Professional Bowlers Association
CHICAGO – The Professional Bowlers Association has declared 2016 as “The Year of the Fan,” with a number of new initiatives on tap to connect with the world’s population of more than 100 million people who enjoy the sport every year.
The idea is to give the global bowling audience more ways than ever to feel a part of the sport, through social media and the Internet, television and traditional print media, live web streaming of tournaments to a global audience, corporate partners and, of course, direct access through competition on the lanes.
It’s the last part that may steal the show in 2016. The question at hand will be whether or not the old proverb, “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill,” will prove to be true.
It has been nearly 20 years since the PBA has seen such an influx of young talent as it has experienced over the past year, and several of the most decorated champions in PBA history are well aware that they are on the cusp of one of those generation shifts in power that ultimately occur in every sport.
Consider this group of PBA Hall of Famers, all of whom are over the age of 50 and still actively bowling against “the kids:” Walter Ray Williams Jr., Norm Duke, Pete Weber, Parker Bohn III and Amleto Monacelli. Combined, these five PBA superstars have won 173 titles and have earned just over $16.8 million. As a group they have bowled slightly more than 100,000 games in 3,602 PBA Tour tournaments and have knocked down slightly less than 22 million pins.
Now consider this group: Jesper Svensson, 20; Anthony Simonsen, 19; Kyle Troup, 24; Connor Pickford, 23; EJ Tackett, 23; Marshall Kent, 23; Gary Faulkner Jr., 25, and Cameron Weier, 25, all won titles during the 2015 season. Add another handful of 20-something players who have demonstrated title-winning talent, but haven’t yet earned their championship banners.
Among the newcomers, Svensson, Simonsen and Troup are representatives of the emerging stars who use the two-handed technique influenced by established PBA champions Jason Belmonte of Australia and Osku Palermaa of Finland. Belmonte and Palermaa are both PBA “veterans,” even though both are only 32 years old, just entering the 30-something era that historically has proven to be “prime time” for professional bowlers. They also will be the first to answer the question of whether the two-handed technique will shorten or extend the competitive life of a player, but that’s another story for a different time.
Why 2015 – and 2016 – has seen such an influx of new talent is a good story.
Ryan Ciminelli, 29, is coming off a career-year when he won three titles and almost overtook Belmonte in the race for 2015 PBA Player of the Year. His take on the insurgence of talent dates back a few years.
“It seemed like (the PBA Tour) skipped a generation after Rhino (Page) and I came out (in 2007),” Ciminelli said. “There just weren’t many guys coming out. I don’t know if it was because the Tour was kinda shaky when guys were getting out of college, and they didn’t want to risk it or what. It was harder to make money (after the “exempt tour” was cancelled). Now it’s much better. We’re getting more tournaments and more sponsors, and we’re on the rise, so guys want to take the chance and come out here again.”
The five hall of famers noted above all got their starts in PBA competition in the early 1980s, when the PBA Tour was still airing on ABC-TV, and they have all ridden the waves, up and down, ever since. None of the hall of famers remembers a crop of young talent like the one they are now facing, but for each, it’s a part of who they are today.
“Rookies aren’t always real young, but, man, when you watch Anthony Simonsen bowl, that kid’s going to set some records,” Duke, a 38-time PBA Tour champion, said. “And they’re so young … and many of them with two hands. That’s what’s trending.
“Over the last decade, the strike has been made so much more important, so these kids are learning to strike and the way they’re doing it is marvelous. They have so much grace and they get so much power. It’s fun to watch.
“And, yes, it is fun,” Duke continued. “I also get to draft for the Dallas Strikers (as player-manager of the PBA League team) so I get to watch them and to see how good they are, so, yes it’s fun. It’s also scary, but my whole life I woke up knowing I was going to bowl against Walter Ray (Williams Jr.) and Pete (Weber), so it’s nothing new. Every day I know I have to bring a game that can compete against the very best on earth, and once you get that in your head, the names don’t matter so much. If it’s not Pete, it’s (Chris) Barnes. If it’s not Walter Ray, it’s Parker (Bohn), so you learn to embrace it.
“The better the players are, the more attractive they are to watch, and the more they’re going to be copied. So the better they are, the better our tour is going to be. Tiger Woods is a case in point. He’s not a kid any more, but we’re now seeing the Jason Belmonte affect and it’s not going to stop any time soon. We’re going to see more of them coming out for years to come.
