The PBA Tour made a stop in the Motor City last weekend. I decided to make the trip north to watch the best bowlers in the world and to see if becoming a pro bowler could possibly be in the cards for me.
Come on, you know I'm not serious. I have no intention of attempting to qualify for the tour, even if I thought I had the ability to do so. What I wanted to get a feel for, though, was just what it takes to make a living playing the sport that I play for fun.
I arrived at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park early enough that the players meeting was still going on. Presumably someone like The Wizard was telling the bowlers what the schedule for the day was going to be. I waited and soon the bowlers came out, headed for their assigned lanes.
I recognized about a third of the 70 bowlers who made up the A squad. Some were very familiar, such as Tommy Jones, Jason Couch and Walter Ray Williams. Others, such as Brian Himmler, looked familiar, but I had to wait to look at the back of his shirt to make sure. Then of course, there was the multitude of regional bowlers who were hoping to make a little change by going up against the greatest names in the sport.
Jason Couch got my attention as the bowlers waited for the lanes to be turned on. He was very gregarious, chatting with anyone who stopped by. When the lanes were lit up, a 15-minute practice session ensued. I watched Couch throw a ball through the nose, leaving double pinochle. His next shot on the adjoining lane left a 3-7 split. On his third attempt he fell down at the foul line.
Suddenly I'm thinking that maybe I could join the tour. I mean the man didn't do anything on those three shots that I'm not capable of doing!
With no more than three bowlers on a pair, my first observation was that these guys were bowling the equivalent of more than a full game just in practice. My arm would be sore before the real action began. When the serious shooting started, the bowlers were going to be at it for five hours, bowling a total of nine games.
I picked a spot where I could watch Jones, Couch and Williams bowl. Apparently by the end of practice Jason Couch had things figured out because he began with a 258 game. At this point I reconsidered my chances of finding a spot on the tour. Yet Couch did not even have the best score on his pair of lanes. That honor would go to Mark Gunthorpe (one of the regional guys), who left a ringing 10 pin in the seventh frame. That would be his only non-strike however, as he shot a whopping 279. He did not have the best score in the house either.
One of the things that seemed obvious to me was the loneliness of the touring pro. He has to travel from tournament to tournament, usually alone, with total strangers offering varying degrees of support. Dave Wodka rolled a perfect game down several lanes from my vantage point and I didn't even know it until the score was posted on a large tote board. There was no wild cheering from the crowd. It was almost as if it was expected.
I headed for the other end of the house to see Kelly Kulick bowl in game two. Speaking of loneliness, I wonder what it must be like for a woman to try to make a living on the men's tour. She struggled in game one, but threw the first five in the second game. Making the cut though was going to be tough.
After the B Squad bowled later in the day ? a total of 142 bowlers entered the tournament ? the field would be cut to the top 24. If you want to cash in at the event, you have to be in the top two dozen. That is very difficult. If you make it to that point on Saturday you will have to bowl 13 match play games on Sunday to get to the stepladder finals. The finals consisted of the top four bowlers. In this tournament the four would be Mika Koivuniemi, Norm Duke, Bill O'Neill and Tom Smallwood. The winner would have to bowl one, two or three more games depending on his seeding.
Some things were rather humorous to me during my time in Detroit. When pins became lodged in the gutter outside the rake, the pros would hit the reset and throw a ball down to knock them out of the way. You know, just like we do!
When one of the bowlers left a solid eight-pin, a member of the crowd said to his friend beside him, "welcome to Thunderbowl." And we thought those things only happened in our houses.
The scoring machines had a panel that was called the coach. When pins were left after the first ball, the "coach" would rate the difficulty of the spare. A four-pin was considered low difficulty. A seven-pin or 10-pin was labeled moderate. When a touring pro left the 4-7-10 split, the coach said moderate again.
Now you know why some coaches have their intelligence questioned!
My final conclusion was that to make it on the PBA Tour is extremely difficult. If you didn't get into the top 24 you didn't make a cent. If you finished anywhere from eighth to 24th, you made less than $2,000.
Then again, if you are good enough . Norm Duke won the $10,000 top prize in this tournament, beating Koivuniemi 266-217 in the final match. It was his 35th victory, making him fourth on the all-time win list. He also became the third bowler (Walter Ray and Pete Weber are the others) to top the $3 million mark in career winnings.
If nothing else, it is sure fun to watch these guys bowl. They are very, very good.
Here's the honor roll for this week in our neck of the woods.
Imperial-Majorette: Steve Steinmentz Jr. 712, Ben Hoyda 635, Brian Jakupca 600, Deb Nominee 561, Phyllis Hyde 488.
Twilight: Kevin Young 685, Tom Tiell 663, Aaron Sherman 627, Mike Kirian 625, Tim Sturgill 609, Tim Lundy 602, Rhonda Fitch 587, Robin Brownell 439.
Alley Cats: Robin Dickman 596, Carla Siebenaller 518, Robyn Wight 499, Pat Cook 496, Madelyn Smith 479.
Sunday Night Rock N Roll: Jerry Meyer 638, Dirk Nimocks 628, Bob Steele 621, Tim Sturgill 615, Gary Golden 610, Janice Young 501, Dottie Funk 498.
Senior: Doug Snyder 577, Steve Reser 541, Joe Zirger 518, Tim Gassner 516, Herb Sendelbach 501
Lady Knights: Theresa Hoerig 472, Marilyn Gangluff 423, Nerita Streacker 401.
Big 8: Chris King 710, Yazu Wilson 683, Scott Plickert 659, Mike Babcock 650, Mike Shock 647, Greg Tiell 641, George Bridinger 627, Aaron Sherman 621, Jack Book 618, Jeff Smith 614, Jon Sauers 612, Tom Tiell 612, Chris Peck 601, Rich Yates Jr. 600.
Rocket: Tyson Shope 665, John Klingshirn 660, Tim Sturgill 598, John Funk 577, Junior Brickner 568, Dottie Funk 597, Sue Coppus 419.
55 Plus: Jim Ruess 559, Paul Gosche 553, Bill Mizen 523, Bob Reinhart 516, Dick Gabel 501, John Ferstler 492, Jim Donaldson 490, Mike Ditslear 482, Bob West 479, Steve Schafer 466, Dan Coppes 446, Paul Fey 411, Jim Ferstler 403, Dave Murray 368.
Wednesday Morning: Tyson Shope 685, Zach Gaietto 681, Mark Huffman 630, Dave Jumper 618, Aaron Sherman 611, Ken Lofton 605 Harry Smith 602.
Al Stephenson is The A-T's bowling columnist.
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