Thursday, March 31, 2011

Special Olympian Bowls 857

You may not have heard of Kolan McConiughey, but President Obama has, and so has Mika Koivuniemi.

Obama learned of the Special Olympian after appearing on the Tonight Show and self-deprecatingly comparing his bowling game to that of a Special Olympian, prompting McConiughey to publicly challenge him to a match. Koivuniemi heard of McConiughey after the 37-year-old cognitively impaired man shot a sanctioned 857 in league at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor, MI on Feb. 3, and Mika, whose highest sanctioned series is 847, subsequently appeared recently at a public ceremony at the bowling center to honor him for it. "It's a great, great accomplishment. I've heard about him before, and finally I get to meet him. It was great," said Mika.

By the way, this isn't McConiughey's first honor score. He's rolled four other sanctioned 800 series and at least seven 300 games. I counted seven on the the USBC site. His scintillating 857 came via games of 299-258-300.

It seems doubtful that President Obama will ever accept McConiughey's challenge or make another unflattering remark about the kegling skills of Special Olympics bowlers.

You can read more about Kolan McConiughey in Rich Rezler's article here, and you can view a YouTube video of McConiughey bowling below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bowling Quote of the Day--Dick Allen's Proud He Beat Walter Ray

"I take personal pride in being the one who ended Walter Ray’s winning streak. I’ve never bowled him on TV before and I may never bowl him on TV again, so to be able to go through life saying I’m undefeated against Walter Ray Williams Jr. on TV is pretty cool."
--Dick Allen, after bowling a 289 and ending Walter Ray Williams' record string of seventeen seasons of winning at least one tour title

(For the record, I hope they do bowl against each other again on TV and that Walter Ray figuratively kicks his behind.)

Jason Belmonte's Noisy Water Bottle

"Was Angelo just being too picky or do you think he has a gripe with Belmo's borderline obsessive need to fondle his H2O?"
--Jason Thomas, stirring the pot

Did he or didn't he? Did Jason Belmonte mean to use his water bottle to distract Brad Angelo while Angelo was bowling, or was it an accident? Well, actually, two accidents? This is the question bowling fans are contemplating after reading Jason Thomas' recent column "Belmonte/Angelo Provide Fireworks on This Sunday's Show" on

Before I say more, here is the video Thomas provides of the encounter that takes place between Belmo and Angelo in a match that will be shown this coming Sunday on ESPN:

My First Impression

I have to admit that when I first watched this video, it looked like Belmo was slyly trying to bother Angelo, especially the second time, when Angelo threw the ball after angrily dropping his ball on the ball return the first time. The second incident just seemed too perfectly timed to be an accident.

Moreover, when Angelo scolds him the second time, Belmo doesn't act like someone who's been falsely accused of something. If someone accuses me of something I didn't do, I'm going to deny it, not just stand there impassively like someone who knows he's been caught red handed and has no defense for it.

But when I think about it, I realize that Belmo might not have even known what Angelo was reacting to the first time, and that it may simply be his nature not to protest a false accusation against him under the television lights. Moreover, Belmo has always struck me as one of the nicest people and classiest acts on the PBA Tour. It's just hard for me to believe that he, of all people, would resort to such underhanded tricks to beat his opponents. Then again, maybe he's the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing who only appears to be a nice guy exhibiting good sportsmanship.

Fans Weigh In

As you might well expect, people see this differently. Here are some of the opinions expressed on Facebook:

"I like both guys, but I was there about 10 feet away. Jason did NOT wait until Brad released the ball. As a matter of fact, Jason did it twice within a minute. The first time Brad stepped off and reset. The second time he was already on his way to the foul line. Jason was wrong on this one."

"Intentional or not the water bottle noise is distracting, the entire center is quiet and the guy behind you crinkles a bottle, wtf! You wouldn't see that at a PGA event, hopefully lesson learned."

"Belmo seems like he is too nice of a guy to do something like that. I never heard any water bottle make noise so I think Brad is just being a big baby. He needs to learn to block stuff from his head. I thought that is what pros are supposed to do. Must be why he is not on TV much lol."

Belmo Explains

Belmonte finally came on Facebook Monday night and offered this explanation of what happened:

"First off - Brad and I had a chat directly after the match. We hugged and made up. He explained that he over reacted in the heat of the moment and I told him how awful I felt. Brad is not a D-Bag, quite the opposite.
Now, what I told him: I explained to him the first time the bottle cracked was completely my fault. I didn't expect the bottle to crack like it did and I should have paid more attention to my competitor. The 2nd time I waited till the ball was off his hand till I unscrewed the cap to have a quick sip before I had to bowl. Problem was that the bottle made a single pop sitting in my hand. I didn't attempt to open the bottle in his swing like people or the PBA are trying to suggest. That would be a D-Bag move and last time I checked I'm not a D-Bag.
There was a noise, a single pop and it did put him off. We bowlers get 10 frames to make the 10 best shots we can on TV, I felt horrible because I accidentally took one of those shots away.
I'm a little sad to see the PBA try and blow this out of proportion, considering the match itself is a great match and was very close all the way to the end. Clutching at straws I guess.
Jason Belmonte"

What do you think? I give Belmo the benefit of the doubt and figure he's going to be a lot more careful with that water bottle from now on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Dick Weber Playoffs: First Week's Telecast

"Why does that happen every time? Every time I bowl, it happens every time.”
--An understandably exasperated Ryan Shafer

I didn't get to watch the PBA telecast on Sunday. Actually, it was filmed long before that but broadcast Sunday. I don't know why they can't show these events live. I don't know about you, but it's much more exciting to me to see them live and not know who wins until it happens then and there than to know it was taped weeks or even months ago and who won. But if you do a bowling blog like this one or just spend any time online, it's all-but-impossible not to know who wins ahead of the showing, and that takes away from the whole experience.

