AMF Country Club Lanes in Baltimore, Maryland played host to one of the more demanding events of the PBA tour season this past spring, during the week of March 28-April 4, 2010. The Lumber Liquidators Marathon Open featured a grueling, week-long format, in which a variety of different oil patterns were applied to the lanes throughout the course of the tournament. Under this schematic, the all-around player would inevitably excel, and the event would deliver a worthy and deserving champion.
There's something extremely special that happens when the PBA graces your local bowling center. The common bowling alley is loftily transformed into something that seems bigger than life. The bowling establishment, adorned in the technological advancements of large screen TVs and gigantic monitors, kept the spectators constantly aware and informed of the current goings-on in the tourney.
On a more human level, it's truly awe-inspiring to see the personalities that you're accustomed to viewing on television, parading through the center's concourse. The public is allowed and encouraged to attend the 'week-long' competition, although there is an admittance fee. A single-day pass for the Marathon event was $25.00, while a 'week' pass was purchasable for around $80.00, plus a $9.00 service charge, which allowed public access into all rounds during the week, except for the final day on Sunday—the ESPN taping.
When you get past the initial overwhelming aspect of the PBA presence, the atmosphere of a pro tenpin event isn't that much different from that of a typical duckpin tour stop, for those who are familiar with the small ball tournaments. As was the case in the duckpin events of the 1980s and 1990s at the larger bowling centers, AMF Country Club Lanes erected metal bleachers for the spectators behind each sector of lanes, which allowed for easy migration from one area to the next.
Announcements were made just before the beginning of the shift for spectators to respect the pros, and not try to interact with them immediately following the end of the shift. Also, people were reminded to turn off the ring tones of their cell phones.
Seeing the professionals in person gives you a good idea of just how talented some of these guys really are. For example, it's easy to see why Walter Ray Williams is considered the best spare shooter on the tour. It's hard to get an appreciation of his magnificent prowess when shooting spares until you see him up close. Another pro who stood out from the crowd was Australia's 'two-handed delivery' sensation, Jason Belmonte. During one point on Day 2, to counteract the tricky Shark oil pattern, Jason was playing about as deep from the left side as you could imagine for a right-hander. He actually started his ball in its roll from the corner of the left gutter at the foul line, and his tremendous revolutions consistently brought the ball back into the 1-3 pocket during this 'button-hook' style delivery. Another facet of Belmonte's game that was really impressive was his versatility in his ability to change spins on the ball. There was one point where he left the 2-8-10 split—a dreaded 'give up' leave for a right-hander in which 99 times out of 100, the average right-hander will just forget about a spare conversion and shoot for 2 pins. Jason was able to use his 2-handed delivery to reverse his spin, throwing a wicked back-up ball in which he nearly converted the split in textbook fashion.
Of note also was the case of another bowler, Wes Malott, who is a lot taller than he looks on TV, almost to the point of appearing impressively hulking. Malott is a real "fan's type of player". While quiet in demeanor, Wes is quite accommodating, as he was genuinely happy to pose for a picture with one of his hearing-impaired followers moments before his shift began. As a lesson to live by, good things do tend to happen to good guys, as Malott stood alone as the only player to open the "Shark" squad-B shift with a 6-bagger.
Also on the personable side was Landover, Maryland's Bobby Hall II. This editor immediately recognized him outside the bowling center on my arrival. Bobby was most congenial in returning my greeting, even though he did not know who I was.
One difference between the tenpin and duckpin qualifying rounds is the length of time it takes for a bowler to shoot a spare. Due to the customary lane courtesy format in professional tenpins, in which each adjacent pair of lanes must be clear before a bowler steps up, the prospect of shooting spares is more of a lengthy wait for the bowler (and the spectators), than in the duckpin game, which observes one free lane on each side at the pro level.
While the NABN doesn't wish to report negatively on anything, a little constructive criticism should not be confused with 'bashing'. As an enthusiastic spectator, this editor feels that it would behoove the pro bowling organization to adjust its requirements on PBA shirt regulations, as even with my reading glasses, I couldn't decipher the name on the back of a few of the bowling shirts. While the stylish, fancy design with the 'flair-style' writing caters to fashion, ironically this modern look finds itself wanting in the identification aspect of the PBA shirts, which ultimately is the purpose of attaching a name on apparel. One pointed example, while not by any stretch of the imagination is it meant to criticize the bowler in any way, was with Wes Malott's bowling shirt, which was basically unreadable from a distance of about 20 feet. The writing style on the back of the shirt could be accurately described as a flamboyant, cursive handwriting design, but when intermixed with a clashing of harsh, contrasting colors, the whole idea of a name on a bowling shirt to identify a bowler is defeated. While the styling of bowling shirts that were a part of the 1961 debut national telecast of the PBA was maybe plain in appearance, the effectiveness of the block-style lettering was superior when it came to distinguishing the two players, Roy Lown and Richard Robinette. The duckpin pro tour (DPBA) has slowly begun to loosen its belt and mimic the flair style writing of the PBA as well. However, in the case of the DPBA, it might be advisable to more strongly encourage the continued use of block lettering, due mainly to the fact that since the duckpin game isn't nationally televised, the bowlers aren't nearly as recognizable to the public. My concern in this matter is with the likely real-life scenario of a bowling fan maybe not having followed the professional branch of the bowling game too closely in the last decade, and thus being unable to recognize one of the sport's top players. And with the newer, modern score-keeping monitors only showing initials for each player, a spectator would have to locate a lane assignment sheet to realize the identity of a given player. One interesting and amusing footnote is that as I moved to another area of the bowling center during the event, I saw one of the PBA staff reading a magazine, and he was wearing a PBA-style shirt. I presume he was a fan, as the name on the shirt actually said 'Wes Malott', in a cursive writing style, but without colors that clashed. If I had been a little less aware of the bowlers, I would have thought that this staff person was Wes Malott, waiting to bowl on an upcoming shift.
But, in spite of the minor shortcoming involving bowling apparel, attending a PBA tour event is definitely a feeling of time well-spent, and this editor would encourage anyone to make an effort to partake in the festivities of future tour stops.
To elaborate on the format of the 'Marathon' tourney, a pro-am kicked things off on the first day of the event. Day 2 was set up for practice rounds for the pros to get acclimated to the lanes and surroundings at the bowling center. Days 3 and 4 consisted of blocks of 9-game 'pinfall' rounds each, with the entire field of contestants divided into two squads rolling on the Cheetah and Shark patterns. On Day 5, the field of players was cut down to 53 participants, who would continue to play on the Viper pattern in a 7-game block at 10:00 am. At the completion of the 4 1/2 hour squad, an intermission break was established in which the lanes were re-oiled for the Chameleon pattern. The participants returned to try their hands on the 5:00 pm evening shift. The field was then cut to 32 players for the next day's competition (Day 6), using the Scorpion pattern in another 7-game block at 10:00 am. Again, the shift was to end at 2:30 pm, followed by another intermission with the top 24 players moving on to the evening shift, at which point the lanes were re-oiled using the Earl Anthony pattern, and ultimately 16 players would advance from this round. On Day 7 (Saturday), the Dick Weber pattern was laid for a new 7-game block and the best 5 cumulative scores would make it to the final day of the event (Sunday).
In an event like this, it was no surprise that the player who is arguably the most seasoned veteran of the tour, Pete Weber, came out on top, defeating Mike Scroggins in the championship game. Scroggins had come off a most successful season himself with a couple of wins in his bid to become player of the year.
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