned his victory 241-213 over Walter Ray in the title match after Walter Ray continued his televised dominance over Pete Weber 234-178 in the previous match.

However, I have to say that, as much as I enjoyed the tournament, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if's "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons had been somewhere else during the telecast. He sat in with Randy and Rob and tried to make up for his lack of bowling knowledge with irreverent humor that, for me at least, detracted from the intensity of the matches.

To my way of thinking, bowling doesn't get enough respect as it is, and to put a clueless guy like Simmons on to make light of the competition is the worst thing you can do to honor the sport or appeal to fans. By contrast, it was very interesting listening to PGA champion and semi-serious bowler Woody Austin talk substantively a few telecasts ago about the parallels between professional golf and bowling. I'd like to see knowledgeable, articulate people like that who respect the game come on with Rob and Randy. I'd love to see Carmen Salvino do it sometime. He's always back there watching anyway. Or how about another pro bowler, a great coach like Mark Baker, a ball rep, or "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark?

Who would you like to see join Randy and Rob for a telecast?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is Bowling a Sport?

I had never heard of David Whitley until today. But professional bowler and columnist Andy Morton has definitely brought this self-professed "male chauvinist pig" onto my radar screen with his article today attacking a piece Whitely wrote at that disparages bowling as a sport.

Whitely's article, "Chris Barnes: The Guy Who Lost to a Girl," essentially argues, if I'm not being too charitable in calling it an argument, that while Kelly Kulick is to be commended for beating the world's best male bowler, even if hardly anyone had ever heard of Barnes before Kulick beat him last Sunday, we shouldn't make too big a deal out of it since bowling, after all, is not a real sport. Why not? Because any contest in which an adult human female can beat an adult human male doesn't rise to the exalted level of sport and doesn't deserve to be honored as such. Not only that, but it's ludicrous that the NCAA acknowledges it as a sport and hands out national bowling titles to schools. Whitely concedes that bowling may require "flexibility, strength, concentration and years of personal sacrifice," yet "So does ballroom dancing, but you don't see the NCAA handing out championship trophies in that." Whitely concludes by sarcastically stating that he hopes millions of girls will now "get off their duffs" and aspire to be NCAA bowling champions and to compete with men at just about everything.

I think Whitley is full of it. I don't think he understands the first thing about how demanding and athletic bowling is on a physical and mental level when you reach the rarified heights of amateur and professional competition. But I guess he speaks for most people. Most people have no idea of what bowling is all about at the stratospheric altitude of a Kelly Kulick or Chris Barnes. If they did, they would never say the kinds of things Whitley says in his article.

What do you think? I know that if you're reading this, you're probably biased in favor of bowling, but do you think that bowling is or is not worthy of being called a sport? How do you define "sport"? One dictionary definition I read is: "an activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively." Do you agree with this definition, and does bowling meet it?

The One a Day Dick Weber Open Finals Field

Well, it looks as though Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark and recurring guest Stuart Williams made pretty good guesses Thursday night about who would make it to the televised finals tomorrow. Each was off by only one pick in his predictions. Sunday's five-man stepladder finals will begin with up and coming Bill O'Neill taking on perennially underrated Ryan Shafer. The winner will face the one and only Pete Weber who, as reports, would love to win the tournament named after his late father, Dick Weber, as much or more than he would any major. He qualified third last year. The winner of that match will go up against the amazing Walter Ray Williams, who is still showing those young whippersnappers a thing or two about how to bowl on very demanding conditions. And the winner of that match will face Mike Fagan, who has pretty much dominated the tournament all week long, for the title. It's a great field, and we could very well see some great matches.

Don't forget that it airs this Sunday, 1/31 on ESPN2 (and not ESPN) at 10 AM PST or 1 PM EST.

Friday, January 29, 2010

First Round of Match Play Recap at Dick Weber Open

Mike Fagan led qualifying in the One a Day Dick Weber Open, and he still leads the field after the first round of match play that took place last night. Hot on his heels is a star-studded cast headed by, in descending order, Walter Ray Williams, Tommy Jones, Ryan Shafer, Amleto Monacelli, Pete Weber, Robert Smith, and Bill O'Neill. And not far behind them in 13th place is defending champion Norm Duke.

This is a good, old-fashioned round-robin match play, top five advance to the televised stepladder finals kind of tournament, the kind I'd like to see a lot more of from now on. But take note that this week's finals will be broadcast live at 11 AM PST on ESPN2 rather than the usual ESPN. I hope that everyone who gets ESPN on their cable or satellite system also gets ESPN2, and if some don't who want to watch Sunday's tournament, they can catch it later on PBA Xtra Frame on demand. I should also mention that's popular Bill Simmons, "The Sports Guy," will be sitting in the ESPN broadcast booth this Sunday with announcer Rob Stone and bowling analyst Rany Pedersen.

On Xtra Frame's coverage of match play last night, British bowler Stuart Williams sat in with the boys for awhile giving his always entertaining and perceptive view of the action. He predicted that the TV finalists would be Mike Fagan, Walter Ray, Tommy Jones, Bill O'Neill, and Ryan Shafer. "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark predicted that Mike Fagan, Walter Ray, Bill O'Neill, Norm Duke, and Pete Weber would make the finals. By the way, Stuart Williams competed in this week's tournament, along with an international contingent of male and female stars, and finished a very respectable 30th. Jeff Mark claims that Williams has one of the heaviest ball rolls and most potent strike balls he's ever seen or heard. It hits the pins with an impressively unique sound.

Ritchie Allen dropped in for a few minutes before getting into a disagreement with Jeff Mark and leaving prematurely. Allen and Mark were talking about practice strategy on an easy pattern. Mark contended that when the conditions are easy, you should make them difficult by moving your line to where you have to be very precise to hit the pocket and carry. "Practice where it's hard, play where it's easy," he advises. Allen, on the other hand, advocated always practicing on the easiest part of the lane for strikes, because that's what you do when you're bowling leagues and tournaments. Mark countered by telling Allen that if he'd practiced the right way, he might have made the cut, and Allen promptly took off. Allen just missed the top 24 by four pins, coming in 25th.