However, given the format of this year's inaugural Dick Weber PBA playoffs, I guess they couldn't show all the matches on the same day. They had eighteen players, three in each of six different regions, competing against one another to crown the champion, and that takes more matches and more time than any network commanding a decent sized audience could hope to show in one day.

In any case, having aired my mild gripes about the Dick Weber broadcast format, I have to say that I did manage to watch a recording of Sunday's telecast yesterday, and I very much enjoyed the action. It took place at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis, IN on the 39' Dick Weber oil pattern. Commentator Randy Pederson explained that the relatively short oil coupled with more than the usual PBA concentration of oil in the middle of the lane allowed the bowlers to "play to their strengths," "maximize creativity" and attack the pattern from "multiple angles." In other words, it made the lanes higher scoring than we see on tougher patterns.

But higher scoring made for a very entertaining 90 minutes. In the first match, the top three finishers arbitrarily assigned to the Eastern region--Scott Norton, Tom Smallwood, and Steve Jaros bowled one match to determine who advanced to the next round. Norton, the California native, part-time attorney, only lefty among the eighteen finalists, and son of female bowling legend Virginia Norton who seems firmly on track to win Rookie of the Year honors and who won a national title earlier this year in Dublin, CA couldn't buy a strike until the sixth frame, leaving four pocket 7's, while Smallwood opened with his first five before leaving a 10 pin and Jaros with his first seven before sticking a 10 pin. Jaros went on to finish first with a 258. Smallwood stepped up in the tenth needing a strike on the first ball to win outright and left a light pocket 7. He then needed to strike on the fill ball to tie and pulled the ball slightly leaving a four pin and losing by 1 pin to Jaros while Norton finished with a distant but respectable 224.

The next match featured South region contestants Tommy Jones, "underrated" Ryan Shafer, and Randy Weiss. Weiss first shot ever on TV was a solid strike while Jones kept getting tapped. All three were in the match until near the end when snakebit Shafer went into the tenth frame with a lead only to get shafted with a pocket 7-10, Jones doubled and left a four pin for 238, and Weiss needed to strike out to win by one and did, shooting a 239.

The final match of the telecast had Central region finalists Dick Allen (formerly Ritchie Allen until he decided that he should adopt a more adult sounding name after recently becoming a father), Player of the Year shoo-in Mika Koivuniemi, and Walter Ray Williams Jr. This was Walter Ray's first television appearance of the season and last chance to extend his record 17 straight year streak of PBA national titles. When asked why he'd struggled so much this year compared to his fabulous Player of the Year season last year, he surmised that his recent hernia surgery, shortened grip to lessen the pain in the knuckles of his arthritic bowling hand, and the fact that his old body was simply "falling apart" had something to do with it.

Nevertheless, he and Allen opened with five baggers before Walter left a stinging pocket 7-10 while Mika was never in it and Allen struck five more times before sticking a ringing 10 and sparing for a 289.

Next week, the finalists from the Midwest, Southwest, and West/Northwest regions will compete, and they include such luminaries as Bill O'Neill, Chris Barnes, Wes Malott, Jason Belmonte, Brad Angelo, and Jack "The Ripper" Jurek.

If I haven't spoiled it for you by recapping Sunday's highlights, or you'd like to see the telecast again, you can watch all of it in the videos below, and you can read's official summary of the action here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mark Baker's Coaching Philosophy

Mark Baker was a pretty good bowler in his day. He won four PBA Tour titles, 6 PBA regional titles, led the PBA Tour in average in 1985, and finished second to Marshall Holman in the Firestone TOC in 1986. But he may be an even better bowling coach. He is one of the most respected coaches in the game and works with bowlers at all skill levels from the Tour elite on down.

He has just started blogging on the PBA website, and he posted a very good entry recently about his coaching philosophy. Here is some of what he writes:

"Every bowler throws a good shot now and then, relative to his or her skill level. But what's the one thing most bowlers don't want to do? Change! I hear it all the time. I want to raise my average, increase my rev rate, have better balance, I want to throw it better, but I don't really want to change my game." Well, guess what? That's pretty much exactly what I try to do as a coach. That is, changing a bowler's game without them feeling that they are being changed."

