Monday, February 28, 2011

Duke Defeats Koivuniemi in Shocking U.S. Open Finale

The 68th Lumber Liquidators PBA U.S. Open ended Sunday afternoon not with a bang but with a gutter ball as Mika Koivuniemi sprawled face-down on the approach in despair and Norm Duke sat behind in shocked disbelief as the new and unexpected holder of the most prestigious title in professional bowling.

It was unexpected because Mika Koivuniemi who, this season, became the first bowler in PBA history to appear in the televised finals of all four majors in a single season, had won the Tournament of Champions’ stratospheric $250,000 first prize a few weeks earlier, had made the brutal U.S Open lane conditions at the Brunswick-Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J. look almost easy in mowing down Ryan Shafer and Tommy Jones with 236 and 241 games respectively in his two prior matches and had bowled equally well against Duke in the final match, and, as inarguably the hottest bowler on earth with a virtual lock on PBA Player of the Year honors, entered the tenth frame frame needing only 16 pins to win the title.

He stepped up confidently on the approach, executed an almost perfect delivery, and buried the ball in the pocket, leaving a solid 10 pin. He needed only a spare and eight count to clinch the victory. But Mika, one of the best spare shooters on tour, uncharacteristically threw the ball in the gutter only inches before it reached the ten pin, and the match was over. Norm Duke had won his second U.S. Open title, and Mika sat dejectedly behind a now jubilant Duke after loudly berating himself in Finnish while lifting himself off the approach.

“You’d like to say to yourself I just won the U.S. Open, and maybe I’ll grow into that, but right this minute, I feel like Mika lost the U.S. Open,” Duke said after his stunning victory. “I had conceded the match. I knew the last four strikes were important, because you never know what’ll happen. But missing the ten pin is like having your ace pitcher on the mound, and he throws four straight balls and you lose...That’s what happens under pressure. That’s why guys miss three foot putts. And it’s fatigue. I’m exhausted. If I had to make a ten pin to win, it would be suspect at best.” But, Duke added, “It’s not that I didn’t deserve to win. I was the top qualifier. I did throw four strikes in a row after leaving a solid 8 pin in the eight frame. I did what I needed to do.”

This was the 7th major and 34th national title of Duke’s fabled career, tying him with the legendary Mark Roth for fourth place on the all-time PBA Tour title list, and his win earned him an $80,000 first place check, a beautiful trophy adorned with a bald eagle on top, and a green jacket several sizes too large for the diminutive champion.

Duke is one of the greatest players ever. I knew it was going to be a tough match,” said Koivuniemi graciously in defeat. “I took the biggest shot of my life in the 10th frame and left the ten pin, but unfortunately I didn’t make my spare. It was my nerves, I guess. I was thinking about the wrong things. This is the first time in my life I’ve lost a title like that.”

Nevertheless, Mika Koivuniemi’s $40,000 runner-up check lifted him over the $300,000 mark in earnings for the season and further strengthened his claim to Player of the Year honors as the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour heads this week to AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga, N.Y. for the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship. Amateur Brian Ziesig won it last year in a thrilling sudden-death overtime victory over Jason Belmonte by striking after Belmonte left "an absolute atomic stone 7 pin" heard round the world.

Final Standings:

1. Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., one game, 225 pins, $80,000.
2. Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, Mich., three games, 693 pins, $40,000.
3. Tommy Jones, Simposnville, S.C., one game, 158 pins, $20,000.
4. Ryan Shafer, Horseheads, N.Y., two games, 415 pins, $13,000.
5. Bill O’Neill, Southampton, Pa., two games, 387 pins, $11,000.
6. Dan MaClelland, Saginaw, Mich., one game, 150 pins, $10,000.

Playoff Results:

Match One (Saturday night): O’Neill def.MacLelland, 204-150.
Match Two (Saturday night): Shafer defeated O’Neill, 193-183.
Match Three: Koivuniemi def. Shafer, 236-222.
Semifinal Match: Koivuniemi def. Jones, 241-158.
Championship: Duke def. Koivuniemi, 225-216.

Below are Parts One and Two of the Final Match:


  1. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the game was Mika's for the taking because Duke had missed the headpin in the fifth frame and then blown the relatively easy 1-2-4 split and Mika was working on a four bagger as he stepped up in the tenth. Mika only missed the pocket once in the game leaving a 3-6-10 and he covered that spare perfectly. Something tells me it was not nervousness but overconfidence that led to Mika's miss.

  2. Excellent points, Jim. Duke did make his own big mistake in the match, and Mika bowled superbly most of the day. However, the pressure to convert that 10 pin must have been enormous beyond anything I can even comprehend, and it doesn't surprise me that even someone as skilled and accomplished as the hottest bowler on the planet missed it by inches under those circumstances. The only bowler who WOULD surprise me if he missed at such a time would be Walter Ray. Unfortunately, it looks increasingly as though we may never again have the opportunity to face THAT potential surprise, although I hope I'm wrong.