But this raises a good question. What IS the best way to practice? Ritchie Allen's or Jeff Mark's? How do YOU practice? I try to play different lines from the easiest to the toughest. But I admit that I spend more time practicing where it's easy than where it's tough. What do you think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Top Qualifiers in the Dick Weber Open

Mike Fagan led the qualifying round of the One a Day Dick Weber Open in Fountain Valley, California. The top 24 is filled with big names including Walter Ray Williams, Amleto Monacelli, Tommy Jones, Bill O'Neill, Robert Smith, Pete Weber, Ryan Shafer, defending champion Norm Duke, who seems to have recovered sufficiently from his ankle injury that forced him out of the TOC, and Mike Machuga. And I'm happy to see Bryon Smith back in the hunt at #20. I was always impressed with Smith's stylishly smooth game but haven't seen or heard from him in several years. Notably, Chris Barnes finished in 50th place. I hope this has nothing to do with what happened last Sunday. Barnes bowled brilliantly to make it as far as he did in the TOC and has nothing to get down on himself about.

In watching some of the qualifying today on Xtra Frame, the lanes looked really tough even if Mike Fagan didn't think so. I saw guys like Brian Voss and Mika Koivuniemi struggling like mad just to hit the pocket. They and a lot of other guys and a few gals were going high and crossing over constantly, and when they tried to adjust for this, they often ended up with washouts.

The first round of round robin match play is about to begin, and I'm going to be watching and reporting on it in my next post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TOC Aftermath

I'm pleasantly surprised. Of course, I got as swept away as anyone by the excitement among hardcore bowling fans immediately after Kelly Kulick's historic TOC title, and I very much wanted to believe that "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark was right when he gushingly predicted an onrushing media tidal wave of publicity that would almost singlehandedly transform bowling into a sport of great national and international prominence and respect. And then reality set in.

I began searching online for media reactions to Kulick's achievement and saw a demoralizingly small number of mostly brief and tepid articles about it apparently penned by writers obligatorily going through the motions of reporting a story they cared nothing about. The real kicker was what someone scornfully wrote in the comments section of one of these lackadaisical articles. A close paraphrase of his comment is: "Kelly, how do you feel winning an insignificant championship in a sport nobody cares anything about?" My heart sank when I read this. Then I got angry. Then I realized that this person probably spoke for the majority of this football (both kinds) obsessed country and beyond and probably always would and that there was absolutely nothing I or Kelly Kulick could do about it.

But then I read this morning that Terrell Owens had tweeted about Kulick's victory. I never cared much for TO and his prima donnish ways, but his stock rose about a thousand points in my eyes after this. And reports that TO's tweet was followed by a groundswell of stories and Kulick interviews in the mega-media of print, television, and radio turning Kulick's victory into "the hottest story in the wide world of sports," overwhelming Kulick's e-mail account, flooding her Facebook page, and bringing a record number of hits to the PBA website.

I don't know what this all means for the sport of bowling. Is it just a proverbial flash in the pan, or is it the rapid swelling of a bowling tsunami that will engulf the nation and world? I hope it's the latter. My guess is that it will be something in between an ephemeral flash and a raging tsunami. Stay tuned as we follow this together.

Below are quotes from bowling legends along with excerpts extracted from the print media, all courtesy of, about Kelly Kulick's achievement. And below that are two interviews she did, first with Harry Smith of CBS' "The Early Show," and then an outstanding interview with Jason Page of ESPN Radio's "The Back Page," and, finally, here is an interview she did with Jay Crawford of ESPN TV. I continue to be impressed by what a great spokesperson she is for bowling.

Randy Pedersen, 13-time PBA Tour champion and ESPN color analyst: “What I witnessed on Sunday, given the circumstances, could possibly be the best performance I have ever witnessed in professional bowling, Nobody gave Kelly a chance, yet she performed magnificently. Under the most extreme pressure our sport can provide she managed her game flawlessly. People need to understand just how spectacular this accomplishment is.”

Nelson Burton Jr., PBA Hall of Famer and long-time ABC-TV color analyst: “She truly bowled with as much determination and heart as I have ever seen.”

Don and Paula Carter, bowling hall of famers: “What a great show Sunday! We enjoyed every aspect of the telecast.”

Associated Press: “Kelly Kulick left all the guys in the gutter.”

Matt Fiorito, Detroit Free-Press: “Annika Sorenstam couldn't do it, nor could Michelle Wie, although they got tons of publicity in their failed attempts. But on Sunday, Kelly Kulick proved to the world that in precision sports at least, women can compete with men.”

Jeff Wolf, Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Kelly Kulick used a 15-pound bowling ball to smash a 52-year barrier when she became the first woman to win a PBA Tour tournament.”

Andy Hutchings, The Sporting Blog, “I'm too young to remember it ever being truly popular, but I think it's fair to say bowling has become a bit of a niche sport of late…Today, Kelly Kulick might have changed that.”

Entertainment& “It can’t get bigger than this for 32-year old Kelly Kulick. The American Professional bowler becomes the first women to win the prestigious PBA title last Sunday in Las Vegas….Kelly Kulick is also known to have been a part of Spider-Man’s comic book. She was featured as friend and former girlfriend of Flash Thompson, starting with Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man issue no.20. She was included into the comics after participating in a bowling pro-am event with the daughter of one of the Spider-Man writers.”

Philadelphia Inquirer: “Kelly Kulick left all the guys in the gutter yesterday when she became the first woman to win a PBA Tour title, beating Chris Barnes in the final of the 45th Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas.”