Baker goes on to write about a misconception that many bowlers have about the mistakes they make and how he deals with it:

"The hardest part for me is when the feedback I get from a bowler comes in the "I pulled it" or "I elbowed it," variety, which is basically just a bunch of baloney about the release which, in reality, is more a byproduct of something that went wrong somewhere in the approach way before that. It's simple cause and effect. The bad release is the effect and once you find the cause and fix it, a miracle happens. The bowler has the "A-HA" moment. Now you have something, because once a bowler knows what he does (and what it feels like) when he throws his best shots, and can then start to tell me why he missed in a larger (and sometimes, like Barnes, more mechanical) vocabulary. At that point, the improvement is immediate."

This is a really good article that coaches, aspiring coaches, and those who are contemplating receiving coaching should read. And let's hope Mark Baker keeps blogging.

You can read Mark Baker's entire blogpost here, check out his official website here, and watch his 1986 Firestone TOC championship match with Marshall Holman and a coaching video with Walter Ray Williams Jr. below.

Friday, March 25, 2011

EJ Tackett and Men's Team USA

Unless you follow bowling pretty closely, you've probably never heard of EJ Tackett. But he deserves a lot more attention in the bowling world and beyond than he seems to be getting. At least that's the point I tried to make to PBA Xtra Frame's "bowling doctor" Jeff Mark and USBC announcer Lucas Wiseman the other day as Xtra Frame and collaborated to bring us live online video coverage of the recent Team USA tryouts for the Pan American Games.

The tryouts, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday at the USBC's amazing International Training and Research Center (ITRC) in Arlington, TX, had all eleven members of this year's men's Team USA bowling eight games on each of four different patterns to partly determine which two bowlers would represent the USA in Guadalajara, Mexico this summer in North and South America's version of the Olympics held every four years.

The competing members were PBA stars Bill O'Neill, Chris Barnes, Patrick Allen, Wes Malott, Tommy Jones, Mike Fagan, and Walter Ray Williams, along with Scott Boyle, Steven Smith, Jarret Mizo, and EJ Tackett. The top two were determined based 60% on where they finished in the tryouts, 20% on their finish in the USBC Masters, and 20% on where they finished in the U.S. Open. By virtue of those calculations, Bill O'Neill, who ran away from the field for most of the tryouts, and Chris Barnes were the top two point-getters and will represent the USA in the men's bowling competition at the Pan American Games. I can't think of two better choices, can you?

But what impressed me almost as much as these two bowling superstars during the tryouts was the performance of EJ Tackett. For much of the competition, he held his own with bowling's big guns on challenging patterns, even sitting in fourth place after 17 games, until he faltered at the end, and by virtue of his performances during the tryouts and the U.S. Open earlier this year where he finished 15th overall, he was the highest overall point-getter among the non-touring pros on Team USA, finishing behind Walter Ray Williams.

What was so impressive about this? Well, EJ Tackett is only 18-years-old and is still in high school, and he throws what looks to me to be one helluva ball. I can't imagine how gratifying it must have been for him to make men's Team USA this year, finish so high in the U.S. Open awhile back, and then bowl so well against such a stellar field of pros in Arlington earlier this week. Talk about a kid's dream come true!

Well, not quite. EJ's biggest dream is probably not to win a PBA "major" or represent men's Team USA in international competition, but to win a PGA major. That's right, EJ Tackett says he loves golf more than he does bowling, is currently a 2-handicapper, and will be attending college on a golf scholarship next year.

As I watched him bowl during the tryouts, I wrote a Facebook message to Jeff Mark and Lucas Wiseman that I was surprised they weren't paying more attention to EJ instead of treating him like just another competitor. Mark's response was that unless and until he wins a big tournament, he hasn't really done anything all that noteworthy and doesn't deserve any more attention or coverage than he's been getting.

I respectfully disagree. I think one of bowling's biggest problems right now is poor public relations. It doesn't know how to market itself to the masses in a way that gets people interested and makes them respect the sport and the players more. When a young phenom like EJ Tackett or Kamron Doyle comes along, bowling publicists should jump on the opportunity to bring them to the public's attention. How many boys and girls and young men and women, who are the future of bowling, might be inspired by the stories of young competitors such as these to take up the game and get serious about it? When guys like Jeff Mark and Lucas Wiseman take the ho-hum attitude that they do, they're just shooting themselves and bowling in general in the foot, and they're not giving superbly talented and accomplished young competitors like EJ Tackett their due.

I wish EJ Tackett well with his golf game. He's certainly right when he says there is more "opportunity" in professional golf than there is in professional bowling. But I hope he keeps bowling too. I really like his game and would love to see him shine as a star on both the PGA and PBA Tours.

Below you can watch two video stories on EJ Tackett and video of the Team USA tryouts for the Pan Am Games. And you can click here for the official USOC press release on the selections for the Pan Am Games.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who Didn't Vote for Kelly Kulick, and Why Not?

The Bowling Writers Association of America (BWAA) just selected Bill O' Neill and Kelly Kulick as the BWAA male and female Bowlers of the Year for 2010. I can't think of more deserving choices, and they are the candidates I would have voted for. Wait a minute. As a card carrying member of the BWAA, I did vote for them.

But what astonishes me is that not everyone voted for Kelly Kulick to win. Yes, she received 46 out of 48 first place votes, but two people cast first place votes for Wendy Macpherson.

