Blame this one on the parents.
Jason Belmonte's family couldn't afford day care for their 18-month-old child. Instead, they slipped bowling shoes onto his feet, handed him a 10-pound ball and let him roam free in the family-built bowling alley in Orange, Australia. But the ball, nearly half his size, was too heavy.
So he bowled the only way he could: He thrust the ball down the alley with both hands. And with it, a career and an unorthodox style were born.
The diminutive boy sprouted into a budding star with his two-handed method. He won his first tournament at 4. He bowled his first perfect game at 16. A year later, he won his first international competition.
Now 25, he's trying to qualify for his fourth Professional Bowlers Assn. Tour event at the Denny's Dick Weber Open in Fountain Valley this week.
Belmonte's style looks more like it belongs at a golf course than a bowling alley.
Traditionally, bowlers grip the ball with one hand by inserting two fingers and a thumb into the holes. He uses only the two finger holes. As he steps toward the pins, he rocks his arms back and forward, cradling the ball in both hands. He releases his guide hand first, then rolls the ball with his right hand. His technique enables him to generate more power and revolutions than many competitors, so the ball hooks dramatically as it approaches the pins.
That hook is a main reason for his success. A faster-spinning ball sends more pins flying. His father, Aldo Belmonte, 51, noted his son's ball hits 600 revolutions per minute. Most pro bowlers, he said, peak at 450.
"He's got one of the strongest balls I've ever seen," said Hall of Fame bowler Carmen Salvino, 75.
There have been critics who thought his style was crazy. But he says that whenever he has tried to toss the ball one-handed, it has lacked the curve of his regular style.
"There's no way I can compete at any level," using a one-handed style, he said.
"He's so different from the rest of us," Salvino said. "He's an asset for the PBA. He has all the things we need for a superstar."
He isn't there yet. He was named amateur bowler of the year in 2007 for the second time by the World Bowling Writers' Assn. Belmonte, who lives in Nice, France, competes primarily in tournaments there and in Sweden.
He has greater aspirations and wants to make it on the U.S. tour, where the talent pool is deeper. His highest finish on the PBA Tour was 10th in last year's PBA World Championship in Wichita, Kan.
He admits he's excited about his chances in the U.S. and on the PBA Tour. The money is better than in Europe, he said, though he concedes he has no trouble paying his bills.
"I wish [my mother and father] had built golf courses or tennis courses," Belmonte said jokingly. "There's more money."
That one, however, can't be blamed on the parents.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
What: The Denny's Dick Weber Open, Lumber Liquidators Professional Bowlers Assn. Tour
When: Qualifying continues through this morning. The top 24 advance to match-play beginning tonight through Friday. The top five compete in the stepladder final Sunday at 10 a.m.
Where: Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley.
TV: ESPN, Sunday, 10 a.m.
Purse: $175,000, $35,000 for first place.
-- James Wagner