When tomorrow isn’t an option: one hundred and twenty-nine PBA members hoped to beat the odds and climb into the exempt field for the 2004-05 PBA tour, but only eight emerged from Stardust Bowl II with their national status intact
CRIS HAYDEN ARRIVED IN Merrillville, Ind., seeking a second chance. Kelly Kulick arrived grateful for any kind of chance at all. Tim Mack sought vindication for his decision to turn pro, while Bryan Goebel and Wayne Webb hoped to salvage careers that were on life support.
They and 124 other PBA members at Stardust Bowl II hoped to snatch one of eight 2004-05 tour exemptions up for grabs at the inaugural PBA Tour Trials in June. The 45-game tournament, conducted on the five patterns the PBA uses on the national tour (one pattern per day for five days), was the last train out of the station for those who failed to make the top 50 on the PBA’s exempt list last season, but still wanted entry into the weekly 64-player field in 2004-05. If they missed out in Merrillville, their options were to bowl weekly Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs, or “rabbit squads”), win a major tournament or weekly pro-am squad, become the top points scorer in their respective regions, or beg for commissioner’s exemptions.
The strain manifested itself early and often.
“I’m mad as hell that I have to be here this week,” said Goebel, a 16-year vet whose 10 titles include the Tournament of Champions. “A bunch of us out here supported this tour through some lean times, only to be told last year. ‘You’d better have a good year, or you’re out.’
“Last season was like sitting in a pot of water on the stove and having it turned on high. If you got off to a rough start, before you knew it, the water was boiling. In addition to making a paycheck every week, you had the added pressure of knowing that if you didn’t perform, your career was over. That’s an ugly thing to have to hear.”
“Yeah, I feel a little resentful about having to qualify,” said 20-time titlist and PBA Hall-of-Famer Webb. “I bought two pro shops last year and had to devote a lot of time to getting them running, so I couldn’t bowl as much as I needed to. Now it’s like, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ There was no consideration given to the careerists out here.”
Mack thought he’d be playing golf and bowling in a couple of events in Australia rather than Merrillville. After carving out a successful overseas career, Mack figured to be a sure thing for the U.S. pro tour. The environment, however, threw him for a loop in the second half of the season.
“I fell into a rut and couldn’t get out,” he said. “Overseas, if you do badly in a tournament, you can bowl in another right away, enter as many times as you like, and bowl yourself out of it. But on tour, you get nine games a week to qualify. If you fail, you’re shut off for the rest of the week. It was hard for me to deal with all the downtime.”
Hayden had been one of the exempt 50 going into the final event of the PBA season, the World Championship. But he checked out early and could only watch as Richard Wolfe passed him in points in the Round of 16, consigning him to No. 51.
“In a way, it was like that had been preordained, because I kept missing by a few pins all season long,” Hayden said. “I watched it unfold, and when [Wolfe passing him] happened, I kind of went into shock.”
Beyond that, Hayden lost his sponsor and his confidence. “I was in free fall,” he said.
Hayden might not have been in Merrillville at all if not for the kindness of friends. “They took me in, gave me a job, and talked me through this, so I was able to recommit myself to bowling. I simplified my game, focusing just on getting my ball and second step coordinated, and not trying to do so many things perfectly. That’s what got me here today.”
Kulick, dispossessed of her career when the PWBA folded, was thrilled when the PBA opened up to women. She scrambled to compete in the five PBA regional events required to enter the Tour Trials, completing her fifth just 24 hours earlier with the Regional Pro Championship (also at Stardust). One of three women to enter the trials (with Kendra Gaines and Missy Bellinder), Kulick hoped to trade her duties at her family’s auto-body shop back in Union, N.J., for another shot on tour.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel I could compete,” she said. “I cashed in three of five regionals and had enough experience with Team USA and the PWBA to have as good a shot as anybody else. At least I’m hoping to walk away with a great learning experience.”
For every up-and-comer like Kulick looking to the future, so many others hoped to extend the past–Goebel, Webb, Del Ballard Jr., Steve Hoskins, Dave Arnold, David Traber, Jeff Lizzi, Randy Pedersen … and Mike Edwards. A member of the Native American Sports Hall of Fame, the 6’1″, 200-pound Edwards has been a 22-year tour mainstay. Yet he’s won just one national title (1994) and never achieved the “star” status many predicted.