Now I have nothing against Wendy Macpherson. She's inarguably one of the greatest female bowlers in history. But female Bowler of the Year after the unbelievable season Kelly Kulick had? Come on now! What "bowling writer" would fail to give proper due to what is very possibly the greatest year a female bowler has ever had?

I blogged recently about how Kelly Kulick has never received the respect she deserves for what she's accomplished. Her not garnering all 48 first place votes for Bowler of the Year is just another example of it. And the fact that the two dissenters were bowling writers with presumed expertise in the sport makes it all the more striking. It seems to be either a manifestation of abject ignorance and incompetence on the part of those voters, or a deliberate and spiteful slap in the face for Kelly Kulick for heaven knows what. Or maybe it just reflects a perverse fixation on Wendy Macpherson.

Here are the stats for Kelly Kulick and Wendy Macpherson. For whom would YOU have voted?

Kelly Kulick

1st, 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions

1st, USBC Queens

1st, U.S. Women's Open

1st, PBA regional, Lakewood, Wash.

1st, Pan American Confederation Women's Championships doubles

1st, Pan American Confederation Women's Championships team

1st, Malaysian Open

2nd, Pan American Confederation Women's Championships all-events

3rd, Pan American Confederation Women's Championships singles

3rd, Pan American Confederation Women's Championships trios

5th, PBA Earl Anthony Memorial Women's Series

7th, PBA Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles

PBA Women's Series average - 219.32

PBA Women's Series earnings - $46,440

Wendy Macpherson

1st, Japan Open including a 300 game

6th, PBA Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles

PBA Women's Series average - 198.42

PBA Women's Series earnings - $3,000

You can read more about the BWAA's selections here, and watch the championship match of the 2010 USBC Queens below.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

BowlSole for the Casual Bowler

Do you bowl only a few times a year and don't want to either rent bowling shoes at the desk or buy a pair of your own? Well, soon you may have a third option. And, no, I don't mean bowling in your street shoes or sock feet.

You may soon be able to attach disposable pads to your street shoes that will give them the same sliding action while protecting the approaches that bowling shoes do. An entrepreneur in New York named Thomas Marandos has invented BowlSole and will be marketing them to bowling centers to sell to their customers for approximately the same price as a bowling shoe rental.

I'm not sure I see the value in this, but maybe other people will. BowlSole will make its public debut in a booth at the International Bowl Expo Trade Show in Grapevine, Texas on June 29-30.

You can read more about this product in Mark Miller's Examiner column here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Billy Hardwick's Story

"His focus and concentration were unreal. When he got into that zone, the other guys would recognize it and say, 'Well, I guess we are playing for second place again this week.'"
--Phantom Radio's Len Nicholson speaking of his lifelong friend Billy Hardwick

I spent much of my boyhood with my grandparents in San Mateo, CA. My grandfather bowled and watched professional bowling on TV, and that got me interested in bowling too. If you lived in San Mateo and loved bowling, you knew about Billy Hardwick.

Hardwick, born in 1941, was a young, local bowling legend who had already became one of the best bowlers in the world by the mid 1960's, and my grandfather and I were very excited when he made the televised finals of the first Firestone Tournament of Champions in 1965. He went on to win the title against Dick Weber and the $25,000 first prize. This sounded like otherworldly money to me, a boy from a working class family who had just turned twelve.

Hardwick was one of my favorite bowlers for a long time after that and went on to have a relatively short but absolutely stellar career that landed him #12 on the PBA top 50 list of all time. He retired with 17 national titles and won 7 of them in 1969 alone, was the first bowler to win the "triple crown" of the TOC, U.S. Open, and PBA National Championship, and still holds an all-time PBA record by averaging 271 for 8 games at the 1969 Japan Cup, which he accomplished throwing a rubber ball.

However, it was only after reading an article recently in that I came to an even greater appreciation of how amazing Billy Hardwick's career was given the obstacles he had to overcome. For one thing, he sustained a severe childhood injury to the ring finger of his bowling hand that made it very inflexible and led him to win his first Bowler of the Year award bowling with his index and middle finger. After that, he was christened "the boy with the golden claw."

Hardwick also had rheumatoid arthritis early on that prevented him from straightening his arms and prompted his doctor to tell him he'd "be crippled by the age of 28." Ironically, it was in his 28th year that Hardwick won a record-setting 7 titles, a season's total second only to Mark Roth's 8 titles in 1978.

I also didn't know that when Hardwick first came out on tour in 1962 with an awkward style a Bowler's Journal article described as looking "like he's falling out of a tree," he didn't cash in his first 17 tournaments, and the great Don Carter finally admonished him to "Go home." He did until he was able to raise enough money to come back and with indomitable determination and ungodly accuracy start dominating the tour.

But after one of his children, Billy Jr., died suddenly in his crib, his first marriage dissolved, and his second wife gave birth to a baby who died two days later, Billy lost his competitive spirit. As he puts it, "At that point, who really gives a damn about bowling? People say they understand, but until you actually lose two children--including an infant--there is no way to describe what it was like. At the time, I was No. 1 in the world, and I said 'So what?' I just didn't care. You just check my records after that, because they're all zeros."

