LAS VEGAS - A month ago, Brian LeClair of Delmar, New York, rolled a 123 game at a Professional Bowlers Association 50 (PBA50) event, and he thought it might be the last game he ever bowled.
While shooting a left-side spare during match play at the PBA50 Johnny Petraglia BVL Open presented by Brunswick in Farmingdale, New York, something popped in his left knee. The result was excruciating pain, an early exit from the event and an uncertain competitive future.
With the help of a specially made knee brace, which was expensive and is quite robust, the reigning PBA50 Player of the Year has been able to continue bowling, and you'd never be able to tell by his scores at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Senior Masters that anything is off.
The 53-year-old right-hander has averaged more than 240 through two rounds of qualifying this week at the Sam's Town Bowling Center and tops the standings with a 10-game total of 2,406, which includes 10 games over 200 on the way to blocks of 1,187 and 1,219.
LeClair moved past first-round leader James Campbell of Clearwater, Florida, during the final game of Wednesday's second round, and while there would have to be a lot of miles on his knee brace between now and hoisting the USBC Senior Masters trophy on Sunday, he's just grateful to even have the chance to compete.
"When I got done in Long Island at the last senior stop of the East Coast swing, I thought I was done," said LeClair, a three-time PBA50 champion. "I was in so much pain. I bowled 120 the last game to miss the cut, and I really thought that was it. If I can come back and win the Senior Masters after walking off the lanes that day, it would be pretty special and something I never could've expected."
However, there are 271 other competitors at Sam's Town this week also gunning for the coveted title and $20,000 top prize, including defending champion Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Oxford, Florida, who is one of three bowlers in the field looking to win the event for a record third time.
Campbell finished Wednesday's second round 14 pins behind LeClair with a 2,392 total and was followed by Keith Lesko of Prosper, Texas (2,343), two-time Senior Masters champion Pete Weber of St. Ann, Missouri (2,308), and 2015 Senior Masters winner Amleto Monacelli of Venezuela (2,293).
Williams, a USBC and PBA Hall of Famer and the only bowler to win both the Senior Masters and USBC Masters twice each, is in 16th place after two days of qualifying with a 2,210 total. He is guaranteed the No. 64 seed if he falls out of the cut, but he can improve his seeding for match play during qualifying.
LeClair's current condition stems back two decades to a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that needed to be reconstructed. The pop on the lanes in May, which he described as an awful sound, essentially was the ACL graft coming loose. With the lack of cartilage on the right side of his knee, the pain he feels is the bones moving around and hitting each other.
Cortisone shots did not help, and he's not yet a candidate for a knee replacement, so the options were pretty limited. The custom knee brace turned out to be the best choice for now and clearly hasn't slowed down his scoring pace, but it will take some time to manage the limitations and pain associated with it.
"I'm pretty sore today, and it's the first time I've bowled back-to-back days since getting the brace," LeClair said. "It's not so much the pain, because the brace helps with that. It's more the achiness and swelling, and I'm going to have to put some serious ice on it tonight to be ready for the morning."
Since the competitors at the Senior Masters bowl at a different time each day to give them a chance to see all three variations of the 41-foot oil pattern - fresh, burn and double-burn - LeClair will return to the Sam's Town Bowling Center bright and early to lead C Squad back onto the lanes at 11 a.m. Eastern.
Additional qualifying squads will take place at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern, after which, the field will be cut from 272 to the 63 bowlers who will join Williams in the double-elimination match-play bracket.
After 10 games, Ted Staikoff of Black Hawk, South Dakota, is 64th with a 2,106 total, a 210.6 average.
As a side note, if LeClair is able to maintain his place in the top 64 and advance to match play, his $1,200 knee brace could be paid in full, even if he doesn't win a match.
"It's hard to put it all in perspective because I honestly thought I was done, since I was in so much pain," said LeClair, who also is in the bowling pro shop business. "I'm in pain now, but nothing like the pain I was in after it happened. I didn't know what my future was when I walked off the lanes in Farmingdale, one of my favorite places to bowl, and to be here this week means a lot. I bowled yesterday with no pain and bowled even better today, even with some pain. But, at least I can bowl."
All rounds of qualifying and match play are being broadcast live on BowlTV, and the five players who advance through the bracket will battle for the title in the stepladder finals Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
The Senior Masters is open to USBC members age 50 and older.
For more information on the USBC Senior Masters, visit BOWL.com/SeniorMasters.
2018 USBC SENIOR MASTERS
At Sam's Town Bowling Center, Las Vegas
QUALIFYING - ROUND 2
(10 games - top 100)
1, Brian LeClair, Delmar, N.Y., 2,406. 2, James Campbell, Clearwater, Fla., 2,392. 3, Keith Lesko, Prosper, Texas, 2,343. 4, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., 2,308. 5, Amleto Monacelli, Venezuela, 2,293. 6, Robert Brown, Cody, Wyo., 2,266.
7, Mark Williams, Beaumont, Texas, 2,263. 8, Michael Haugen Jr., Phoenix, 2,259. 9, Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 2,251. 10, Bryan Kendall (a), Henderson, Nev., 2,248. 11, Bryan Goebel, Shawnee, Kan., 2,247. 12(tie), Daniel Miyamoto, Pearl City, Hawaii, and Allan Sennevall, Sweden, 2,235.
