51st PBA Tournament of Champions: No Shortage of Great Story Lines

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

The 2016 PBA FireLake Tournament of Champions makes its first visit to Oklahoma when the FireLake Bowling Center and FireLake Arena in Shawnee host the PBA’s signature tournament Feb. 1-7.

Qualifying and match play rounds for the season’s first major will be conducted Feb. 2-5 which will determine the top five players who will advance to the live stepladder finals to be telecast on ESPN Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. CT).

All preliminary rounds will be streamed live via PBA’s online bowling channel Xtra Frame. For Xtra Frame subscription and schedule information visit http://www.xtraframe.tv/pba/

Here’s a look at some of the early major story lines from the season’s first major tournament of 2016:

Three-time defending Player of the Year Jason Belmonte will try for another milestone in PBA history: After making professional bowling history by winning his third consecutive USBC Masters in 2015,Australian two-hander Jason Belmonte also will be trying to win his third consecutive Tournament of Champions. If he can win this year, he will become the second player to accomplish the feat, joining PBA Hall of Famer Jason Couch of Clermont, Fla., who won in 1999, 2000 and 2002 (event not contested in 2001). Belmonte recently earned his third consecutive Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year award, joining the late Earl Anthony (twice), Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Mark Roth as the only players to do so.

Gary Faulkner Jr. will try for his second consecutive major title: Gary Faulkner Jr. of Memphis made history by becoming the second African American to win a PBA Tour title when he won the PBA World Championship in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 17. Faulkner beat E.J. Tackett of Huntington, Ind., 216-178, for the title. Retired five-time champion and 1993 TOC winner George Branham III is the only other African American PBA Tour champion.

Hall of Famer Pete Weber tries for his record 11th major and third TOC title: PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber, now 53, won the 2013 Tournament of Champions to tie Earl Anthony for most PBA major titles (10) and became the only player to win PBA’s Triple Crown (Tournament of Champions, U.S. Open and World Championship) twice. At age 50, the 37-time PBA Tour winner also became the oldest player to win the title. If he wins, Weber would join Mike Durbin and Jason Couch as the only three-time TOC winners.

TOC is a tournament for champions only: The 2016 TOC will include an exclusive field of PBA champions. In order to be eligible, a player must be a PBA member who has won a PBA Tour, PBA Regional, PBA50 Tour, PBA Regional, or PBA Women’s Series title.

Mike Edwards and PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke have Oklahoma connection: PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke, who ranks third on the Tour’s all-time titles list with 38 wins, is a former Edmond resident. Mike Edwards of Tulsa, a member of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, became the first native American to win a PBA Tour title winning the IOF Foresters Bowling for Miracles Open in 1994.

Walter Ray Williams Jr. still trying for a TOC title: Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. has accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish in PBA competition except winning the Tournament of Champions. A TOC title would make the all-time titles leader (47) the seventh player to complete the PBA Triple Crown (titles in the U.S. Open, PBA World Championship and TOC), and the third player in history to complete the PBA “Grand Slam” (titles in the U.S. Open, PBA World Championship, TOC and USBC Masters). Mike Aulby and Norm Duke are the only players who have completed the Grand Slam.

10 TOC past winners are entered: Jason Belmonte (2014, 2015), Pete Weber (1989, 2013), Norm Duke (1994), Sean Rash (2012), Chris Barnes (2006), Patrick Allen (2009), Tommy Jones (2007), Kelly Kulick (2010), Michael Haugen Jr., (2008) and Bryan Goebel (1998).

International field: Seven countries are represented in the TOC field – Australia, Colombia, England, Finland, Venezuela, Denmark and the U.S.

Youth vs. Experience will be a key plot line: This year’s TOC, more so than any other TOC in recent memory, will feature a battle between some of the PBA’s most successful champions (Walter Ray Williams Jr., Norm Duke, Pete Weber, Parker Bohn III, Amleto Monacelli and Chris Barnes among others) doing battle with an impressive roster of young talent. Within the past year, emerging stars like two-handed players Kyle Troup, 24; Jesper Svensson, 20, and Anthony Simonsen, 19, have won titles. Other young players who won PBA titles within the past year are Gary Faulkner Jr., 25, Connor Pickford, 23; EJ Tackett, 23; Marshall Kent, 23, and Cameron Weier, 25.