This spring, Edwards believed he never would. “The past year has been tough. A lot of things have been going on personally. I’ve had a lot of issues with the PBA at times, but it came down to everything going on within me and just getting to me. [PBA pros] are too good; you can’t expect to come out here and compete with them when you’ve got all kinds of stuff going on in your head.
“I love this game so much, but it wasn’t fun anymore. I felt I had reached my breaking point, and I had a long talk with my dad. He reminded me I had always said I would leave this game on my own terms, and that this was certainly not my own terms. He convinced me that I had to come to the trials to redeem myself in my own mind.”
After a short respite, Edwards started bowling again. “I got my focus back, and my juices began flowing. I got my fire back. I was ready to bowl when I got here.”
And bowl he did. Stardust’s wood lanes transported Edwards back in time to the place and way he learned to bowl, creating a comfort zone be hadn’t experienced in years. It didn’t matter what the pattern was; Edwards churned out honor scores the way Congress churns out pork in an election year. He lassoed, hog-tied, and flipped the rest of the field on its side, leading the tournament wire-to-wire with a 240.31 average.
“I learned to bowl on that old second-arrow slot, between boards 8 and 11, and that was pretty much all I needed to play this week,” he said. “My focus was so good, I felt like I had this much room to hit,” he said, holding his hands a foot apart.
Edwards closed his campaign with a final nine-game block of 2,210 on the shootout condition known as “Pattern E.” It is the 35-foot oiling pattern that straight-up, hard-firing pros such as Traber, Mika Koivuniemi, and Eugene McCune love.
It was anathema to the women. Kulick, who had climbed into the top 10, didn’t have the strength and speed to keep up. She faded to finish a still-credible 30th as Traber, McCune, and Canada’s Bill Rowe began tossing strikes like ninjas flinging Chinese stars. McCune’s closing 256 game and Traber’s 290 won two slots at the wire.
“What else could I do?” Traber asked afterward. “I had nothing else; this is all I’ve done for 20 years. There was a lot of pressure at the end, sure; but if you want to be out here, you have to perform.”
Rowe’s 279 secured ninth place and the first alternate slot–a position that assumed more importance as it became known that Tommy Delutz Jr., one of the exempt 50 from the point list, would likely undergo wrist surgery and redshirt next season.
Though he missed the cut by 190 pins, Del Ballard Jr. provided one of the event’s most poignant moments. The 12-time titlist and two-time U.S. Open champ, who came out of retirement when the PBA was sold to Chris Peters & Co., carded a 300 in what might be his final game as a pro.
Knowing that perfection wasn’t enough, Ballard acknowledged the cheers of the crowd, peeled the PBA logo off his shirt, laid it on the score table, and walked away.
Edwards’ 10,814 total was 566 pins better than promising one-year pro from 20-year-old Canadian Patrick Girard. Joining Edwards, Girard, McCune, and Traber in the Elite Eight and surviving to play another year were Brian Kretzer, Mike Wolfe, Shannon Buchan, and Jim Pratt.
But what of the 120-plus who missed the train? Where do they go now?
“There’s no way I’ll try to make it through the regionals. I’m not going to bowl against 100 guys for four spots each week in PTQs, either. I’m 43, and I’ve worked too hard to get to this level to feel I have to go earn it again. So I’m pretty much done,” Goebel said.
Conversely, Hayden will bowl as many PTQs and majors as his checkbook allows. “I learned something this season, and that was to bowl to win and not just to protect something. I was so concerned about earning points last season that I lost sight of the main objective–winning tournaments.”
“I will not bowl regionals; I’m not a part-time bowler,” Mack added. “I don’t know if I’ll keep my PBA card; I’ll have to see what’s available on the international circuit. Maybe I’ll move to Europe, not just for the bowling but for some business opportunities, too. I’m disappointed, but 15 tournaments doesn’t make a career, and this isn’t even close to being the end of the world.”
Kulick will pursue her on-lane education in the regionals and majors. She might even try a few rabbit squads or bid for a commissioner’s exemption when the 2005 U.S. Open comes to her backyard at Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick, N.J. “This is a tremendous opportunity not only for me, but for our sport. I hope to turn my weaknesses into strengths in the coming year and plan to be back in 2005.”
The first week of June 2004 signified the start of a “New World Order” for pro bowling–a winnowing of the pack in Darwinian fashion.
For veterans such as Ballard, Hoskins (who, ironically, must serve out his term as PBA president without being able to compete nationally), and Webb, it may well be the end of the line. For others just starting out, such as Bellinder, Jeff Fehr, and Brian Waliczek, it might be merely a bump in the road to a long and profitable career.