“Remember that kid who bowled at the PBA World Series…(15-year-old two-hander Trey Ford III of Bartlesville, Okla.)? I told the kid I wanted to get my picture taken with him,” Duke said with a laugh. “I was in awe. I was very young when I started, very young, and he’s a couple of years younger than I was.”
Bohn, who won his 35th PBA Tour title in the PBA Cheetah Championship during the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII, said being one of the “senior” generation bowling against the “kids” in Reno, wasn’t something he took lightly.
“When the top guys on the PBA50 Tour get a chance to compete with the kids, it’s nice to know we still have that opportunity,” Bohn said. “They hook the ball and create more power than we can even imagine. It’s amazing when you sit there and watch them. But if we bowl like Amleto and I did in our PBA50 match on television, missing spares like we did, these kids are gonna chew us up and spit us out.”
Weber, a 37-time PBA titlist and winner of a record-tying 10 major titles, noted it’s not only the two-handed technique, but the mature mental games that are impressive among the young players.
“There are more two-handers, but they aren’t afraid,” Weber said. “When you first come out on tour, you’re usually nervous or scared, but they’re not nervous at all. They just do what they do best. I can’t remember ever seeing that many kids this good coming out at one time.”
How will Weber contend with them?
“There’s nothing changing in my approach. My goal is to throw the ball the best I can and as long as I do that, there’s nothing to be upset about,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not afraid of them and they’re not scared of me. It’s a matter of who can get the breaks, who can make their spares. As long as I’m feeling good about myself, I have nothing to worry about.”
For Williams, the challenge in dealing with the youth movement is to get his own game back to the level he’s content with.
“Since my rev rate is pretty much lower than everyone, I’m a little disappointed with how I’ve been bowling. I just look to do better than I have been doing,” he said, adding, “The way these kids break the lanes down, it’s a challenge. It’s different. I’m pretty impressed with the young guys, especially their physical games.
“You don’t know how prepared they are with their mental games,” Williams added. “Sometimes they have a good physical game and not a mental game. Sometimes it’s more the other way. That’s not something you’re going to see in one year. The pressure to make a living is something you can’t measure in one year. We’ll have to see how that shapes up in the future.
“(Personally) I’m just not bowling as well as I used to. I have to execute like I used to, but the lanes just breakdown so fast these days. I know that getting older, you just don’t do things as well as you used to,” he continued. “When I came out, I never expected to be bowling at my advanced age. There weren’t many guys bowling over the age of 40 at that time. It’s interesting today, there are a lot of guys over the age of 50 who are still bowling, and bowling well.
“I happen to be in a generation of bowlers who are among the best who ever lived, and they’re still bowling and winning tournaments,” Williams continued. “I want to be beat everybody, and I definitely want to be competitive with my peers. But my peers are also these young guys.”
Monacelli, 54, has been one of the most physically-fit players for his entire bowling career, which is a reason why he isn’t bothered at all by the age issue.
“To be honest I feel like I am 35 and I know some young kids who feel old,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s great to see the young faces, and different styles of play,” the Venezuela native said. “That’s the way it was in the past when I came out, when Pete came out. Guys like me and Norm and Walter, we’re still able to compete at this level because we work hard.
“We have the experience, the mental part of the game that’s stronger because of our experience, and that’s the advantage we have. They have the youth and the fire to win, but we’re still hanging on.”
For 2016, PBA fans are going to be treated to one of the best “age and experience vs. youthful exuberance” battles ever. That’s what is going to make PBA’s “Year of the Fan” one for the ages.
The 2016 season kicks into high gear Tuesday in Shawnee, Okla., where the FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions launches a three-week series of major championships, all televised live on ESPN. The TOC finals air Sunday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. ET from FireLake Arena in Shawnee. The United States Bowling Congress Masters finals air Sunday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. from Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis, and the Barbasol PBA Players Championship finals are Sunday, Feb. 21, at 1 p.m. from Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl in Columbus, Ohio.
All preliminary rounds of all three majors will be covered live, exclusively on PBA’s subscription-based online bowling channel, Xtra Frame, with live scoring available free on pba.com and comprehensive support coverage provided by the PBA Network on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. For more information, visit pba.com.