Well, actually, Hardwick did win another tournament seven years later and then lost the final match to Marshall Holman by only five pins in the Firestone Tournament of Champions the following week. For a brief moment, he had regained the all-consuming will to win that lifted him to the top of the bowling world years before. But after the Firestone, he never regained that spirit and quit not long after and, according to his son Chris Hardwick, hasn't bowled even recreationally for over 25 years. However, he is the proprietor of Billy Hardwick's All Star Lanes in Memphis, TN, and in an interview in 2005 said of himself, "Self-pity was my best friend. Now I wake up with a smile on my face."

You can read the entire article here, and below is a reposting of the wonderful commercial he did for Miller High Life followed by his close match with Marshall Holman in the 1976 Firestone Tournament of Champions.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Earl Anthony vs. Pete Couture in 1981 Firestone Tournament of Champions

There have been many exciting Tournament of Champions televised finals over the years since the tournament's inception in 1965. But the match between Pete Couture and Earl Anthony in 1981 has to be one of the most exciting ever. Below is the last half of that historic match.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bowling Quote of the Day--Back to the Future

"Keep yer got-damn science off mah balls!"
--Chris Hardwick, son of Billy Hardwick

Billy Hardwick's Son "Hates" Modern Bowling

After the recent Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship, I wrote here that I would rather see bowlers required in all elite level tournaments to use bowling balls with polyester coverstocks and simple layouts so that the sport would downplay the importance of bowling ball technology and return to emphasizing a bowler's physical and mental skills. It seems that Chris Hardwick, the multi-talented son of bowling legend Billy Hardwick, agrees and would like to see bowlers at all levels subject to the same restrictions.

Hardwick, who writes articles for Wired magazine, penned a provocative article in Oct, 2008 that is fun and interesting reading. In Technology's Gutterball: New Gear Makes Bowling Too Easy, Chris, who was named after famed bowling announcer Chris Schenkel, writes about growing up on course to become the "Tiger Woods of bowling (but with a hilariously lower salary)" until Dungeons and Dragons and videogames altered his destiny. However, he says that he remains "a careful observer of the game" and that he 'hates' what he sees.

He hates the fact that modern reactive resin and other high tech bowling balls have made 300 games and high averages pretty much meaningless:

These new balls and surfaces mean more strikes, which means higher scores and more perfect games. By some counts, amateur bowlers can average 40 pins higher per game than a professional bowler did 40 years ago — and that's not because of some recently evolved mutation in the human bowling gene. Look, we all want to excel at bowling. How else would we attract potential sex partners? Not to go all Harrison Bergeron on you, but when everyone bowls perfect games, then no one bowls a perfect game. Sure, other sports have tech. A titanium shaft and weighted clubhead will let you hit 300-yard drives until your spine unhinges, but they'll still slice. With bowling, the equation is simpler. More tech equals more strikes.
Hardwick later, with tongue probably only halfway in cheek, writes this about the USBC's proposal to limit the porousness of bowling balls after April, 2009:

As a purist of the sport, I'm grateful for the change. We should have to earn our marks the way our daddies (or, at least, mine) did: with hard rubber balls on wood, a hot lamp over the scoring table burning our hands and faces, and watered-down American beer lubricating each frame until we go home smelling like an ashtray in a chemical plant. "Keep yer got-damn science off mah balls!" we'll cry, and life will be good and pure and true.

Call me the old fuddy-duddy that I am, but I agree with Hardwick, except for the hot lamps and cigarette smoke.

Chris' dad Billy in a 1969 Miller High Life beer commercial.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bowling Against a Legend

I bowl league at Fireside Lanes near Sacramento, CA. Yesterday afternoon, I subbed for a team in an excellent senior scratch league there. These are three-person teams, and each person is matched against his or her opposite member. My opponent yesterday was Betty Morris-Laub.

If you've followed bowling for a long time, the names Betty Morris and Laub should sound familiar. A certain Betty Morris was female Bowler of the Decade for the 1970's, three time female bowler of the year, and a holder of 17 women's professional national titles and numerous other bowling awards. In other words, she's one of the most accomplished female bowlers ever. And PBA Hall of Famer Larry Laub was voted the 37th greatest bowler in PBA history.

Well, it just so happens that Betty Morris married Larry Laub, and that same Betty Morris was my opponent yesterday in the Fireside Senior Classic. With her husband Larry looking on, she put on a veritable bowling clinic, shooting over 900 for four games and winning three out of five match points against me.

She bowls only once a week yet still averages well over 200 and retains the famous form and smooth execution of yesteryear. And although I haven't seen Larry bowl recently, I understand that he's still got game too, except that he now projects the ball a lot further down the lane than he famously used to.

As I've written previously, I feel blessed to bowl in a center that has one of the finest junior programs and junior coaches (Debbie Haggerty) in the nation, features the Steve Cook Classic and other fine leagues, has a pro shop owned by Gary Hulsenberg and Leanne Barrette- Hulsenberg, and in which I've been able to compete against the likes of bowling legends Steve Cook, Leanne Barrette, and Betty Morris, and even be coached by Bill O'Neill, P.J. Haggerty, and bowling psychologist Dean Hinitz. Every bowler should be so fortunate.

