As mentioned here, the Professional Bowlers Association spent the last two weeks of May in Milwaukee to compete in five tournaments in the GEICO PBA Summer Swing (Side note; calling May "Summer" in Milwaukee could be creative license, however it was warm and humid for about three days of the fortnight).
The tricky spot that is inherent about writing this wrap-up is that the five television shows that were produced this past weekend will all be shown on tape-delay on the CBS Sports Network in June and July.
Some media outlets (under no journalistic obligation to withhold the results because of the terms of a TV deal that they had no involvement with) have chosen to give the full results. If you want to know who won each of the five tournaments, read the spoiler-filled articles here and here. But don’t blame me if you followed the links and read them.
On the other hand, the beautiful thing about blogging is that there are no rules. I am not a journalist, never have been, never will be. So though I could spoil the results, I’ve chosen not to. I do have one standard... my family and personal friends are identified by nickname only, people that I do not know are identified by their real names.
Another problem with the way the Summer Swing was set-up was that there was bowling 13 of 14 days, most days two sessions per day. I couldn’t get to all of the sessions, so I have augmented some of my comments with releases from the PBA website.
In 2005, the PBA introduced what they called “Animal Patterns”, and almost every tournament was to be competed on one of those five patterns; Cheetah, Chameleon, Scorpion, Shark and Viper.
Each pattern varies in depth left to right across the lane (picture how a football field is crowned; higher in the center then downhill toward the sidelines) as well as from the foul line to the pins (picture a door stop).
Each succeeding year, each of the patterns was tweaked slightly (maybe length of oil, volume, etc) to achieve the desired scoring pace. Some of these patterns were intedned for the bowler to throw the ball parallel to the gutter (like the Cheetah) and some patterns forced the players to release the ball far from the gutter, but roll it that direction for a big hook (like the Shark). Despite the tweaks, over the past few seasons, the professionals learned the ins and outs of the patterns and at this point, generally, know where to play on the lane and with what type of bowling ball.
For the Summer Swing, the PBA introduced three new “Animal Patterns”; the Badger (52 feet long, requiring players to play far away from the gutter), the Wolf (32 feet long, played near the gutter like the Cheetah) and the Bear, which is 40 feet long, but completely flat across the lane. That added significance, as the professionals (as well as the local amateurs that paid their entry fee) would be seeing these patterns in competition for the first time.
As it happened, the professionals proved to be the best bowlers in the world as only one local player (stretching the definition of “local” to extend to the Fox Valley) advanced to the match play rounds.
Lucas Oil PBA Badger Open – AMF Waukesha (qualifying May 20, match play May 21, TV finals taped June 1)
First up was the Badger pattern, which at 52 feet was the longest oil pattern ever used for a PBA tournament. AMF Waukesha also has wood lanes, whereas AMF West and AMF Bowlero (as well as every PBA location in about the last five years) has had synthetic “plastic” lanes.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend any of the sessions at AMF Waukesha, but according to PBA press releases, second-year pro Jake Peters led the 10-game qualifying round, and Sean Rash led after the first 8-game match play round. However once the second 8-game match play block was complete, Rash had sunk like a stone from first to 18th place and 2011-12 PBA Rookie of the Year Josh Blanchard was the number one seed.
Full match play results are here (note that this site does NOT list the Finals results, but if you click around too much, you may inadvertently find them.)
Lucas Oil PBA Wolf Open – AMF West (qualifying May 23, match play May 24, TV finals taped June 1)
After taking Wednesday, May 22 for a day of practice on the new 32 foot pattern at the next center, 90 bowlers (including nine local bowlers) bowled 10 games of qualifying on May 23.
I arrived for the evening block, and the first thing that struck me was that many of the bowlers that I've watched for years were about 20 feet away from me. The next thing was that I personally know most of those nine local bowers, including radio personality "Dammit Man" McNeil (a West Allis resident).
Putting two and two together, I saw the disparity in talent (and scores) between the touring professionals and the local players. Occasionally, the local guys like my good friend The Dealer would start hot (a 244 first game) and end decent (two 211 games to end the qualifying) but struggled in between. Or like "Dammit Man" who after his first two games averaged about 200, and ended with a 225 game. But those three games under 150...
