Major Mika mistake

by Bob Johnson 0

Norm Duke won his 34th PBA title and seventh career major in the 68th Lumber Liquidators U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone-Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J., Sunday.

How he won it stunned the packed house at Carolier and the nationwide audience watching on ESPN.

Duke claimed the title by a score of 225-216 after Mika Koivuniemi — needing only a mark and decent count in the 10th frame to prevail — missed a 10-pin.

Duke, the tournament’s top qualifier, closed his game with four consecutive strikes to put a modicum of pressure on Koivuniemi. But the Finnish native, one of the best spare shooters in bowling, uncharacteristically missed the single-pin attempt.

With his victory, Duke earned $80,000 and moved into a tie for fourth place on the PBA Tour’s list of all-time title-winners with fellow PBA Hall of Famer Mark Roth.

"You’d like to say to yourself, ‘I just won the U.S. Open,’ and maybe I’ll grow into that, but right this minute, I feel like Mika lost the U.S. Open,” Duke said.

“But I’m sitting here, holding the trophy. I had conceded the match. I knew the last four strikes were important, because you never know what’ll happen. But missing the 10-pin is like having your ace pitcher on the mound and he throws four straight balls, and you lose.”

Duke knew exactly how Koivuniemi felt on his spare attempt because in 2008, when Duke won his first U.S. Open title to complete the PBA Triple Crown and Grand Slam, he had to convert the 2-4-5-8 “bucket” in the 10th frame to win.

“I couldn’t feel my legs on the approach on that shot,” Duke said. “That’s what happens under pressure. That’s why guys miss three-foot putts. And it’s fatigue. I’m exhausted. If I had to make a 10 pin to win, it would be suspect at best.

“It’s not like I didn’t deserve to win,” Duke added. “I was the top qualifier. I did throw four strikes in a row, after leaving a solid 8-pin in the 8th frame. I did what I needed to do.”

Koivuniemi, the No. 3 qualifier for the stepladder finals, eliminated Ryan Shafer, 236-222, in Sunday’s first match. The key shot was a pocket 7-10 split by Shafer in the 8th frame.

Koivuniemi, the only player in PBA history to reach the television finals in all four PBA major championships in a single season, eliminated Tommy Jones in the semifinal match, 241-158. Jones left splits and failed to convert in the 4th, 6th and 8th frames.

“Duke is one of the greatest players ever. I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Koivuniemi said after he’d had some time to compose himself. “I took the biggest shot of my life in the 10th frame and left the 10-pin but, unfortunately, I didn’t make my spare.

“It was my nerves, I guess. I was thinking about the wrong things. This is the first time in my life I’ve lost a title like that.”

Over the past five years, PBA Tour players have a 95.9% success rate in converting the 10-pin on 710 attempts on national television.

BJI’s Jim Dressel was on hand for the Open, and his special feature story will appear in the April issue of BJI.

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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