Dave Poe, Parkersburg News and Sentinel: “The best sports story on Sunday? It wasn't Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts coming back from an 11-point deficit to defeat the upstart New York Jets and advance to the Super Bowl. Nor was it the New Orleans Saints' dramatic overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Rather, Sunday belonged to Kelly Kulick. Who in the heck, many of you are wondering, is Kelly Kulick? She's a professional bowler. She's arguably the best female bowler in the world. On Sunday, she was the best bowler in the world - period.” “You might say that the announcers were breathless by comparing Kulick to Billie Jean King as a pioneer in women's professional sports. But you can't deny she accomplished something no other woman has. Golfers Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam failed to reach those heights when they competed on the men's golf tour.”

Mason Lerner, Sports Chat, The Faster Times: “Kelly Kulick made history and added a new twist on throwing like a girl when she became the first woman to ever win a PBA major at the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas.”

All Headline News: “Kelly Kulick pounded 10 strikes at the final of the 45th Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions Sunday at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas, becoming the first woman to capture a title in a male-dominated sport.”

Francine King, Jacksonville Times-Union: “Terrell Owens tweeted about it. Facebook pages filled with it. Bowling communities are buzzing about it. On Sunday, Kelly Kulick achieved what no woman had accomplished before her: a victory on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour — and in one of its most prestigious tournaments.”

Stephen Haynes, “The call Joanne Byrne received from her husband on Sunday informing her that Kelly Kulick had become the first woman to win a PBA Tour title didn't elicit much surprise. No, for the Levittown Division girls bowling coach, there was just pride and a little I-told-you-so.”

Fort Worth Star Telegram: “Lynda Barnes, a pro bowler whose husband, Chris Barnes, suffered the 265-195 loss to Kulick, said she had no hard feelings. ‘He got run over — it’s a simple as that,’ Barnes said as she hugged friends at the International Research and Testing Center (Monday during the opening ceremonies for the International Bowling Campus in Arlington, Texas). "But you can’t help but be happy for Kelly."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kelly Kulick's Historic Victory

Kelly had a great week, defeating several of the top-ranked men bowlers in the world, and hopefully she can truly enjoy the moment and appreciate how it is not only a big deal in bowling, but a major moment in her life and potentially the lives of others.
Billie Jean King

This may be the greatest performance I've ever seen given the circumstances.
--Randy Pedersen

You talk about a dream come can't explain it...I'm speechless.
--Kelly Kulick

I’ve been bowling and watching professional bowling for closer to fifty years than forty. I’ve seen just about every great moment in televised PBA history from Billy Hardwick's inaugural TOC title to the first 300 game to Don Johnson’s heartbreaking solid 10-pin in the twelfth frame to Mark Roth’s 7-10 split conversion to Liz Johnson’s second place finish to Jason Belmonte's two-handed triumph last year to, well, you name it. But I can truthfully say, even 24 hours after it occurred and with the heat of my excitement now cooled somewhat by the sobering reality of the sports world’s relative indifference to bowling and to what transpired yesterday, that Kelly Kulick’s steely stellar performance in bowling's equivalent of the PGA Masters, after an almost equally impressive showing two nights before, rises to the top of the list. It was magnificent, it was thrilling, it was moving (I think I saw tears of joy in the legendary Carmen Salvino’s eyes after he congratulated Kelly after the final match, and, for the record, there were in mine too), and it WAS historic for the great sport of bowling. As PBA Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark excitedly exclaimed after the match, "Our sport will not be the same after today...There's going to be a media wave after today like you've never seen before!"

What was so impressive about Kelly Kulick's 227-223 defeat of "Major" Mike Koivuniemi in the semi-final match and 265-195 crushing of the unofficial world's greatest bowler, Chris Barnes, to win the hugely prestigious title is that she really earned her championship. She bowled all week against a formidable field of some of the greatest male professional bowlers, past and present, of all time and dominated it most of the time. And, as writer Jason Thomas explains in his column today, it wasn't necessarily a matter of the lanes unusually favoring her softer woman's game over those of the more powerful male players: "This week’s lane conditions favored no one and allowed bowlers to play just about any place on the lane that they felt comfortable," Thomas writes. He proceeds to put Kulick's performance in striking perspective with the following: "It was like Annika Sorenstam beating the men in The Masters at a fully stretched out Augusta National."

Kulick's effort yesterday was a monumental performance under unimaginable pressure. What's more, Kulick showed tremendous class and poise in her interviews after she won the title. Aside from being a great bowler, Kelly Kulick is one intelligent, earnestly articulate, gracious, and seriously focused young lady who is a remarkable credit to bowling and to professional sports in general with her exemplary character and demeanor.

I really hope that the predictions of people like Jeff Mark come true and that Kulick's victory brings to bowling the attention and appreciation it deserves. Jason Thomas reports in his column that "as of Monday morning she was the #1 most searched item on Google and Yahoo!’s home pages." I hope this lasts long enough to help rekindle an interest in women's and men's professional bowling that securely removes them from the brink of extinction. And, in any case, the proverbial sky is now the limit for bowling's new superstar, Kelly Kulick.

Odds and Ends

* Kulick's ball rep reported in an interview with Jeff Mark on PBA Xtra Frame after the tournament that Kulick used an Ebonite Mission with the pin down to win the title and, as I understood him, that she used the same ball with various layouts and, perhaps, surface adjustments throughout the week.

* When Xtra Frame's Jeff Mark asked Kulick about her match with Barnes, she said, "The lanes broke down to the advantage of me. My hand just was able to clear the ball through the front part of the lane really well, and the ball just pounded the pocket." And when Mark commented that she "had such a good look all week" and asked if she "did anything different than before," she replied, "Somebody told me instead of trying to change my hand, change balls. So I really just tried to keep the same hand position all week long and go from ball to ball to give me the better reaction."