The Dealer did make a comment to me that did make sense, and also underscores a difference between the professionals and those with a dream. Some of his preferred equipment is produced by Jet, however Jet did not register their product for use in PBA competition, so The Dealer could not use his preferred equipment. On the other hand, equipment manufacturers like Brunswick, Ebonite, Storm and Motiv quite competitively recruit and sign the best players to exclusive-use contracts.
Contrast the games of The Dealer and "Dammit Man" McNeil to the qualifying leader, Chris Loschetter, who averaged 250 (that's right. Too-FIF-Dee) for his 10 games, the lowest game being 214. Appleton's Ken Kempf was the only Wisconsin bowler to make match play, taking the 24th and final spot with a 224 average.
I did not get to see the first round of match play on Friday morning, May 24, but was there for the evening block. After seven games that evening (following eight games that morning) the finalists for the TV show were not yet set. One last game, a position round (the 1st place bowler bowled the 2nd place bowler, 3rd bowls 4th, etc.) to determine the five players for TV. Loschetter was ahead of EJ Tackett by one pin, and he was ahead of Norm Duke by 24 pins. Considering the winner of each match earns 30 bonus pins, it meant that any of the top three bowlers could be the number one seed in the stepladder.
Loschetter defeated Tackett 225 - 193. But that meant that if Duke won his match against Pete Weber, and bowled a score of 249 or more, Duke would jump from 3rd place to 1st place in one game.
Weber finished his game (238) first, and Duke could strike out for a 268, and only needed the first strike in the 10th frame to take the top seed.
A stone 8-pin would only move Duke to 2nd place. Full match play standings are here (don't worry, no spoilers on this page... but don't go all click-happy). Don't want to click? See a cruddy picture here)
Lucas Oil PBA Bear Open – AMF Bowlero (qualifying May 27, match play May 28, TV finals taped June 1)
Typically the day before a tournament begins, a ProAm tournament is held, allowing bowlers of all ages to bowl a tournament with the professionals. (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Son, Mitten, had asked for a tournament package for his upcoming birthday, and he bowled the ProAm on Sunday evening, May 26th. Each pro bowled five frames, so that the amateurs all get to bowl with six professionals. Mitten got to bowl with Scott Norton, John Szczerbinski, Tackett, Dave Wodka, Kurt Pilon and Ryan Shafer.
I again was not able to attend the qualifying round on Monday morning, May 27th, but I was there in the evening, and as a bowler, it was very interesting watching the bowlers try to best play this completely flat Bear lane pattern. From Walter Ray Williams, Jr (very comfortable playing the inside of the lane) playing right up the gutter, to Eugene McCune playing deep inside, though the first arrow is his A-game.
I was not able to attend any of the match play on Tuesday, May 28th, either, but the story was Australia's Jason Belmonte. At one point early in the 16-game match play, Belmonte was in 24th place out of 24 bowlers. Then over the course of the day, made the ultimate run to end up the top seed of the TV show.
Scores were very low, and again the local amateurs struggled. Of the 98 entries, ten local boys gave it a go. The Macarena started the first five games with a 194 average (higher than superstars Parker Bohn III and Tommy Jones) but really, really struggled the second block. However, I didn't bowl, so we can say he finished above me. The Dealer and "Dammit Man" McNeil bowled better than on the Wolf pattern, but still were not competitive with the best players in the world.
In the end, it took only a 215 average (which is very modest for professionals, nodding to the difficulty of the Bear pattern) to make the TV show. Full standings are here... do I need to mention NOT to click too many links?
Lucas Oil PBA Milwaukee Open – All three centers (using the 10-game qualifying scores on May 20, May 23 and May 27, match play May 29 and May 30, TV finals taped June 2)
This format was a bit confusing, but ultimately was the most grueling and Championship-level tournament. Since the accumulation of all 30-game scores were used to cut the field to 28 (then five more games to pare the field to 24) the bowlers had to excel (or at bare minimum, tame) all three drastically different lane conditions.
Match play was also formatted differently. Instead of 16 games of match play without bowling all other competitors, the Milwaukee Open's match play was a true 24-game round robin... One game against every other bowler plus one Position Round game. All tolled, the top five bowlers for TV would use their 59-game cumulative scores. That's a lot of bowling, and a lot of pressure.
