For years, Ron Winger has made a substantial part of his living as a professional bowler. That makes him a gambler of sorts.
A regular on the Professional Bowlers Assn. Senior Tour, Winger sponsors himself. But until this year, he always had something to fall back on in case his losses exceeded his winnings. He owned the pro shop at Corbin Bowl.
But Corbin Bowl has been closed since January because of earthquake damage. And now Winger really knows what it's like to gamble.
Being a leader on the PBA Tour used to bring a sense of pride and satisfaction. Today, it has a new meaning. It means he can eat.
"It's a little added pressure," said Winger, a Tarzana resident. "It's really important to cash out here. But it's been a pretty good year, and the real big-money tournaments are coming up."
Winger has not won any of the eight tournaments this season, but he has "cashed" in many of them, meaning he has won bonus money or earned a small percentage of the total purse for finishing in the top 30 among a field of 160.
Winger played on the regular PBA Tour off and on from 1963 to 1979 without winning a tournament. He retired and went to work as a set assistant on a Hollywood film crew before obtaining the Corbin pro shop. But when he turned 50 in 1992, Winger ended his 13-year retirement as a player and joined the senior tour.
He has won nearly $40,000 on the tour this year, $16,000 coming in the Choice Hotels Classic, a special event in Edmond, Okla., that pitted the five point leaders from 1993 in a special shootout.
Winger, who finished fifth in points last year, upset three favorites--John Hricsina, John Handegard and Gene Stus--in the nationally televised event last February before he lost in the championship game to top-seeded Gary Dickenson, a PBA Hall of Famer.
The $16,000 check came in handy three weeks after quake damage halted his pro shop business. Winger, who won two tournaments last year and earned more than $50,000, entered this week's Rocky Mountain Senior Open in Denver as the tour's fourth-leading money winner.
Corbin Bowl had been considered one of the most popular spots in the Valley for recreation bowlers. Winger thought that it would not reopen. Former owner Allen Shaw, caught in a dispute with the property owner over who would fix the building, auctioned all of his equipment.
But Corbin will reopen under a new owner Aug. 29, and Winger is close to reaching a lease agreement to retain the pro shop.
The company, Recreation World/Ice Chalets Inc., owns 13 ice-skating facilities across the country, and is not merely courting Winger to sell equipment.
"They want me to be a house pro . . . kind of like a golf pro," Winger said. "They want to start a junior bowlers' program. They want a touring pro who, when he's in town, can give specialized lessons and bring in other pros to put on clinics.
"They're a successful company and I think their ideas are sound."
Pros who run shops, he said, typically are hidden from the public. They drill balls all day in some back room. Winger would like to see bowling pros utilized more like golf and tennis pros.
Corbin would promote Winger, who had the 12th-highest average (213.08) and ranked in the top 10 in match-play final appearances and step-ladder championship appearances on the senior tour last year. In addition, he ranked fifth in earnings.
Add Corbin: Al Osterloh, vice president of Recreation World/Ice Chalets, said his company bought Corbin Bowl, in part, to use as a training ground for employees. The company plans to build several facilities that will include bowling, batting cages, miniature golf and other features.
Said Osterloh of Corbin Bowl: "It's only about 30,000 square feet, but we want that to be a training center for our employees who can move to bigger operations."
Add Winger: Had Winger knocked down a few more pins at the recent American Bowling Congress/PBA Senior Masters tournament in Greenacres, Fla., he would have faced Canoga Park's Hobo Boothe in the final. Boothe is Winger's roommate on the road.
But a 221-199 loss to Rich Moores in the televised semifinals prevented the showdown. "I had a chance to beat (Moores)," Winger said.
"But in the ninth frame I left a bucket (the 2, 4, 5 and 8 pins). If I'd have caught that strike, I would have taken the lead."
Boothe, who beat Moores in the final, leads the tour in earnings with more than $42,000.