Jeff Bellinger has been around a long time. He won two PBA Tour titles, the last coming in the 1988 Lite Beer Championship, and won his lone PBA50 Tour title in the 2004 PBA Senior St. Petersburg/Clearwater Open. But never had he experienced a day like Tuesday, May 2.
“I’ve never been late, I’ve never missed a game,” he says of his decades-long career bowling PBA Tour and PBA50 Tour events. Nor had he ever bowled a score of 40 — that’s 40, not 140. Forty as in 4-0. As in, you know, a total, entire-game score of 40 — in PBA competition, as he did in the first game of Qualifying Round 2 at the PBA50 Race City Open on May 2.
“It’s one of those embarrassing things,” Bellinger said. “You shoot 40, and it just was unfortunate that I got caught in traffic, but I’ve probably had more text messages and more people make comments about that than some of the other things that I have done in my bowling career.”
Bellinger got stuck behind an accident en route to George Pappas Victory Lanes in Mooresville, N.C., with a friend, a drive that typically takes a mere 90 minutes from his house in Columbia, S.C. He soon realized he would be in for possibly the most memorable qualifying block of his life — for all the wrong reasons.
“Next thing I know, it’s 45 minutes later and I’ve gone four miles, and I’m looking at the time . . . So I called up and asked to talk to [PBA50 Tour Tournament Director] John Weber and I said, ‘John, I’m stuck in traffic, but I’m going to bowl.’ He said, ‘Well, I won’t take you out of the tournament.’ I said, ‘No, don’t take me out of the tournament. I’m coming to bowl, but I’m going to be a little late, so if you don’t mind, just ask the guys on my pair if they wouldn’t mind not bowling too fast so I could catch up when I get there.’ He said, ‘Sure.’ So he went down and told them to let me start in whatever frame I show up as long as everybody hadn’t completed the frame.”
Then, the 63-year-old started thinking about the possibilities.
“I guess the good thing about it was that I had plenty of time to sit and think, ‘OK, what’s the worst-case scenario, what’s the best-case scenario?’ Talking it over with my friend, we figured, worst-case scenario, I could get there in the 9th and 10th frames. If I shoot 40, and add it to my score from the day before , I’m minus 47, and we already knew the Super Senior score was plus 39, so we figured the Super Senior score was going to get to around 90. So, if it’s 90, and the day before I shot 127 over for my last seven games, that’s doable.”
Perhaps it seemed “doable” to Bellinger, but by the end of a qualifying block for which he indeed did show up in time to bowl the 9th and 10th frames of the first game — going strike, spare, strike for 40 — what he had accomplished seemed far from doable even to seasoned pros. After the opening score of 40, Bellinger shot 225, 248, 246, 257, 197, 211, 225 for an eight-game qualifying total of 1648.
“When we were all sitting down adding scores up and verifying everybody’s score, Mark Scime, one of the guys I was bowling with, said, ‘How did you shoot 1600 with a 40?’ I said, ‘I’m not really sure. I wasn’t really paying attention to anything. I was just trying to throw as many strikes as I could throw.’ Normally, when you shoot 40, you’re not expecting to be plus for the block.”
That appeared to have been Ryan Shafer’s thought, too.
“I crossed with Ryan Shafer on Wednesday, and while he was drilling up some balls on the truck the night before, somebody mentioned my name and said, ‘He shot 40!’ And Ryan said, ‘Well, 140 is a bad game, but it’s not that bad.’ And the guy goes, ‘No. He didn’t have the hundred. It was a 40.’ And Shafer goes, ‘So, let me think about this. He shot 40, and he still qualified ahead of me? That just doesn’t seem right.’”
Maybe not, but it was alright with Jeff Bellinger. He made the cut and cashed for $1,000, finishing 52nd. Not bad for a guy who began Tuesday’s qualifying round -160 after one game.