* In her interview with Xtra Frame announcer Mike Jakubowski, Kulick commented that she was so nervous she couldn't feel her legs most of the day but that winning that first match with Mika built her confidence and enabled her to "groove into the lane" and throw all those strikes by focusing not on beating Chris but on executing and knocking down the pins.

* Randy Pedersen commented during the televised action that Kulick had the crowd behind her all week and that this surely helped her. When ESPN announcer Rob Stone asked him to quantify how much this helps a bowler, Peterson replied that it was probably worth about 12 pins a game. And Kulick herself acknowledged during her interview with Jakubowski the importance of the crowd's support when she said, "By far the secret to my success this week was the crowd. I mean they were behind me from the get go from match play on, and here today it was the energy from you guys out there that really carried me over."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bowling History in the Making

They didn't believe she could do it. Just as she failed to bowl particularly well in match play the year she became the first and only woman to earn exempt status on the men's tour, many figured that she'd falter this time around in match play of the spotlighted TOC against superstars like Chris Barnes, Pete Weber, and Wes Malott. And there was some reason to believe that she would. After all, she'd finished weaker than she started in the previous two match play rounds. Speculation was that as the lanes transitioned and opened up, the pressure built, and the big guns started firing away, she might well fall precipitously from grace as she moved left on the approach and struggled to hold pocket and carry those pesky 10-pins with her woman's game in the final round of match play.

But Kelly Kulick fooled them and put on a performance for the ages. It started out inauspiciously. She began the round with games of 174 and 172. All appeared to be lost But then she made a ball change and instantly caught fire, with the crowd behind her fanning the flames, with games of 223, 279, 277, 222, 236, and a beautiful 267 in the last game against Rhino Page. It was a joy watching her on Xtra Frame as she reeled off strike after strike on a tough condition, hearing the crowd cheering her on, and seeing the hugs and congratulations she received from the male pros after the round was over and she was seeded second in the TV finals. If she can bowl like she did last night, I truly believe that she could win the TOC and that this would be one of the biggest stories ever in professional bowling. I can't wait to watch tomorrow's finals live on ESPN at 10 AM PST!

The first match will feature Rhino Page bowling against "Major" Mika Koivuniemi. Page could have won last year's TOC against Patrick Allen with a nine count or tied for sudden death with an eight count and spare in the eleventh, but he inexplicably threw the ball wide and got an ugly four count to lose the match. The final score was 267 to 263. Now Page has a chance to redeem himself.

The winner of the first match will take on Kelly Kulick, and the winner of that match will face who else but the great Chris Barnes for the coveted title. Like I said, I can't wait to see this.

On a sad note, my man Tony Reyes went into the final position round game last night in second place and with a great opportunity to make the show after bowling so well for most of the week. But he came up short against Chris Barnes, losing 236 to 159, and fell to sixth place behind Pete Weber. It must have been awfully disappointing for him to get so close. But, he can return to San Bruno knowing that he gave it his all, that he hung in there awfully well with the best of the best, and with $4,600 of prize money weighing down his pockets. Not a bad week at all, Tony.

But win or lose tomorrow, it should turn out to be one of the greatest weeks in Kelly Kulick's life.

Below are the heart-stopping final frames of last year's TOC.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Cream Rises and a Bowling Legend Speaks

After 40 games and the second of three 8-game rounds of match play, the cream is rising to the top of the field. Chris Barnes has vaulted into the lead by going 7-1 in the round and averaging a sizzling 249 for the last seven games on difficult lane conditions. Behind him is a veritable dream field of Pete Weber, Tony Reyes, and Wes Malott followed by Kelly Kulick who still has a chance to make it to the top four of Sunday's televised finalists. Walter Ray is way down in 13th, but he still has an outside chance to come on strong to make it into Sunday's telecast and win the one major tournament he's never won during his fabled career.

But what I enjoyed most about watching the second round of match play live on Xtra Frame today was listening to "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark talk with the legendary bowling coach and writer John Jowdy. Jowdy, who will turn 90 in a few months, has coached a Who's Who of bowling legends, been one of the sport's finest writers, and has met just about everyone and seen just about everything in the sport over his very long and storied career.

He and Jeff Mark talked about many things this afternoon, but one of the highlights was his list, in order, of the top five bowlers of all time. First was Earl Anthony, followed by Walter Ray Williams, Don Carter, Dick Weber, Mark Roth, and Don Johnson. He was especially impressed by Walter Ray's longevity as a very competitive bowler on tour and opined that the PBA will never see anyone like him again.

When asked how someone aspiring to become a professional bowler should prepare for the challenge, he strongly advised them to bowl leagues and tournaments on tough sport conditions and to seek the best coaching available. "If you're going to spend $200 on a new bowling ball, spend it on a good coach and keep your old ball," he suggested. Good coaching that builds good habits will get you a lot further than the fanciest new ball.

But even though he thinks the USBC coaching certification program is good in theory, he has reservations about how well it actually works and thinks that some coaches, like Mark Baker, who have never been USBC certified are the best of the best. He believes, and Jeff Mark agrees, that the best coaches combine theoretical knowledge with actual experience at the highest levels of competitive bowling. In short, the best coaches are or were players who can also share invaluable knowledge with you about subtleties like "touch" and "feel" in the heat of competition. Mark also suggested that although many of these top flight coaches are difficult for the regular bowler to access on a one-to-one basis, one can benefit from bowling clinics in which these great coaches regularly participate.

Jowdy also praised the free armswings of guys like Brian Voss and Norn Duke and suggested that those who want to bowl competitively for a long time and not suffer all kinds of problems with broken down bodies should emulate these styles. He and Jeff Mark agreed that what the smoother stylists may sacrifice in power and the short term success that power may bring are likely to more than make up for it with competitive longevity and bowling fitness, unlike guys such as Mark Roth who, even before his devastating stroke, had to undergo surgery on both knees and other medical interventions for the wear and tear he put on his body with his very aggressive style. Yes, he, unlike most power stylists, enjoyed tremendous success on tour, but was it really worth it? asked Mark rhetorically.

