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Life Not So Great in the Fast Lane

After first round of qualifying, amateur discovers just how difficult bowling is on the professional level.

January 29, 2003|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Editor's note: Times staff writer Thomas H. Maugh II, an amateur bowler who competes in four leagues, is trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, a Professional Bowlers Assn. tour event underway this week at Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley.

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At least I'm not last.

After the first day of qualifying in the PBA U.S. Open here, I've learned that the lanes really are as difficult as everyone said they would be and that I am not as good as I thought I was.

For a league bowler like me, lane conditions on the PBA tour are humbling. I averaged 173 for the first six games, 30 pins below my average. And it could have been worse. I managed to get an occasional lucky break. Some of the guys on the lanes around me didn't. After two of the three squads had finished, I ranked 175th out of 230. On an age scale, I was probably 228th, so I don't feel bad. On a weight scale, maybe fourth.

The good thing about pro bowlers is that they are pretty willing to talk to anyone -- except, perhaps, when you are out on the lanes trying to take food out of their mouths. Many told me that they were just as nervous their first time out as I was Tuesday. Bryon Smith, who won the ABC Masters two weeks ago in Reno, said his first day on the tour was "the most humbling round of bowling in my life. The lane conditions were brutal," he said, pretty much as they were for me. "I found out how good the pros really were."

Smith finished qualifying in that tournament at minus 400 -- that is, 400 pins under what he would have scored if he had averaged 200. I finished Tuesday at minus 159.

Chris Barnes, who is second overall in this season's rankings, admitted to "butterflies all over the place" at his first pro tournament, and he had already bowled in many big-money amateur events. He finished 10th that week but conceded there was a lot of beginner's luck involved.

"I was too young and dumb to know I didn't belong out there," he said.

Six practice games are no big deal, but six games in a tournament like this are another story altogether. It's hard to imagine the stress until you are actually on the lanes. And I really don't have all that much at stake, other than a strong desire not to be completely humiliated. These guys have to perform.

"It's not like pro football, where a player gets paid whether he makes six tackles or sits on the bench all game," says Steve Miller, president of the PBA. "If they don't score well, they don't earn anything."

Said Parker Bohn III, who has won 29 tournaments: "The mental fatigue is much worse than the physical fatigue. Anybody can bowl 30 games a day, but to bowl six games under these conditions -- wow!"

The U.S. Open is one of the four PBA majors, along with the ABC Masters, the Tournament of Champions and the PBA World Championship. Unlike the other tournaments on the tour, though, anyone with a minimum 190 average can bowl in the Open. First prize is $100,000, about 2.5 times first prize in most regular tournaments.

There are three days of qualifying, a total of 18 games. After Thursday's round, the field will be cut to the top quarter. The four top finalists will bowl for the title Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on ESPN.

The leaders after the first two squads on Tuesday were Jason Duran and Don Dupree II, tied at plus 160; Jason Queen, plus 153; Mike Danielson, plus 135; and John May, plus 132.

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