Countdown to the PBA Tournament of Champions

by Bob Johnson 0

When sports enthusiasts seek out deciding factors in a Player of the Year season, one of the first things they investigate is how an athlete performed in major tournaments.

Defending Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions titlist and reigning Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Sean Rash says he didn’t feel any special urgency to win the 2012 edition of the PBA’s signature tournament. He went into the event at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas like he does for every tournament in which he bowls — planning to win.

As it turned out, Rash’s victory in the TOC was the defining moment in his first Player of the Year campaign, concluding one of the most competitive Player of the Year contests in years.

Rash, who made a record five consecutive television finals during the 2011 PBA World Series of Bowling but failed to win even one title, concluded the season with his fifth career PBA Tour victory and second major, defeating Ryan Ciminelli in the Tournament of Champions title match, 239-205.

That ended a five-year, 14-tournament television drought that extended back to Rash’s win in the 2007 USBC Masters, his first major title.

During the 2011-12 PBA Tour season, the TOC was Rash’s only title. But he dominated PBA Tour stats, finishing first in average, competition points and earnings for the season.

By any measure, his World Series performance was eye-catching, resulting in three runner-up finishes, three third-place finishes and a fifth. Arch rival Jason Belmonte won three titles during the World Series, and had five top-five finishes, making him a co-favorite for Player of the Year. But the race went right down to the end of the season.

“I didn’t really feel the need to win the Tournament of Champions to validate that I could win, but it did validate what had been a very good season all along,” Rash says. “I was disappointed I didn’t win at the World Series, but I was happy with the way I bowled in all of the tournaments.

“Nothing can really eliminate the frustration when you let opportunities slip away,” he adds, “but the win at the Tournament of Champions did come as a welcome sense of relief.”

Rash will try to defend his title against at least 50 other tour champions beginning next Wednesday, when the 48th Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions gets underway at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis. He seeks to become the first player to successfully defend a TOC title since PBA Hall of Famer Jason Couch won an unprecedented three consecutive TOCs in 1999, 2000 and 2002 (the tournament was not held in 2001). Couch, who also will be in the field in Indianapolis, is the only player who has successfully defended a TOC title.

“I think what Jason [Couch] did will be a record that will never be repeated,” Rash says. “Winning the Tournament of Champions means you have beaten the best of the best. Every major has an element that makes it especially challenging to win, but for the Tournament of Champions, it’s the fact that you are competing against proven champions — and I think that’s what separates it from the other majors.”

In addition to Rash and Couch, other past TOC champions entered are Mika Koivuniemi (2011), Kelly Kulick (2010), Patrick Allen (2009), Chris Barnes (2006), Mark Williams (1985 and 1988), Wayne Webb (1980), Norm Duke (1994), Bryan Goebel (1998), Michael Haugen Jr. (2008), Johnny Petraglia (1971), George Branham III (1993), Steve Jaros (2005), Tommy Jones (2007) and Pete Weber (1987).

The 2013 TOC gets underway with three eight-game qualifying rounds next Wednesday and Thursday, with the top 24 players after 24 games advancing to three eight-game match play rounds Thursday and Friday, which will determine the five players for the stepladder finals. ESPN will air the finals live on Sunday, March 31 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

On the day before the telecast, the PBA champions will bowl with Indianapolis-area adults and youth league bowlers in a Pro-Am event. Then on that Saturday evening, Danny Wiseman and Doug Kent will be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Indianapolis Marriott North.

The March 31 schedule also will include the stepladder finals of the PBA League Elias Cup — the inaugural PBA League championship round— which will air on ESPN on Sunday, April 7, at 1 p.m. Eastern.

All preliminary rounds of the TOC will be webcast live, exclusively on PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame. For Xtra Frame subscription details, as well as Pro-Am entry and ticket information, go to

BJI’s Lyle Zikes and Dennis Bergendorf will be on hand for all the action in Indianapolis, and their exclusive reporting on the Tournament of Champions, Elias Cup finals and PBA Hall of Fame inductions will appear in the May issue of BJI.




1962 — Joe Joseph

1965 — Billy Hardwick

1966 — Wayne Zahn

1967 — Jim Stefanich

1968 — Dave Davis

1969 — Jim Godman

1970 — Don Johnson

1971 — Johnny Petraglia

1972 — Mike Durbin

1973 — Jim Godman

1974 — Earl Anthony

1975 — Dave Davis

1976 — Marshall Holman

1977 — Mike Berlin

1978— Earl Anthony

1979 — George Pappas

1980 — Wayne Webb

1981 — Steve Cook

1982 — Mike Durbin

1983 — Joe Berardi

1984 — Mike Durbin

1985 — Mark Williams

1986 — Marshall Holman

1987 — Pete Weber

1988 — Mark Williams

1989 — Del Ballard Jr.

1990 — Dave Ferraro

1991 — David Ozio

1992 — Marc McDowell

1993 — George Branham III

1994 — Norm Duke

1995 — Mike Aulby

1996 — Dave D’Entremont

1997 — John Gant

1998 — Bryan Goebel

1999 — Jason Couch

2000 — Jason Couch

2002 — Jason Couch

2003 — Patrick Healey Jr.

2005 — Steve Jaros

2006 — Chris Barnes

2007 — Tommy Jones

2008 — Michael Haugen Jr.

2009 — Patrick Allen

2010 — Kelly Kulick

2011 — Mika Koivuniemi

2012 — Sean Rash

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.

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