Jowdy also talked about the heydays of the TOC at the Riviera Lanes in Akron Ohio and other great eras and moments of bowling history. It was a very entertaining afternoon of bowling and conversation with a bowling legend.

After First Round of Match Play at TOC

Tony Reyes is leading the pack after the first 8 game block of match play, and Kelly Kulick is doing a beautiful job of hanging in there with the guys. She's in fifth place and a mere 55 pins off the lead. But can she keep bowling like this? She's qualified for match play in men's national tournaments before but couldn't sustain the pace in match play. Yet she was throwing the ball very well last night, went 4-3-1 in her matches, and seems very confident. It would be sensational if she made the televised finals of this hallowed tournament or even won it. I think the PBA's powers-that-be are praying for this to happen so they can reap the rewards of the ensuing publicity.

Speaking of publicity, Tom Smallwood continues to receive his share after his victory a few weeks ago. Almost everyone knows the story of how this laid off GM worker qualified for match play in a tournament at the WSOB, proceeded to bowl his way into the televised finals, turned down a job offer at GM just before he bowled in the finals, and went on to win the championship. His story has been featured in all kinds of media ever since, and, as reported last night on Xtra Frame, there's a writer from Sports Illustrated following him around this week to do a story on him for the king of American sports magazines. And if Kelly Kulick makes it to the televised finals, it looks like he's going to have more work to do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I'm watching the third qualifying round of the TOC. Tony Reyes has just bowled 300 and has moved up to third in the standings. I've bowled in a lot of tournaments in the San Francisco Bay Area in which Tony also bowled. I'd like to see him make the finals.

But one thing I notice as I watch the tournament is the large TOC banner over some of the lanes. It features photos of Chris Barnes, Patrick Allen, and Wes Malott. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing's really wrong with it. All three of these guys are outstanding bowlers, and Chris Barnes is arguably the best in the world at this time.

But where is Walter Ray Williams?
A TOC banner without the winningest PBA bowler of them all is like a day without breakfast. Or a day without dinner. Take your pick. Walter Ray, the champion's champion, belongs on that banner more than anyone. It galls me that the PBA is so hung up on youth and flashiness! I guess they think they need to be in order to attract the largest possible audience. But I'm part of the audience too. I respect bowling tradition and greatness at least as much as I like to watch the young lions of the game. Why can't the PBA do a better job of honoring both? Why do the older champions, including the greatest of them all, get kicked aside even when they're still very competitive?

After Round 2 of the TOC

I enjoyed watching some of the qualifying rounds of the TOC (Tournament of Champions) yesterday on PBA Xtra Frame. It was great seeing old timers such as Dave Soutar, Carmen Salvino, Ernie Schlegel, Johnny Petraglia, and Don McCune bowling with the youngsters. Surprisingly, Hall of Famer Wayne Webb is in eighth place after two rounds (16 games) of qualifying.

I'm pulling for Wayne, not only because he's always been one of my favorite bowlers and is a fellow Sacramentan, but he was also my ball driller until he left his Sacramento pro shop to bowl full time on the senior tour. Two years ago he watched me bowl, suggested a ball for me, drilled it the way he thought was best for my ball roll, and I took it right out of the box and shot 812 with it in league a few nights later. That ball fits me better than any I've ever had and works very well for me. Thank you Wayne, and hang in there this week.

Another surprise is that Kelly Kulick is in sixth place after two rounds. I'd like to see her make it to the televised finals and challenge the men for the championship. But she may have to get past the likes of Rhino Page, Pete Weber, and Tommy Jones--first, second, and third place respectively after the second round--to win it all. And Walter Ray is, as usual, still in the hunt in 14th place. Yesterday I saw him move from an outside line in the first round to more of an inside line than you almost ever see him play and still hit the pocket consistently and carry pretty well. That may not be his A game, but he usually finds a way to get it done no matter what. I'd like to see him win it all this year and add to his resume what has so far been an elusive championship.

I don't know what's been happening with Norm Duke lately. We've heard nothing from him since his Cheetah Championship win at the WSOB in Detroit, and he had to pull out of the competition yesterday after the 12th game. That must have been very difficult for him seeing as how focused he is on winning majors. But I hope to see him back at his best soon.

Later today, the bowlers will complete the final 8 game round of qualifying and then the top 24 will advance to match play this evening. Match play should be a lot of fun to watch tonight on Xtra Frame with all the expert commentary that will go along with it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Earl Anthony Memorial Wrap Up

It was nice to finally see ESPN show the men's and women's finals live last Sunday. I don't know about you, but I was tired of seeing telecasts of events that transpired weeks if not months before they aired. I guess I should be grateful that ESPN or any channel shows them at all, and I am. But I'd be more grateful if most or all finals were shown live.

In any case, it was good to see Anthony LaCaze earn his first national championship with three perfect clutch strikes at the end. As commentator Randy Pedersen excitedly said, LaCaze amply demonstrated his "maple moxy" by throwing "three of the prettiest strikes you've ever seen on one of the most demanding lane conditions we've been involved with." And now he'll be going to the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas this week, and he won't have to bowl in any more TQR's this season.

Having said that, I feel for Mike Machuga leaving that ringing 10-pin on a solid pocket hit on his second ball in the tenth. Had he struck and gotten a nine count on the next ball, he would have won.

I really liked what LaCaze said during his post game interview when he was asked how he felt when Machuga stepped up to deliver his second shot in the tenth, and he replied that he wanted to see Machuga perform to his high capabilities and throw a good ball no matter what happened with it. I think LaCaze really meant it, and it just goes to show that nice guys can finish FIRST.

Stafanie Nation was also pretty impressive in her win over Lynda Barnes, rebounding from hitting her ankle and going wide in the ninth frame to strike on her first ball in the tenth to wrap up the match. This was after making it to the finals by overcoming a three game deficit to Shannon Pluhowski Friday night by finishing with nine strikes in a row in the seventh game to snatch the victory 259 to 244.