Just don't expect to be able to beat the "old legends" there. Like I said, they've "still got game."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bowling Quote of the Day--No Bumper Bowling for Kids

"When I started bowling, my mom wouldn't let me use bumpers. She taught me how to bowl properly."
--Scott Norton

Scott Norton's Commentary on PBA Xtra Frame

I listened yesterday to a little of PBA Xtra Frame and greatly enjoyed Scott Norton's astute and very personable commentary.

When he was asked about the difference between bowling regional tournaments and bowling on tour he explained that when one goes out on tour, one has to be a veritable "sponge" absorbing an enormous amount of information about equipment, physical adjustments, lane typographies, oils, and overall conditions from house to house and even segments of each house, and so forth, and that the touring pros who've been out there a long time have a tremendous edge in that they've already learned all this stuff while the newcomers are struggling with an impossibly steep learning curve.

He also mentioned that it took him awhile to learn to watch other bowlers with games closest to his own to help him line up the fastest on a given condition and that he initially watched Parker Bohn but discovered that Mike Scroggins and Patrick Allen had games closer to his own and thus were more helpful to him to watch.

Fortunately, Scott, who is busy lawyering when he isn't bowling, seems to have been remarkably equal to the task of learning what he needs to know, having already won the Las Vegas Chameleon Championship on TV earlier this season, finished 27th in the Tournament of Champions, and made the top 16 last week, and, if I'm not mistaken, he may be well on his way to a Rookie of the Year season on Tour.

At one point yesterday, Scott was asked how much his Hall-of-Fame mother Virginia Norton influenced his bowling, and he answered that, although she's been his bowling coach his whole life, she never forced him to bowl any particular way or at all. He said that what influenced him most was being around his mom and other top women bowlers when he was an impressionable kid and learning to bowl more of a woman's finesse kind of game instead of the power game that seems so dominant today among the men.

For more information on Scott Norton, please check out this profile article in the San Francisco Examiner, and you can watch his dominating Chameleon Championship title match performance against Sean Rash below.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bowling Quote of the Day--Bowling Socratically

"I knew I didn't know anything, but I didn't know how much I didn't know until I came out here."
--Scott Norton

Make the Pros Bowl With Plastic

I love the PBA plastic ball championships. And, if the truth be told, I wish there were more of them. I hate how having the right ball in one's hands seems to have become more important than throwing the ball with the right speed along the right line with the right kind of roll, and how the touring, ball staff member pros with their armies of ball reps and unlimited access to equipment seem to have such an unfair advantage over their less privileged brethren.

In fact, I'd be delighted if all elite tournaments limited the players to the same cheap plastic balls and, better still, permitted no modifications to the simple pancake layouts and ball surfaces so that the player himself decided his own fate instead of the ball in his hands. The oil patterns could vary from tournament to tournament, but the balls would remain the same.

Yes, I suppose the ball manufacturers could continue to sell balls to the general public in order for them and their pro shop retailers to remain in business, and the public could continue to exhaust their bank accounts to shoot their ridiculous scores on "bumper lane" house conditions with the newest high tech balls that hook like crazy right out of the box and blast the pins to smithereens until they absorb so much oil after a few games that they lose their punch and it's time to buy another ball. But the pros would soar above this insanity.

Of course, the cat is too far and long out of the bag for this to ever happen. Forevermore, elite bowlers will have to focus more and more on ball physics (or have the right people in their "stable" to do the focusing for them) and less and less on technique, and I think PBA bowling will likely suffer from it until it, perhaps, eventually dies. And guys like me who can't afford the newest, freshest equipment and who aren't ball physicists might as well forget about competing in scratch tournaments at any level.

I think I'll watch a video of a time when men were men who bowled 100-game tournaments and bowlers didn't have to carry a truckload of balls and ball reps around with them to excel.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mark Roth Bowls Earl Anthony at the 1981 Showboat Invitational

In the wake of the PBA Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship, here's video of a classic battle of the bowling titans of 1981 in the finals of the Showboat Invitational.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chris Barnes Demonstrates How to Use a Ball Spinner

Chris Barnes didn't make it to the televised finals of the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship Sunday. But in addition to finishing in 30th place and taking home a little cash for his efforts, he also demonstrated to "Jackie Bowling" how the pros use a ball spinner to doctor their bowling balls by altering their surfaces to achieve desired results.

Below is a video of that demonstration.

Couch Defeats Bohn in 2011 Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship

"For it to be the Mark Roth and to be my first tournament win in three, four years is such a relief. It's special. ... It's a big monkey off my back."
--Jason Couch

It wasn't as entertaining as last year's plastic ball tournament in which Jason Belmonte left that impossible solid 7 pin on the first ball of a sudden-death rolloff and Brian Ziesig stepped up and delivered a clutch strike to win the championship. But it was still pretty entertaining watching hall-of-famer Parker Bohn defeat Tom Smallwood and fireballing hometown boy Ryan Ciminelli before falling to future hall-of-famer Jason Couch yesterday in the final game of the 2011 Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship at the Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga, N.Y.