At the very least, as one bowler put it, “Some of these guys will have to come up with a new line to pick up girls with.”
Further Filling Out the Field of 64
THE ENTIRE 2004-05, SEASON-LONG. ALL-EXEMPT FIELD HAS BEEN DEtermined. The bulk (50 spots) consists of title winners and top points leaders from 2003-04. Eight more exemptions–and the last of the season-long exemptions–were awarded at the PBA Tour Trials in June. The remaining six bowlers in the tournament field will be determined on an event-by-event basis: four weekly qualifiers, one commissioner’s exemption, and the winner of each event’s Elite Pro-Am.
Notable bowlers who fell short of exempt status include Ritchie Allen (who was knocked out of the top 50 in the last week of the 2003-04 season and fell 17 pins short at the Tour Trials), Steve Hoskins, Dell Ballard Jr., Bryan Goebel, Jeff Carter, Wayne Webb, Ricky Ward, Tim Mack, Chris Hayden, Jeff Lizzi, Rudy Kasimakis, and Randy Pedersen.
Here’s a look at the 58 bowlers who earned season-long, 2004-05 exemptions:
JIMMY JOHNSON, SON OF THE LATE PBA Hall-of-Famer Don Johnson, found himself in a parallel situation to that his dad encountered late in his career. Don was a tour star in every sense of the word when the PBA decided that any member who had never attended PBA school had to enroll if he wanted to keep his touring status and membership card. Don was one of several pros who balked on principle and walked away from the PBA. (He later re-upped, and bowled several Senior tour stops before retiring from competition completely.)
Jimmy, who won the 1990 Brunswick Memorial Open, missed making the top 50 in points last season and had to try to qualify for the new exempt tour at the PBA Tour Trials in Merrillville. Ind., in June.
Did he consider following his dad’s lead and turning his back on the PBA? No way. “I’ve said for years that it’s crazy that you can bowl on tour without going through a training circuit of some kind. I don’t agree with the number [PBA management] chose for the [exempt] field, but I never considered not bowling in this tournament. I believe the directors are doing a positive thing, although I really don’t know where guys like me are going to turn if we don’t make it. We can’t bowl megabucks, and I won’t bowl the PTQs.”
Although Johnson mounted a late charge on Day 5, with back-to-back 290s, he finished 28th at Merrillville.
1. Chris Barnes
2. Robert Smith
3. Norm Duke
4. Brian Himmler
5. Jason Couch
6. Steve Jaros
7. Patrick Allen
8. Ryan Shafer
9. Patrick Healey Jr.
10. Mika Koivuniemi Jr.
11. Walter Ray Williams Jr.
12. Pete Weber
13. Mike Scroggins
14. Brad Angelo 240,685
15. Tommy Jones 195,320
16. Michael Haugen Jr. 179,150
17. Amleto Monacelli 171,365
18. Lonnie Waliczek 167,060
19. Doug Kent 162,860
20. Tommy Delutz Jr. 135,355
21. Brian Voss 134,325
22. Bob Learn Jr. 130,100
23. Rick Steelsmith 129,490
24. Michael Machuga 122,885
25. Tony Reyes 120,685
26. Wes Malott 120,060
27. D.J. Archer 117,350
28. Dennis Horan Jr. 116,235
29. Joe Ciccone 108,000
30. Parker Bohn III 104,260
31. Tim Criss 104,055
32. Danny Wiseman 103,625
33. Steve Wilson 103,485
34. Chris Johnson 102,700
35. Tore Torgersen 99,085
36. Michael Fagan 98,550
37. Hugh Miller 98,210
38. Paul Fleming 96,035
39. Brian LeClair 95,985
40. Peter Hernandez 95,840
41. Dave D’Entremont 95,760
42. Jason Queen 92,480
43. Mike DeVaney 91,240
44. Jason Huard 90,490
45. Chris Hayden 89,085
46. Justin Hromek 87,450
47. David Traber 87,410
48. Ritchie Allen 87,120
49. Eric Forkel 85,990
50. Bryon Smith 85,985
Tour Trials Winners
51. Mike Edwards 10,814
52. Patrick Girard 10,248
53. Brian Kretzer 10,202
54. Mike Wolfe 10,200
55. Shannon Buchan 10,176
56. Eugenu McCune 10,065
57. David Traber 10,059
58. Jim Pratt 10,057
COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group