By Nolan Hughes
When Jason Belmonte declared “I’m back!” after his January PBA Players Championship victory, he meant it. He racked up four more titles in 2022, culminating his historic campaign with a PBA Tour Finals victory at Strikerz Bowling at Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington, Wash.
The 38-year-old Australian capped off one of his finest seasons in style, rolling the second televised 300 game of his career in the championship match. Belmonte defeated Dom Barrett 2-0, earning $30,000 and a $10,000 perfect game bonus. This win marks his 30th career title, making him the eighth player in PBA history to eclipse that threshold.
“To have 30 titles, 14 majors, maybe seven Player of the Years,” Belmonte said to Randy Pederson, “Mate, there's no way as a kid you ever thought this was gonna happen. There’s no way!”
With five titles in 2022, Belmonte will almost assuredly earn his seventh PBA Player of the Year award. That would tie the all-time record set by Walter Ray Williams Jr., whose seven honors spanned from 1986 to 2010. Belmonte needed just 10 years to match Deadeye’s career mark.
“Walter Ray, the man is a living legend and someone who I see as the best player that I've ever seen,” Belmonte said. “To equal him is a huge accomplishment and something I'm very, very proud of. But it also motivates me to get just one more, just one more and and have that title all to myself.”
Belmonte stands among those names as one of the greatest athletes in recent memory. His dominance rivals that of Tiger Woods and Serena Williams. While Belmonte doesn’t compare himself to anyone else, he understands the work ethic required to be successful at the highest level.
Of the preeminent American professional sports, only Wayne Gretzky, Barry Bonds, Novak Djokovic, Woods, Williams and Williams Jr. have won at least seven equivalent honors in the respective sports.
However, the Player of the Year race was far from over entering the Tour Finals. With two majors and five championship round appearances, Anthony Simonsen needed one more title to put the cherry on top of a potential first career Player of the Year campaign. Barrett, who had two titles to his name, could have snuck into the conversation himself with a win.
In the Group 2 stepladder finals, Barrett emerged victorious over Simonsen. Both players struck a ton in their two-game match, but the rabbit’s foot in Barrett’s backpack appeared to be the difference. He tripped roughly a half dozen 4-pins en route to a sweep of the 25-year-old two-hander.
After Barrett fired 279 in Game 1, he opened the door for Simonsen in Game 2. Simonsen squandered his early lead by missing a 7-pin in the 7th frame, then could only watch as Barrett snow-plowed a match-clinching strike in the 9th frame.
Barrett’s brilliant decision to start with reactive on the 46’ Johnny Petraglia, learning from his ill-fated use of urethane during qualifying, paid off handsomely as he defeated Jakob Butturff and EJ Tackett to set up a match between the two Player of the Year hopefuls.
Earlier in the afternoon, top-seeded Belmonte took on the Group 1 stepladder finalists. In the first match, Kris Prather overcame a last-minute impairment to his urethane ball to defeat Tom Daughtery. Prather’s craftiness proved futile in the next match, as Kyle Troup mounted strike after strike after strike.
In fact, Troup struck on all 12 of his shots to achieve the 33rd televised perfect game in PBA history. Belmonte’s 300 in the championship match later made this the first televised event in PBA history with two perfect games.
Though Troup earned a $10,000 bonus in return for perfection, he may have traded a few hits against Prather for a couple against Belmonte in the Group 1 final match. A flurry of 9-pins cost Troup in the opening game of the Race to Two.
Belmonte said he knew defeating Troup would not be easy, considering his tremendous ball motion and familiarity with the event’s format. He refused to allow Troup any breathing room, completing the sweep to advance to the Tour Finals championship match.
After watching Barrett stampede through Group 2, Belmonte knew the championship match wouldn’t be any easier.
“Watching Dom play against Anthony, I actually really liked Dom’s ball motion,” Belmonte said. “I thought this could be a pretty high scoring match, too, if we both like what we see.”
After shooting 300 in the first game, Belmonte didn’t allow himself to celebrate the moment too much. He wanted to keep his focus sharp and avoid the roll-off at all costs. The lanes transitioned quicker for Barrett than Belmonte, and the Australian’s strike in the 10th frame locked up his 30th career title, and fifth of the season.
While he appreciates the privilege of competing on tour, Belmonte doesn’t allow contentment to drift into his consciousness, even as the accolades continue to mount.
“I've never been complacent with where I am in the game,” he said. “I'm always pushing to get morem to learn more, to practice more. Plus, my just absolute hunger to be one of the greatest to ever throw a ball down the lane. It definitely motivates and pushes me to wake up early, or to stay up late and get those extra games in.”
As Belmonte chases the ghosts of PBA lore on the career titles list, he must stave off the game’s rising stars. He wants to raise the bar to new heights, and leave behind an indelible legacy as one of the game’s greatest athletes.