In my previous entry, I mentioned what Jeff Mark said about American bowlers needing to improve their fundamentals and especially their spare shooting. This was brought home Sunday by three missed single pin spares, including two by Sean Rash that cost him the match. I don't know why so many of these young guys throw so hard at their single pin spares. They don't need to do this to make the ball go straight at the spare, and they should take a chapter from the books of guys like Walter Ray and Norm Duke and slow down and focus on the shot. They can't be thinking about their next strike shot and then running up there and firing the ball as hard as they can at the spare and expect to consistently make crucial spares in the television spotlight.

In my next post, I'll be writing about the Tournament of Champions that opens tomorrow and which will receive extensive coverage on PBA.COM's Xtra Frame. Now is a great time to sign up for that wonderful bowling resource.

Here is a behind the scenes look at the pre-game festivities at the Earl Anthony Memorial last Sunday.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Match Play at the Earl Anthony Memorial

If you love bowling like I do and you have Xtra Frame, you find your eyes glued to your computer monitor, especially when live match play is in progress. So, it was with great reluctance that I left to attend a party last night with my wife and miss the exciting action that took place in the men's Round of 8 and the women's semifinal match play.

However, I did get home and tune in just in time to see Stafanie Nation finish with nine strikes in a row to defeat Shannon Pluhowsky 259-244 in the seventh and final game of their great match after Pluhowsky began by winning the first three games and appeared to have the match all but locked up. That just goes to reinforce the trite but true saying, "It ain't over till it's over." I try to remember that whenever I'm bowling in competition and my opposition has a big lead. I keep on trying.

I was disappointed that PJ Haggerty lost to Steve Weber in the Round of 16, and I wish Jason Belmonte had made it to the TV finals instead of losing to Sean Rash in the Round of 8, but the men's and women's field for Sunday's ESPN's live telecast looks like a solid one with Sean Rash facing Mike Machuga, and Anthony LaCaze taking on Mike Wolfe in the men's semifinal matches, and Lynda Barnes matching up with Stefanie Nation in the women's final.

I have a few comments about what I observed yesterday watching match play on Xtra Frame.

First of all, I'm very impressed by the way Sean Rash is throwing the ball. He generates so much speed and turnl, but he's controlling it extremely well on the demanding condition they put out this week for the Anthony Memorial. Xtra Frame commentator Jeff Mark said that some people may not like Rash on the lanes where he can act like a bit of a jerk with his super-competitive demeanor and frequent balks on the approach, but he's a very nice guy off the lanes and recently organized and hosted a fundraising "Bowl for Wishes" Super Regional in Wichita Kansas.

Second, Xtra Frame takes questions from viewers while matches are underway, and one viewer wrote in with a question that's often occurred to me: When the oil on the lanes breaks down and the balls hook as much as they have in Dublin, why do bowlers keep moving so deep inside and throwing such big hooks with their relatively aggressive balls instead of switching to far less aggressive equipment and playing farther outside and straighter. "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark replied that as the bowlers keep throwing their oil sapping reactive resin balls and progressively move farther and farther inside as the oil breaks down, they create a V-shaped pattern where just about any kind of ball you throw in that area is going to hook too early and lose too much of its energy to carry well at the pocket if it even hits the pocket, which is hard to do when the ball hooks right off your hand. So the bowlers pretty much have to keep moving inside.

I still don't understand this oil pattern and oil breakdown business as well as I'd like, because I see people like Walter Ray Williams continue to play far to the right of the other bowlers even after the lanes have gotten very dry, and I've seen him score very well doing this, making the Round of 28 this week where he lost to a blistering hot Patrick Allen in six games. I guess guys like Walter Ray tend to play outside the V-shaped oil burnout pattern that the other players create, and he keeps his ball more controllable with his end-over-end roll. But I still wonder if the best way to bowl on really dry lanes is to keep moving inside even as far as having to stand in front of the ball return and take a three step approach and/or loft the ball five or ten feet out onto the lane, or if one wouldn't be better off using some combination of equipment, speed, and release that allows one to stay further outside and play straighter with a more controllable ball reaction.

Jeff Mark also commented that, as a former Ebonite ball rep, he used to work with Walter Ray and try to get him to use equipment with more exotic layouts, but Walter liked to have a "certain look" with his ball and preferred to stick to the simpler, more basic layouts that consistently gave him that look. Given his incredible success, I wonder if simpler isn't generally better than the widespread push to increasing technical complexity in bowling equipment. Or would guys like Walter Ray do even better if they listened to the ball reps and tried more complex combinations of coverstocks and layouts?

Finally, someone asked about the difference between European and American bowlers, and Jeff Mark replied that he thought European bowlers tended to be much more sound in their fundamentals and especially their spare shooting because they grow up on more demanding lane conditions and learn to make their spares and grind it out with solid fundamentals instead of relying as much on power and being as sloppy in their execution and spare shooting as American bowlers even at the professional level tend to do and be.

I thought this was a very interesting observation that supports my belief that bowling centers in this country need to start putting out more difficult conditions , especially for their junior bowlers, and encourage them to become better in their fundamentals. I, for one, would love to see more difficult house shots such as the Red, White, and Blue patterns of the Pepsi tournament that aired last week and, of course, the animal patterns of the PBA Experience leagues. But I can understand why bowling centers would be reluctant to do this. They're afraid they'd lose business to the centers that keep their conditions easy and their scoring inflated.

Friday, January 15, 2010

First Round Match Play in Dublin

I've spent a couple of hours this morning watching live match play at the Earl Anthony Memorial Open in Dublin, California on Xtra Frame on the PBA website. As I type this, the video coverage has concluded until 2 PM PST, but game seven of a best-of-seven game match between Eugene McCune and PJ Haggerty is still unfolding, and I'm following the frame by frame scoring of it on the PBA website.

