‘Litchy’ ponders comeback at TOC

by Bob Johnson 0

Long-time Professional Bowlers Assn. Director of Player Services Larry Lichstein, at age 61, has set aside his grievances, re-joined the PBA and is considering dusting off his bowling shoes to enter the $1 million PBA Tournament of Champions next January in Las Vegas.

There is much more to this story.

Anyone who has followed the PBA Tour over the past 40 or so years knows Lichstein is the guy who once drove the big semi and drilled bowling balls for PBA Tour players for years. They also know Lichstein was (and is) outspoken, opinionated and extremely passionate about the sport, and the PBA.

Some also know that on Feb. 6, 2006 (“exactly 35 years to the day after I won my only PBA Tour title in San Jose, Calif.”), the PBA Hall of Famer for meritorious service wrote his resignation letter to the PBA, and walked away.

“I was extremely upset with several decisions the new owners had made and I decided I didn’t want to be a member anymore,” the Fort Myers, Fla., pro shop owner said.

Fast-forward to January 2009, when the PBA celebrated its 50th anniversary with an unforgettable gala in Las Vegas – at the very same Red Rock resort that will host the 2011 Tournament of Champions and PBA Hall of Fame ceremonies. The gala was unlike any event ever held in bowling. Almost all of the living competitors among those selected as the “50 Greatest Players in PBA History” were on hand. It might have been the most impressive gathering of bowling talent ever assembled in one room.

“I had strong inclinations not to go to that dinner,” Lichstein admitted, “but the reason I wanted to go was that I was asked to be one of voters, and those top 50 were not only my idols, but guys I bowled against and serviced as player rep for years. I knew if I missed that dinner, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

“And I’ll tell you, it was the most wonderful three days I’ve ever spent in my life. (PBA Commissioner) Fred Schreyer was exceptionally warm to me. So was (PBA Vice President and Director, PBA Tour) Kirk (von Krueger), and (Deputy Commissioner) Tom Clark, and other PBA officials. I felt very comfortable. After the way I was treated at the 50th gala, considering the fact that I know many PBA execs knew how dissatisfied I was, well, I changed my mind.

“When the plans for the new Tournament of Champions were announced, I started thinking about it. I’m no longer a bowler; now I’m a bowling fan. But I bowled pretty good in April, and I started thinking, if I practice three or four times a week, I can still throw the ball pretty good for an old man. So I thought, if I go to the TOC, my only goal will be to not finish last.

“So now I’ve re-upped my membership. Do I really want to go? I’m still 50-50,” Lichstein continued. “It’ll mean I have to commit to a lot of practice — 50 games or so a week. I have to get myself in bowling shape. I figure, after about 30 days, the pain I’m going to go through should ease up.

“I have a lot to think about before I decide. I don’t want to look like a 61-year-old over-the-hill has-been, but I’ve taken the first step.

“I haven’t bowled in a PBA national tour singles event for 37 years. In fact, the last tour event I bowled in was the 1973 Tournament of Champions. The only events I’ve bowled since then have been a few senior regionals, and a couple of PBA Senior Tour events. The last PBA event of any kind I bowled was 10 years ago, so if I enter the TOC, it will be my last PBA event. I don’t think I’ll ever bowl another one.

“But on the other hand, if they keep the same format, and I’m home and bored… It’s a nice trip to Vegas. Who knows?

“I feel very confident I’d have to do everything perfect and stumble onto a condition that’s understandable to me to even have a chance, but on the other hand, I’m an innovator,” he continued. “Maybe I could have a meeting with all my has-been friends and come up with a side bet. Put down $100 a head. I’m thinking I can beat Ernie Schlegel, no problem. (Dave) Soutar is old and brittle. That would be fun.”

When fellow lefty Johnny Petraglia heard about Lichstein’s “maybe” plans, the Hall of Famer from Jackson, N.J., was totally in favor of him bowling in Las Vegas – and bringing friends. “There are a lot of guys who said they aren’t going who should reconsider. Life is all about experiences. The TOC is not something you should pass up.

“If you were a 5-handicap golfer and got a chance to play in the U.S. Open, you would jump at the chance to play,” Petraglia added. “Bowlers should be like that, too.”

The 2011 PBA Tournament of Champions, with its record $1 million prize fund and $250,000 first prize, is open to all active PBA members who have won any PBA title (PBA Tour, PBA Senior Tour, PBA Regional or PBA Women’s Series).

The signature event of the 2010-11 Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour season will be held Jan. 16-22 at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas.

All players eligible and wishing to enter must be full PBA members as of Oct. 1. The entry fee for all Tournament of Champions competitors will be $750 if paid by Dec. 15 ($1,000 after Dec. 15).

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.