14, Bob Rosenau, Redding, Calif., 2,226. 15, Brian Voss, Centennial, Colo., 2,216. 16, Walter Ray Williams Jr., Oxford, Fla., 2,210. 17, Parker Bohn III, Jackson, N.J., 2,209. 18, Warren Nelson, Hemet, Calif., 2,202.
19(tie), Brian Kretzer, Kettering, Ohio, and Randy Macomber, University Place, Wash., 2,197. 21, Christopher Gibbons (a), Madison, Wis., 2,194. 22(tie), David Chew, Brentwood, Calif., and Noel Vazquez, Sacramento, Calif., and Doug Kent, Newark, N.Y., 2,191.
25, Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, Mich., 2,186. 26, Rick Minier, Houston, 2,182. 27(tie), Dave Sill, Titusville, Fla., and James Hansen, Anchorage, Alaska, 2,179. 29, Ed Silva, Manteca, Calif., 2,176. 30, Lennie Boresch, Kenosha, Wis., 2,160.
31, Donald Blatchford, Santa Monica, Calif., 2,158. 32, Toby Contreras, Lee's Summit, Mo., 2,157. 33(tie), Dennis Horan Jr., Oakley, Calif., Brian Cooper, Henderson, Nev., and Gary Faulkner, Norfolk, Va., 2,156.
36(tie), Ben Hoefs (a), Mobile, Ala., Eddie Graham, Centerville, Ohio, and Dave Washburn (a), Las Vegas, 2,155. 39(tie), Steve Smith (a), San Diego, and Tish Johnson, Colorado Springs, Colo., 2,150. 41, Darron Peters, Menifee, Calif., 2,148. 42, Craig Harrington (a), Eagle Mountain, Utah, 2,146.
43, Andrew Frawley, Australia, 2,143. 44, Michael Clemence (a), Las Vegas, 2,140. 45, Ron Mohr, North Las Vegas, Nev., 2,139. 46, Doug O'Bryant, Ball Ground, Ga., 2,138. 47(tie), Eric Forkel, Henderson, Nev., and Dana Wright, St. Paul, Minn., 2,134.
49(tie), Harry Sullins, Chesterfield, Mich., Peter Knopp, Germany, and Jerry Smith (a), Englewood, Colo., 2,132. 52, Gerald Sikora (a), Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 2,131. 53, Christer Petersson, Sweden, 2,126. 54, Charlie Standish (a), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 2,124.
55, Pat Nolan, Japan, 2,122. 56(tie), Jeff Suma (a), Auburn Hills, Mich., and Joe Fulner III, Belleview, Fla., 2,121. 58, Billy Langford (a), Lone Grove, Okla., 2,119. 59(tie), Darryl Bower, Middletown, Pa., and Bob Learn Jr., Boynton Beach, Fla., 2,118.
61(tie), Mark Scroggins, Canyon, Texas, and Jeff Row (a), Prescott Valley, Ariz., 2,111. 63, John Chovanec (a), Sugar Land, Texas, 2,110. 64, Ted Staikoff, Black Hawk, S.D., 2,106. 65(tie), Johnny Manzella (a), McCalla, Ala., Kevin Anderson, Mount Juliet, Tenn., and Rob Rice, Sunnyside, Wash., 2,105.
68, Doug Hayes, Clarksville, Tenn., 2,104. 69(tie), Michael Calvin (a), Warren, Mich., Kevin Croucher, Grants Pass, Ore., Don Breeden, Urbandale, Iowa, and Dale Traber, Cedarburg, Wis., 2,101.
73, David Axon, Bellevue, Neb., 2,100. 74, Tom Carter, Columbus, Ohio, 2,099. 75, Chris Warren, Grants Pass, Ore., 2,097. 76(tie), Pete Toth (a), Las Vegas, and Joseph Petrovich, Tracy, Calif., 2,092. 78, Scott Merritt, Iowa City, Iowa, 2,090.
79(tie), Skip Pavone, San Jose, Calif., and Jonny Hall (a), Sweden, 2,089. 81(tie), Junichi Yajima, Japan, and Willie Wells (a), Plano, Texas, 2,083. 83, Kerry Fulford, Fort Worth, Texas, 2,082. 84, David Tyrrel, Harlan, Iowa, 2,081.
85, Jimmy Baker, Canton, Ga., 2,078. 86, David Symes (a), Brigham City, Utah, 2,071. 87, Christopher Keane, Cape Coral, Fla., 2,070. 88, Jeff Johnson, Freeport, Ill., 2,069. 89, Paul McCordic, Sugar Land, Texas, 2,066. 90, Michael Lucente, Warren, Mich., 2,064.
91, Olle Svensson, Sweden, 2,062. 92, Paul Lemond, Jasper, Ind., 2,061. 93, Scott Fiorillo, Alexandria, Va., 2,059. 94, Lineal Floyd (a), Colorado Springs, Colo., 2,058. 95, Duane Steinmetz (a), Greeley, Colo., 2,057. 96, Michael Tucker, Las Vegas, 2,056.
97, Jerry Brunette Jr., Rochester, N.Y., 2,055. 98, Emilio Mora, Defiance, Ohio, 2,054. 99, Hugh Miller, Mercer Island, Wash., 2,053. 100, Jeff Jamison, Boulder City, Nev., 2,048.