And it all began in wonderful style with Mark Roth himself shown throwing a ball and getting a seven count just before the competition began. Mark overcame a serious stroke on June 4, 2009 to make his remarkable appearance yesterday, and I hope he continues to improve.

In last year's version of the tournament, Roth appeared in the public arena for the first time since his stroke and could barely walk. This time, with the aid of all the rehabilitation he's undergone plus the help of an electrical stimulator called "WalkAide," he was able to get around much better and to even throw a couple of balls in front of the crowd as well as beat his physical therapist a few days before with a 157 game while throwing a 15 pound ball. This is tremendous progress since almost dying less than two years ago and not being expected to ever be able to walk again.

As for yesterday's matches, Tom Smallwood, who's had another great season, especially with his second place $100,000 finish in the Tournament of Champions, never did get lined up but still kept his match with Bohn close to the very end. In the next match, Ciminelli outbowled Bohn but had trouble carrying corner pins and lost to Bohn in another squeaker. In the final match, neither bowler performed at his best, but Bohn struggled mightily with getting the right feel in his thumbhole and consequently threw some bad balls that put him out of the match with Couch fairly early on. This was Couch's first title since 2007. As you may recall, Couch is the only bowler to ever win the coveted Tournament of Champions title three consecutive times.

Also noteworthy was hall-of-famer Johnny Petraglia's eighth place finish in the tournament. This borders on astonishing for a 64-year-old man competing with the young lions!

Perhaps almost equally astonishing is the fact that Chris Barnes finished only 30th in a tournament where one would expect his superior talent, skill, and bowling knowledge to propel him to greater heights. After all, this tournament was designed to, as the PBA website describes it, "put a premium on knowledge of changing lane conditions, subtle adjustments in hand positions and delivery techniques, and other skills rather than relying on advanced bowling ball technology." Whom would one expect to be better in these areas than Chris Barnes? Well, maybe we should expect it from old timers like Johnny Petraglia and even Parker Bohn who grew up having to rely more on these very skills in order to succeed.

Below are the final standings, playoff results, and videos of the televised finals.

Final Standings

1. Jason Couch, Clermont, Fl., 219 (1 game), $20,000
2. Parker Bohn, Jackson, N.J., 589 (3 games), $10,000
3. Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., (1 game), $6,000
4. Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 197 (1 game), $5,000

Playoff Results

Match One: Bohn def. Smallwood 201-197
Match Two: Bohn def. Ciminelli 213-207
Championship Match: Couch def. Bohn 219-175

Saturday, March 5, 2011

2010 GEICO Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship Finals

Yesterday, I posted video of the 2009 GEICO Plastic Ball Championship finals. I'd like to follow that up today with video of most of last year's thrilling TV finals of the 2010 GEICO Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship. By the way, you can click here to read my commentary on last year's tournament, which I think may have been one of the most entertaining in the entire history of the PBA.

Tomorrow at 1 PM EST, ESPN will air the 2011 Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship, and, like last year, Mark Roth himself will be sitting in the front row behind the bowlers to take in the tournament held in his honor.

Since no left-handers made the televised finals of the first two plastic ball tournaments, perhaps it's only fitting that three out of the top four finalists for tomorrow and eight out of the top sixteen are lefties, with slow-hooking Tom Smallwood being the only righty to make it to the show.

However, to my way of thinking, it would be more "fitting" still if the lanes for every PBA national tournament favored neither lefties nor righties, although I'm not sure how that could be achieved.

Friday, March 4, 2011

2009 GEICO Plastic Ball Championship Finals

As the PBA Tour bowls the PBA Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship at the Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga, N.Y. this week, let's take a look back at the televised finals of the first tournament to restrict bowlers to balls with polyester coverstocks since the advent of urethane, reactive resin, and other modern coverstocks. Let us go back two years to the 2009 GEICO Plastic Ball Championship at the Brunswick Zone Wheat Ridge just outside Denver, CO. Interestingly, none of the TV finalists that day even made the top 16 of match play in this year's tournament.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Give Great Bowlers More Respect

During last week’s U.S. Open, two excellent bowler profile articles appeared in the New York Times that had more in common than I would like to think.

The first was about Walter Ray Williams Jr. It began with the words: “The man many consider the best bowler in history arrived at the United States Open virtually unnoticed.” Later, it described how he “parked his motor home in the lot, walked into the site of the United States Open--his favorite event and one he has won twice--and received roughly the same reception as everyone else in the building.” I also remember someone commenting on PBA Xtra Frame recently that there were very few people watching Walter Ray bowl qualifying.

How is it that this man, of whom Norm Duke is quoted as saying, “He’s the very best, I think, ever,” receives so little recognition outside or even inside his sport from sports and bowling fans?

The article attributes much of this to Walter Ray’s self-described “loner” personality. No doubt there’s some truth to this, along with the fact that Walter has never been a flashy player or personality like, say, Pete Weber. But does one of the greatest bowlers if not the greatest bowler of all time need to be a raging extrovert or a master of flamboyance to receive his due from no less than the bowling fans who flock to major tournaments such as the U.S. Open?

