PBA 2019: The Year’s Top Stories

by Jerry Schneider, Professional Bowlers Association 0

CHICAGO (Dec. 19, 2019) - There was no shortage of historic news coming out of the Professional Bowlers Association’s 61st season in 2019. The purchase of PBA by Bowlero Corp, the first season of television coverage by FOX Sports and livestreaming by partner FloBowling, another record-breaking year by Australian two-hander Jason Belmonte and Kris Prather’s historic win in the inaugural PBA Playoffs were just a few of the landmark stories in 2019.

Here’s a look back at some of the PBA’s headline events in 2019:

Bowlero Corp purchases PBA - Bowlero Corp, the world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers, became the third owner of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), the pinnacle of professional bowling since 1958, when it purchased the organization from principal owner Mike Slade. The purchase brought an end to the nearly two-decade ownership era of Microsoft executives that included Slade, Rob Glaser and bowling enthusiast Chris Peters who was the driving force behind their purchase of the organization in 2000.

Jason Belmonte completes another record-setting season  Just two weeks after winning the PBA Tournament of Champions for a record-tying 10th PBA major title, Jason Belmonte successfully defended his PBA World Championship title for a record 11th major victory. The 35-year-old two-hander defeated Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Ariz., 236-227, in the stepladder finals televised live by FS1 at Thunderbowl Lanes in suburban Detroit. In his 11th season on tour, Belmonte broke a tie with PBA Hall of Famers Earl Anthony and Pete Weber for the most major titles. In the process, he became the youngest player to win 10 majors, and with a runner-up finish in the PBA Players Championship plus a fourth-place finish in the U.S. Open, he became the first player ever to record championship round finishes in four majors in a single season twice (he also achieved that feat in 2013). By winning his third TOC, he tied Hall of Famers Jason Couch and Mike Durbin for most Tournament of Champions titles. Ending the year with a tour-best four titles and $288,290 in earnings, Belmonte won his fifth Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year award. Other 2019 award winners were Mykel Holliman, Harry Golden PBA Rookie of the Year; Martin Larsen winning his second Steve Nagy Sportsmanship Award and Chuck Gardner receiving the Tony Reyes Community Service Award.

Kris Prather wins inaugural PBA Playoffs
 - Kris Prather of Plainfield, Illinois, made critical shot after critical shot in defeating Bill O’Neill, 226-215 and 216-185, in the Race-to-Two Points finale to win the inaugural PBA Playoffs and the $100,000 first prize at Bayside Bowl. The championship match aired live on FOX, concluding a 13-tournament qualifying series that led into a 24-player match play elimination competition to determine the champion.

Two-hander Anthony Simonsen becomes youngest to win two majors at age 22 – At age 22,No. 2 seed Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas, defeated top seed Jason Belmonte, 232-212, in the championship match of the PBA Players Championship at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl to become the youngest player to win two PBA Tour majors. In 2016 he won the USBC Masters at age 19 to become the youngest to win a PBA Tour major.

Norm Duke wins back-to-back PBA Tour titles at age 54 – Three weeks shy of his 55th birthday, PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Florida, won the Go Bowling Indianapolis Open and Go Bowling Jonesboro Open back-to-back to become the oldest player to win consecutive tour titles. The wins also increased his career titles total to 40, third all-time behind Walter Ray Williams Jr. with 47 and Earl Anthony with 43.

Go Bowling PBA Tour completes first season on FOX Sports – The robust multi-platform PBA-FOX Sports agreement, announced in March of 2018, featured four telecasts on FOX and 26 on FS1. The 2019 TV schedule included 60 hours of coverage, nearly double the previous year’s schedule, and the most in decades. Nineteen live telecasts were the most in 11 years and included an unprecedented five straight nights of national prime-time coverage from World Series of Bowling X. Four 2019 events airing on FOX marked the most PBA action on network broadcast TV since 1999.

Sean Rash wins PBA China Tiger Cup in PBA’s first visit to China – SeanRash of Montgomery, Illinois, added another unique accomplishment to his portfolio when he swept fellow American PBA member AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, in the best-of-three-game final match, 211-194 and 227-207,  to win the historic PBA China Tiger Cup at Suzhou Tiger Bowl in Suzhou, China. The PBA special event, the first ever held in China, featured the top seven U.S. players in FloBowling PBA Summer Tour points and nine PBA members who advanced from a qualifying event that drew nearly 100 bowlers from China and the Asian Rim.