I know PJ's mom, Debbie. In fact, we just won the doubles championship of a small fall league a few weeks ago, and this is actually the second time we've done this since I moved to Sacramento and started bowling league where I do now. Debbie has been voted by Bowlers Journal as one of the top 100 bowling coaches in the USA, and she was also voted by the USBC as the top junior bowling coach in the country last year. She runs a marvelous junior program at Fireside Lanes, and she's a good person.

Her son PJ was two time collegiate bowler of the year at Fresno State and is now an exempt player and Columbia 300 staff member on the PBA tour. He hasn't been on the national tour long and hasn't made it to the TV finals yet, but maybe this week will be his week as I see that he's just defeated Eugene McCune in the round of 28 and will next face Steve Weber in a best-of-seven match in the round of 16 to be bowled later today.

One of the things I enjoyed about this morning's Xtra Frame coverage was a guy named Rob Allen who sat in with Xtra Frame commentators Mike Jakubowski and Jeff Mark and displayed his unbelievably encyclopedic knowledge of PBA tournament results over the past forty-five years. He could list every Tournament of Champions winner from the beginning in 1965, and he seemed to know who won just about every PBA tournament, where it was held, whom he beat, and what score he shot to win since that time. People watching Xtra Frame could write in and challenge Allen with trivia questions, and he was up to the challenge an overwhelming majority of the time. It was a nice trip down bowling memory lane and an amazing display of a prodigious memory.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pepsi Red, White, and Blue Open

The Earl Anthony Memorial Classic is underway now in Dublin, California, and I 'll be posting about it later. But right now, let me say a few words about last week's Pepsi Red, White, and Blue Open. If you didn't see it, I urge you to subscribe to PBA Xtra Frame and watch it there whenever you wish, or you can read about it here. But I want to comment less on who won and what scores they shot than on some other matters pertaining to the tournament and telecast.

First of all, even though I prefer the traditional televised stepladder format that the PBA seems to have all but abandoned, I enjoyed the format of last week's final in which there were two simultaneous matches in the first game, followed by two simultaneous matches in the second game, followed by the winners of the previous two matches bowling each other for the championship. But there are some other aspects of the tournament and telecast that I found intriguing:

The New Red, White, and Blue Patterns

The USBC devised these three oil patterns to be more challenging than typical "house" patterns but less challenging than the daunting "animal" PBA patterns featured in "PBA Experience" leagues throughout the country and increasingly abroad. The typical "house" pattern has ten times as much or more oil deposited on the lane surface in the middle area of the lane than on the areas to the right and left of the middle, and this allows bowlers to miss their targets left or right or be inconsistent with their releases and ball speeds and still get the ball to the pocket instead of missing the pocket to one side or the other. Some house patterns are so easy in this way that bowling on them is derisively referred to as "adult bumper bowling."

However, typical professional patterns are far "flatter" in that they have much less of a discrepancy between the concentration of oil on the right and left sides of the lane and the concentration of oil in the middle. This requires the bowler to be much more accurate and consistent in order to hit the pocket and strike. The Red, White, and Blue patterns lie between the animal and house patterns in their ratios of outside (left and right of center) oil concentrations and inside (middle) oil concentrations, with the Blue pattern designed to be the most difficult because it has the lowest ratio (approximately 5:1) of oil between outside and inside. Interestingly, Mike Scroggins, who won the championship on the Blue pattern laid down for Sunday's finals, thought the Blue pattern was the easiest for him because it favored his "A" game of throwing the ball down and in instead of having to throw the ball away from the pocket and make it hook back to the pocket.

There is a move by the PBA, USBC, and international bowling organizations to standardize lane conditions into distinct oil patterns so that, as Chris Barnes explained in a special feature during the telecast, bowling can gain more respect as a challenging sport and perhaps eventually make its way into the Olympics.

Woody Austin's Commentary

Woody Austin is a professional golf champion who bowled with the pros during the tournament, threw the ceremonial "first ball" of the televised firnals, and offered some incisive commentary during the finals. He bowls league for a couple of months each year while the PGA tour is on hiatus and averages around 215. But, he says, the PBA Tour shot requires a far higher degree of accuracy and consistency than does a typical house league pattern. With the typical league pattern, he can miss five or even ten boards (inches) to the right or left of his target and still hit the pocket. On pro conditions, he not only can't miss more than an inch or so to the right or left. but he also needs to be much more consistent with his release and ball speed.

Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of using the newer and right equipment on today's lane conditions, likening the use of older bowling balls to using older kinds of golf balls or clubs against guys using the newest and much more powerful golfing equipment. He said that bowling, like golf, is a very technical game pitting the professional against many variables that he or she must control for with his bio-mechanics and by using the newest and best equipment available in order to be competitive.

Wayne Garber's Story

Wayne Garber is a successful Western region pro from Modesto, California who has never done well in national tour events and was coming off an abysmal performance in the inaugural World Series of Bowling in Detroit a few weeks earlier. But what made his story particularly remarkable and, I think, endeared him to the Wichita crowd was the fact that just a couple of years earlier, he had fallen down a flight of stairs in a hotel while carrying luggage and torn the patellar tendons in both knees. His was bedridden for months, and his doctors didn't think he would ever be able to bowl again much less bowl professionally. Not only that, but sometime later, he had to have one of his neck vertebrae replaced by a cadaver vertebrae. Nevertheless, the 42-year-old, 6'2', 250 lb bowler managed to come back, bowl very respectably in his first TV appearance and beat Walter Ray Williams in sudden death in a semi-final match, and end up coming in second in the tournament.

Wayne Garber's Style

One has to see Garber's style to believe that anyone could succeed with it in professional tournaments or even be a good league bowler with it. I won't try to describe it except to say that it begins with a very unusual backwards back bend and then takes eleven steps to the foul line. The YouTube video below shows it in all its strange glory.