Can you think of any other sports where active all-time champions can walk amongst their biggest fans “virtually unnoticed”? I’m not a golf fan, but Jack Nicklaus never struck me as a particularly outgoing or flamboyant guy, and neither does Tiger Woods, yet neither had any trouble being noticed if not mobbed by adoring crowds. So, why not Walter Ray Williams Jr.?

Some might say it’s because bowling fans are too intelligent or classy for hero-worship. Oh, they respect what Walter Ray has accomplished, but they’re too cool to let it show. Too “cool” to even stand behind him and watch professional bowling’s all-time champion and seven time Player of the Year bowl in a big tournament?

The second New York Times article was about Kelly Kulick. It detailed her unbelievable season last year and how little recognition, beyond an initial flash of limited media attention, and financial reward she received from it all. “No endorsement offers. No big payday...No calls to appear with Oprah, Ellen, or Rachel Ray, which she really wanted. No lasting mainstream recognition. No new car,” says the article. And I’m guessing that she doesn’t receive much more notice from bowling fans at tournaments than does Walter Ray despite her miraculous accomplishments last year.

Why does bowling draw so little appreciation from even its own fans that even its biggest stars go “virtually unnoticed”? And how can bowling thrive at the professional or any level as long as this continues to be the case?

I’m glad America’s premiere newspaper featured articles about these two great bowlers last week. But if bowling fans themselves don’t start giving players like Walter Ray and Kelly Kulick more attention and respect, professional bowling's future doesn't look very bright.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Would Anyone Not Like Norm Duke?

Yesterday, I posted about how some have criticized Mika Koivuniemi for "choking" and being too theatrical and unsportsmanlike at the end of the U.S. Open last Sunday. And some in my bowling league have said they can't "stand" him. By contrast, bowling fans everywhere seem to adore and almost revere Norm Duke, and one hears nary a bad word about him.

Yet, someone said to me the other night that he's heard that Norm's fellow touring pros don't like him very much. I was surprised to hear this, and I asked, if this happens to be true (and I greatly doubt that it is), what they don't like about him. He said he didn't know but speculated that it might be Norm's intensity and seriousness as a competitor as well as the fact that he beats their butts on the lanes more often than not.

I think Duke is unquestionably one of the most skilled and overall greatest bowlers who ever lived, and I love his intensity on the lanes and earnest demeanor and graciousness behind the microphone. It seems to me that he is the epitome of what a PBA bowler should aspire to be.

What do you think? Have you heard anyone say anything bad about Duke or have any idea why they might? The only bad thing I can say concerning him is that I would sure hate to have to bowl him in the final match of a major, because I know he would come at me with almost superhuman skill and iron willed determination to win by any means necessary. I would respect that, but I sure wouldn't like it. But not liking THAT is different than not liking HIM.

Unless you know something about him I don't, Norm Duke is one of the PBA bowlers I'd most like to meet and, if I actually liked beer, "have a beer with" or even befriend.

Norm Duke interviewed Monday on Inside Bowling

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mika's Detractors After the 2011 U.S. Open

I’ve had the misfortune of reading some online comments about what a “choke,” “drama queen,” and “jerk” Mika Koivuniemi was Sunday when he missed that 10 pin and afterward. Here is one fairly representative comment on the PBA Facebook page:

I loved Mika the "Drama Queen" missing the 10 pin, he should get an Oscar for that, the falling on the approach was one thing, sitting with his hands in his head when he should have gotten to his feet and congratulated Duke was inexcusable. Suck it up boy, you made a bad shot. If Duke does not stone an 8 pin you are a dead duck anyway.

This is how I replied:

I'm guessing that Mika's loudest detractors not only won't ever have to "handle something like that," but that, if they did, they'd be so nervous they'd miss the 10 pin by throwing the ball in the opposite gutter several feet down the lane, and then they'd bawl like a baby afterward. ;-) What's the old saying, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach."? Well how about, Those who slam sports competitors can neither do nor teach.? ;-)

Mika bowled almost superhumanly well all day to find himself in that pressure-packed situation, and then he made a very human mistake at the end, just as Norm made one earlier in the game. Both bowled like champions, and both deserve praise rather than blame. Yes, Mika was upset, but only at himself, and he later said nice things about Norm. And life goes on.

Actually, I don’t accept the saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” I understand that there are some excellent teachers among the ranks of the finest men and women bowlers in the world, including Norm Duke and Kelly Kulick. I’d gladly take lessons from them any day, and I was fortunate enough a few months ago to receive some coaching from Bill O’Neill. Now, if only I’d follow his advice.

I personally didn’t take offense at Mika’s reaction at the end. He had just lost $40,000 and the most coveted title in bowling by a mere few inches. Well, actually, he would have still needed an eight count on the next ball to clinch it, and that’s no gimme on a flat oil pattern. Remember Walter Ray, of all people, needing an eight count to make it to the U.S. Open TV finals last year and getting six? But the point is, I don’t think anyone can reasonably blame Mika for being as upset as he was, and I don’t think he acted egregiously in his upset. Furthermore, he did compliment Norm in his post-game comments.

What do you think? Do you think Mika’s conduct was inexcusably unsportsmanlike? Furthermore, do you think his missing that 10 pin will haunt him and, when and if he faces a similar situation in the future, cause him to miss again?