I loved the Tournament of Champions in January. I still think Kelly Kulick's victory was the greatest moment in PBA history. But I can't remember a better week for the PBA than this week's
First and foremost was Mark Roth summoning the strength to overcome the ravages of his severe stroke last May to appear at the tournament that honored him. After hearing of his nightmarish tribulations right up to a couple of months before today, to see photos on the PBA website last Wednesday and Thursday of him standing without assistance and looking amazingly good and then to see him sit in as guest commentator on PBA Xtra Frame for the Round of 16 Friday was fantastic. The capper was seeing him sitting in the front row today with his wife Denise on one side and his dear friend Johnny Petraglia on the other. It was wonderful.
Next was the tournament itself. I loved watching some of the finest bowlers on earth take their two allotted plastic balls and use their own prodigious skills to adjust their releases, alignments, and ball speeds to make them work. This week it wasn't about whose ball rep put the ball in their hands that "read the lanes" best. As Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark explained, "If they have something, it's because they created it and not because it was given to them or someone designed it." What a refreshing change of pace.
Then there was 63-year-old Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia Sr. bowling his son in the first game of match play and using his "maple moxy" to almost make it to the next round. He bowled beautifully, looking a lot like the Johnny Petraglia of his prime.
Then there was the much and unfairly mocked and maligned Chris Barnes rebounding from a disastrous first block of qualifying to almost make it to the Round of 16 and then beat young New York native and rising star Anthony Pepe Saturday night for the $10,000 winner-take-all pot before a wildly enthusiastic crowd in the nation's hotbed of "action" bowling in the final "Chris Barnes Challenge" of the season. Pepe, a 21-year-old leftie who seems to be able to play anywhere on the lane with a solid physical game, began the match by stringing 8 powerful strikes in a row and looked like he might crush Barnes. But Barnes stayed close, and when the lanes began to change, he adapted better than Anthony and ended up winning the three game total pins match 681-649. Afterwards, he said, “Anthony is a great player and I think he’s among the next generation of young bowlers who has the potential to do great things in the sport.”
Then there was seeing different styles score well on a condition that I expected to decisively favor the power bowlers. The match play rounds of 32 and 16 were populated by righties and lefties, and by strokers who threw almost straight to crankers who hooked those plastic balls to a surprising degree on the long oil of the modified Shark pattern. And in the middle of it all was the incomparable Walter Ray
Then there was "The Thunder From Down Under," Jason Belmonte, staging another awe-inspiring display of bowling power and prowess by shooting 800 series like they were nothing and rolling three 300 games and two 299 games WITH PLASTIC equipment enroute to being the top seeded player in today's televised final.
Finally, there was the televised final round today. Walter Ray's 280 against Garber. Belmo and Brian Ziesig (see video below of their match) both striking out in the 10th frame of the final game to shoot 247 and send the match into sudden death overtime. Belmonte absolutely stuffing the pocket on his sudden death ball to leave a ringing 10, and Ziesig calmly stepping up and delivering a perfect shot to the pocket to strike and win his first PBA Tour title his first time on national television.
What an amazing and wonderful, wonderful week of bowling it was, especially for us PBA Xtra Frame subscribers. And if you don't believe me, sign up for the service, dip into the archives, and watch it all. You'll be glad you did.
1. Rob Stone gave us "hambone" for four strikes in a row. Now Randy Pedersen has given us "octomom" for eight in a row. I kind of like it.
2. Guess how Jason Belmonte is getting to next week's tournament in Baltimore. He's hitching a ride on the Walter Ray
3. Walter Ray spent some of his warm-time this morning throwing the ball two-handed, just in case. Maybe Jason can give him some coaching along the way to Baltimore.
I mistakenly posted above that Jason Belmonte left a solid 10 pin on a perfect pocket hit on his last ball when in fact he left a solid 7 pin on a slightly high hit. I also mistakenly wrote that Chris Barnes "almost" made it into the Round of 16 when, in fact, he did make it into that round and ended up finishing in 13th place. I want to thank an anonymous commenter for correcting me, and I also want to apologize for getting my facts wrong the first time around.