Home team Portland Lumberjacks wins its first PBA League title – With the raucous Portland bowling fans rushing the lanes after the win,the Portland Lumberjacks overwhelmed L.A. X in four consecutive games at Bayside Bowl to win its first PBA League Elias Cup in the event’s seven-year history. Led by manager Tim Mack, the team featured Mark Roth PBA League MVP Wes Malott along with teammates Kris Prather, Kyle Troup, Ryan Ciminelli and Canadian Mitch Hupe’.

Walter Ray Williams Jr. wins record-tying 14th career PBA50 Tour title – All-time PBA titles leaderWalter Ray Williams Jr. of Oxford, Florida, won the first three PBA50 Tour tournaments of the season to boost his career titles total to a record-tying 14 (with John Handegard) on the tour for players 50 and over. Based on his performance in 2019, the seven-time Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year also earned his third PBA50 Player of the Year honor. Williams also continues to compete in PBA Regional tournaments, winning three PBA50 Regional titles to boost his all-time PBA titles total at all levels of PBA competition to a record 115 (47 PBA Tour, 14 PBA50 Tour, 34 standard PBA Regional and 20 PBA50 Regional). Other “senior” award winners were Eugene McCune, PBA50 Rookie of the Year; Ron Mohr, earning his fourth consecutive PBA60 Player of the Year honor (for players 60 and over), and Sammy Ventura, Dick Weber Sportsmanship award.

PBA completes first season on FloBowling – To complement PBA’s FOX Sports and CBS Sports Network coverage of Go Bowling! PBA Tour events, fans also had access to year-round live coverage of bowling across all levels of PBA competition – more than ever before – through a new partnership with its livestreaming partner, FloSports. FloBowling, a subscription-based online service, provided live and on-demand coverage of more than 40 professional events that included preliminary rounds and finals of Go Bowling! PBA Tour, PBA50 Tour, selected PBA Regional and other special events. FloBowling.com also enhanced its coverage of PBA events with original content including multi-lane live action coverage, interviews with PBA’s top stars and emerging talents, instructional features and insights from many of the bowling industry’s leading advisors, coaches and pro tour representatives.

Canadian Francois Lavoie wins his second U.S. Open – Canada’sFrancois Lavoie, 26, defeated 14-time PBA Tour champion and top qualifier Sean Rash, 221-172, to become the 12th bowler in history to win the U.S. Open more than once. Lavoie became the first Canadian to win the U.S. Open in 2016 when he also bowled the first nationally televised 300 game in U.S. Open history on his way to winning PBA Rookie of the Year honors. His 2019 win gave Lavoie his fourth PBA Tour title and made the fourth-year professional the first foreign-born player to win the U.S. Open more than once. Finland's Mika Koivuniemi (2001) and Dom Barrett of England (2018) also have won the event.

Tommy Jones teams up with good friend Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts to win CP3 Celebrity Invitational - Boston Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts along with good friend and now PBA Hall of Famer Tommy Jones broke through to win the 2019 PBA CP3 Celebrity Invitational which benefits NBA star Chris Paul’s CP3 Foundation. In his two previous CP3 events, Betts had finished second with his pro partners but found the right chemistry with Jones to win the 2019 event defeating the team of Hall of Famer Pete Weber and NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens in the title match.

PBA Regional Program continues to groom future stars – As the PBA Regional program enters its 50th anniversary season in 2020, the PBA “minor league” network continues to provide thousands of PBA bowlers, young and old, with opportunities across the nation’s seven regional jurisdictions (plus Japan) to improve their skills while learning how to compete against many of the PBA’s elite players. In 2019 the PBA Regional program crowned its 1,900th different champion and surpassed 6,500 tournaments staged throughout its history. No player has embraced the PBA Regional program more than Chris Warren of Grants Pass, Oregon, who won a pair of PBA50 titles in the Northwest Region, boosting his record for regional victories to 47 in standard events and 55 including PBA50 tournaments. The first PBA Regional event – the National Resident Pro Championship – was held in Cincinnati in 1969; in 1970 the PBA introduced an expanded schedule of competition in seven regions and the program has flourished ever since.

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