An historic event for women: Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., made sports history in 2010 by becoming the first woman ever to win a PBA Tour event when she won the TOC. She’ll be competing in her seventh TOC this year.

TOC makes first visit to Oklahoma: Oklahoma has been home to many PBA Tour stops over the years but the 2016 tournament will mark the TOC’s first visit to the Sooner state.

PBA legend Carmen Salvino to set another record: Bowling legend Carmen Salvino, of Chicago, who competed in the first TOC in Indianapolis in 1962, will improve upon his record as the oldest player to bowl in a PBA Tour event when he competes at the age of 82. Salvino has never won the TOC, but finished of third in the inaugural event.

TOC began in Indianapolis in 1962: Joe Joseph won the inaugural TOC at Play Bowl in Indianapolis with a two-game 480 pinfall total in 1962. Billy Golembiewski was second with 416 pins and Hall of Famer Carmen Salvino finished third with 409 in the two-game total pinfall championship round.

FireLake Arena to Host Live ESPN Finals: The PBA and the host Citizen Potawatomi Nation will make the live ESPN finals a very special event for spectators. Tickets for the finals, which will take place on a special bowling lane installation inside FireLake Arena, are available by visiting grandboxoffice.com or by calling the box office at (405) 273-1637. Ticket prices are $35, $25 and $15 for the ESPN telecast (admission for the preliminary rounds at the Firelake Bowling Center is $10 for an all-day pass).

Fans also are invited to participate in the PBA TOC Experience Pro-Am on Saturday, Feb. 6, for $175. Entry includes a meet-and-greet with the stars of the PBA, two tickets to the Tournament of Champions final and a new high-performance Storm bowling ball.  For more entry information click on http://www.pba.com/Content/files/Pro-Ams/TOC_Pro-Am_2016_B.pdf.

FIRELAKE PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS SCHEDULE

FireLake Bowling Center/FireLake Arena, Shawnee, Okla. 
(All times Central)

PBA Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Southwest Winter Open (& TOC qualifier)
Friday, Jan. 29
3 p.m. - A Squad Practice
5 p.m. - B Squad Practice

PBA Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Southwest Winter Open (& TOC qualifier)
Saturday, Jan. 30
9 a.m. - A Squad Qualifying (8 games)
2:30 p.m. - B Squad Qualifying (8 games)
Top 1/3 of the field advances to Cashers Round
PBA Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Southwest Winter Open (& TOC qualifier)

Sunday, Jan. 31
8:30 a.m. - Cashers Round (5 games)
For TOC Qualifiers: Top 38 eligible PBA players advance to TOC Qualifying
For Regional field: Top 16 Players advance to Modified Round Robin Match Play (8 games)
Noon – Regional qualifiers: 8 games Modified Round Robin Match Play

FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions
Monday, Feb. 1
10 a.m. - A Squad practice
2 p.m. - B Squad practice
6 p.m. – 2016 Hall of Fame Induction and Dinner at Grand Hotel
Tuesday, Feb. 2

Qualifying Round 1
10 a.m. - A Squad (8 games)
5 p.m. - B Squad (8 games)

Wednesday, Feb.  3
Qualifying Round 2
10 a.m. - B Squad (8 games)
5 p.m. - A Squad (8 games)
Top 40 players advance to the Cashers Round

Thursday, Feb. 4
10 a.m. - Qualifying Cashers Round (8 games)
Top 24 players advance to Round Robin Match Play
5 p.m. - Match Play Round 1 (8 games)

Friday, Feb. 5
10 a.m. - Match Play Round 2 (8 games)
5 p.m. - Match Play Round 3 (8 games)
Top 5 players advance to Live TV Stepladder Finals

Saturday, Feb. 6
3 p.m. – PBA TOC Experience Pro-Am

Sunday, Feb. 7
1 p.m. - ESPN Finals at FireLake Arena

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