Wayne Garber's Controversial Choice

After Garber beat Walter Ray, he had the choice, as the higher seeded bowler, of which pair of lanes on which to bowl the championship match against Mike Scroggins. He chose to bowl it on the pair on which he beat Walter Ray. Some criticized him for this and he admitted in an interview after the tournament that it was a mistake because Scroggins had struggled on the other pair to beat Michael Fagan and Patrick Allen with relatively low scores, and Scroggins was delighted that Garber chose to let him bowl on a different pair with fresh oil on the left side.

However, I understand Garber's decision. Before he made his choice, he threw some practice balls on the other pair and had "no look," whereas he shot a 237 and beat bowling legend Walter Ray on the pair he on which he chose to bowl the championship match. So, he chose that pair and lost. However, he hit the pocket every time, stuck a solid 8-pin in the sixth frame, and got tapped several other times while Scroggins carried everything in sight. Things could have turned out very differently had Sroggins not carried as well and Garber had carried better. If Garber had chosen the other pair and missed the pocket a lot, he would probably have lost anyway and not looked nearly as good doing it.

Walter Ray's Performance

I know he made a really bad shot on the second sudden death shot, missing the pocket well to the right and leaving a seven count, but the fact of the matter is that this fifty-year-old phenom who is, in my opinion, the greatest bowler in PBA history and indubitably the winningest one, made it to the semi-final match on the highest scoring conditions of the season against the young and powerful lions of the tour is just amazing to me and worthy of praise. This guy can get it done just about anywhere, and he's been doing it for thirty years.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Bowling Background

Now before we get started, let me say a little about myself. I'm a guy who's closer to sixty than he is to fifty. I've been bowling regularly in leagues and tournaments since I was twelve. But I'm not a pro or even close to being one. I've averaged well over 200 on most house conditions for most of the time I've been bowling. I average around 220 on the regular league condition in the house where I bowl now, and I averaged 204 last summer (2009) in a "PBA Experience" league where we faced the Cheetah, Viper, Scorpion, Shark, and U.S. Open patterns. That's nothing to crow with pride about but also nothing to be ashamed of for a relatively old geezer like myself. I throw right-handed , and I guess you could call me an old-school stroker who uses medium speed and throws the ball pretty straight with low revs and, if possible, an outside line to the pocket. However, I also spent several years throwing my strike ball without my thumb and did pretty well that way. and my ideal is to be able to move seamlessly from the thumbed to the thumbless strike ball release depending on what works best at the time and place I'm bowling.

I have three sanctioned 300 games and three sanctioned 800 series, having bowled one of the latter just a few months ago. I used to bowl a lot of scratch tournaments and often cashed but didn't win any of them. I was mediocre at best at that level, but then I was bowling regularly in those tournaments in the San Francisco Bay Area against the likes of Jeff Frankos, one of the finest Western regional pro bowlers around, and Tony Reyes, a successful national tour bowler with a national championship and televised 300 game to this credit.

But I don't believe that the quality of my competition was the only reason why I didn't do better. I believe that an unwillingness to improve my bowling knowledge and skill also played a huge role in my bowling mediocrity. It's an extremely rare person who's talented enough to excel at bowling against good competition on raw physical ability alone. And I'm not anywhere close to being that talented. The overwhelming majority of us need to study the game thoroughly and practice diligently and smartly to get good enough to bowl and compete at a high level. I think I resisted studying the game for two major reasons. First, I have a nonverbal learning disorder that makes it difficult for me to visualize and understand technical principles of bio-mechanics, oil patterns, ball layouts, and so forth, and it's increasingly important to learn about these things in order to be a successful bowler. Second, I've had a regrettable tendency to be lazy and to coast on what modest raw ability I have rather than work hard to refine it with study and practice.

Now I may be a pretty old dog to be learning new bowling tricks. But one reason why I've started this blog is to fuel my enthusiasm for the game and channel it into gaining new knowledge and better bowling skills and becoming as good as I can be at this stage in my life. And my other reason for this blog is to share what I've learned already and what I'm learning now with you so that you can use it to enjoy bowling more and to learn as much about the game as you wish and be as good at it as you care to be.

I hope you like what you see and that you'll stick around and tell your friends about this blog. Let's work together to make it as good as it can be.

In case you're interested, below is a YouTube video of yours truly bowling that my wife took of me several months ago with her cellphone camera.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Introducing This Blog

There are a fair number of bowling blogs around, but I think this one's going to be a little different. You see, most bowling blogs I've looked at are maintained either by real experts or by people posing as experts for other experts or would-be experts, or they're written by novices for other novices. But I'm going to try to make this a blog for everyone. My hope is that anyone who likes to bowl or follow bowling can come here and find something interesting, entertaining, and informative about this great sport.

I'm going to write a lot about professional bowling in the United States, especially the national PBA Tour when it's in session. But I'm also going to write about regional pro and intercollegiate bowling and bowlers in America, male and female professional and amateur bowling and bowlers all over the world, and countless other subjects related to bowling. If you want to know about the physical and psychological aspects of bowling from beginner to advanced levels, you should be able to find information here. I'm not an expert. I'll have more to say about my background in a moment. But I can share with you what I do know about the game, I have a pretty good sense of what I don't know about it (which is plenty), and I can point you to websites, books, and other material created by people who know what I don't know about bowling that can definitely help you improve your knowledge and your game.

I'll be reviewing bowling books, magazines, magazine articles, websites, videos on YouTube and elsewhere, and anything else I run across that I find interesting and think you might too. And I'm open to your suggestions of what you'd like to see me do with this blog and share with you that I haven't thought of and done myself. I'd like this to be not just a blog about bowling, but a community of people who love the game and want to share their enthusiasm with me and each other.

In my next post, I'll tell you a little about my bowling background.