The tour turns 64

Brett Ballantini

IN THE DEAD OF SUMMER, EVEN when the PBA Senior tour was on its break and there was no bowling at all to watch and cover, there was excitement about the coming PBA season.

The shock of the tour’s turn toward an all-exempt field, as well as the loss of stars like Wayne Webb, Del Ballard Jr., Brian Goebel, Steve Hoskins, Randy Pedersen, Tim Mack, Jeff Carter, and Ritchie Allen, has worn off a little. The excitement provided by the PBA World Championship [“The Tom Baker Story”] in March and Tour Trials in June, however, still keeps us bowling fans buzzing.

How will the tour top its two last events, arguably the most significant ones of the past decade? Simple. It’s already built into the program–the Field of 64 program, that is.

We already have seen how much more prominent a role parity plays in the “new” PBA. It used to be that you could count on seeing at least a couple of Hall-of-Famers in every TV show. Today, you’re almost as likely to see the tour’s deuces as its aces in the championship round. You might well toss the whole deck into the air and see who lands face-up.

No, advancing to a TV round isn’t quite as random as picking ping-pong balls from a lottery hopper, but the field has flattened, and dominance has been made very difficult.

And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. Think of the bowlers we’ve been introduced to in the past few seasons who surely would not have arrived so soon in another era: Brad Angelo, Patrick Allen, Mika Koivuniemi, Tommy Jones. You can argue all day and all night the merits of pinfall vs. match play, but when it’s all said and done, the drama of head-to-head matches, even in the earlier rounds, makes for better viewing and a better sport. Bowlers are not robots, and bowling tournaments should not be sheer endurance events.

This season, as the roster of TV round players changes over completely from week-to-week at times, take the opportunity to learn a little about an unfamiliar bowler or matchup. I’m not math magician, but the pairings prospects for a 64-bowler field may as well be infinite for all options match play gives fans.

Believe me, I wouldn’t object to a half-dozen Walter Ray Williams Jr. vs. Pete Weber, Norm Duke vs. Koivuniemi, or Parker, Bohn III vs. Brian Voss title matches this season. And maybe that’s what the tour will serve up. But there are endless possibilities out there for us to enjoy, and the drama that surrounds the coming season–packed with as much parity as the PBA tour has ever had–should make for fun weeks to come.

We’ve got a terrific PBA season preview by Johnny Campos that begins on page 32. But let me offer up some of my picks to click on the coming season.

Coolest new venue: Who knows whether it will fly or fail, but the season starts with a bang, the ABC Masters in Milwaukee, where the TV finals will be held at Miller Park.

Snapped streaks: Chris Barnes will break his U.S. title-shutout streak with at least one win. Ditto Bohn and Angelo.

Stealth top bowler candidate: For a guy not quite considered “elite,” Patrick Healey could very well make a run at the top spot.

Top bowler: In times of parity, look to the vets to rise up. As much as I respect the mental games of the Williamses and Koivuniemis, it will once and for all be Weber’s year.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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