I was there for the full 8-game qualifying round on Wednesday, May 29 which was held on the same flat, 40 foot Bear pattern from the just completed tournament. The bowlers seemed to have developed their strategies a little better, as it looked like more bowlers tried playing the far outside of the lanes for as long as possible. That didn't mean all was easy. For example, budding superstar Bill O'Neil had three 3-counts in a two game span. Pro bowlers can usually get more than that with their eyes closed, but again, trying to play a new pattern in a high pressure setting... sometimes high risk leads to high reward.
One interesting match featured Patrick Girard against Barnes. Barnes had won his first five matches, and Girard was struggling. Barnes didn't throw a great game, but Girard threw the last five consecutive strikes to beat him. "Not exciting", may say you. But au contraire (a nod to Girard's lineage as a French Canadian). Three of those five coffin nailing strikes were crossovers. Girard was still lost, but he had just stolen a game from the tournament leader.
Through eight games on Thursday morning, May 30 (on the 32 foot Wolf pattern) and seven games of match play on Thursday evening (on the 52 foot Bear pattern), the top three spots were set... Barnes had the top seed going away, Duke and Weber would be second or third, depending on their matches against others. It would come down to Mike Fagan, Jason Sterner and Michael Haugen, Jr... three bowlers aiming for only two spots.
Fagan won his match against Duke, locking Fagan into 4th seed. It would come down to Sterner and Haugen. Haugen struck out the 10th frame, forcing Sterner to throw at least two strikes in the 10th frame to win.
I was able to attend four of the five television tapings (missing only the Bear Open finals) and I will comment on them and add photos AFTER they are broadcast. The TV Finals will be shown on the CBS Sports Network (channels 322 and 1322 on Time Warner, you are on your own for other systems) weekly on Tuesdays at 6:00 PM CDT beginning June 11th.
Other comments from a two-week overload of watching professional bowling...
- There is no overload. I could watch these guys as often as my schedule would allow. I had the time of my life.
- Attendance varied between embarrassing and jam packed. I think two contributing reasons would be the weather (a dreary Memorial Day drew a full house, two days later on a sunny, 80-degree Wednesday evening there were barely 100 fans in house) and the fact that we are not actually in the bowling season in the Midwest. There aren't a lot of leagues in process in which to promote the fact that the pros were in town.
- As a bowler, I grew to love the schedule of three short-format tournaments, a fourth that uses the same scores as its qualifying, and a fifth that was the "King of the Swing" made-for-TV show, pitting the four Champions and the non-Champion bowler with the most points. People that aren't die-hards, though, were very confused by the format.
- Even when the bowling centers were packed, it wasn't hard to move around and find a good seat near your favorite pros. I took approximately a zillion photos, many with clear views of the players.
- Speaking of photos, it was so hard to get a good picture. The concourses were dark, the area above the lanes light, flash photography wasn't allowed, and I had a devil of a time getting the settings right. Often, I'd get it right, then turn my camera off to save juice, then forget to reset everything before taking the next photo.
- Most every professional bowler I encountered was gracious and pleasant. After bowling one evening, I hung around in the bar and just observed. These guys who are fierce competitors on the lanes were afterwards buying each other beer and drinks, and having a great time watching a hockey game on TV.
- There was one prickly pear, though. I'll give you one hint who HE WAS! During bowling, he barked at The Dealer when The Dealer picked up a ball four lanes down from him, and during one match a few days later, he told some fans (who were sitting next to me, chatting to each other) to keep it down.
- The pros also seemed awfully accommodating during the ProAm tournaments as well. I can imagine (but I don't know as I've never spoken to a pro about this) that with a big tournament upcoming that dealing with a bunch of kids fawning over them and begging for autographs would be a pain. But if it is, they sure didn't act like it. They answered every question and request with grace, and didn't appear to turn anybody down. The veterans (like Shafer) seemed more at ease with Mitten and the bowlers on his pair than the newbies like Norton and Tackett, but even they were super to the bowlers.
The PBA hadn't been in Milwaukee since the 2007 USBC Masters finals, and though giving lip service to the hopes to return to Milwaukee next year, there is no guarantee. No matter what format a future visit from the PBA takes, lets hope it is less than six years.