Last week, the 50th Anniversary of the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour kicked off in style. Many memorable events, a widely diverse field, new faces and an historic ending summed up the entire week. I was personally on-hand to witness Norm Duke in his historic quest to capture three consecutive Majors, becoming the only person in PBA history to accomplish this feat.
After interviewing him several times throughout the week, I got an inside perspective on the thinkings and mental game of one of the greatest players in our sport. You see, Duke never once was thinking about making history. He wasn’t thinking about defending his title. He was thinking about winning and winning on bowling’s biggest platform – a PBA Major.
“I’ve made history a few times as a by-product of not thinking about it (making history). When you get ahead of yourself, that’s when you lose your focus,” said Duke.
I was also intrigued to find out Duke’s culmination of what makes a great player.
“Great players don’t just win titles. I have the mindset that you define your career with Major titles,” Duke said. “Great players will go down in history as players who have the ability to win Majors.”
In talking to Duke, you find out that he is a very humble individual. We reminisced about his early career when he won a title at the young age of 18, beating the great Earl Anthony in his first match on TV, in route to the title.
“Everyone wanted to beat Earl (Anthony). He was just that good, that he became a target,” said Duke. “So I told my mom that I was going out on tour and that I was going to beat Earl. Then when I ended up beating Earl on TV, with my mom sitting in the front row, it’s a memory that I’ll never forget,” added Duke.
So I slyly asked Duke, “You do know that you are now that target? People now say I want to go out on tour and beat Norm Duke!”
“I don’t see myself that way. I don’t regard myself as being in the same category as Earl. I know that people get excited to see me and bowl with me, which happened just this week in the pro-am. But in reality I’m just a person who gets to do what I love for a living - bowl,” added Duke.
Last week’s accomplishment brings Duke’s total number of PBA titles to 30 with six Major wins, ranking him tied for fifth with bowling legend Don Carter on the all-time Majors list.
If you followed the results all week, you saw that Duke didn’t get off to a great start in qualifying. With a lower-scoring second block and just out of the projected cut to 53, Duke needed a big final set on the third day of qualifying to advance to the casher’s qualifying round (block four). From that point on, he got serious shooting +174 in block three, advancing to block four of qualifying in 23rd position.
“Yesterday I had a bad day (block two) and today I could have been eliminated. My game plan was to have a good enough round to not have to look at that cut number. My goal was to be proud of my play and that wasn’t the case the past two days (block one and block two). I’m still not up to my expectations. My sights are going to be on getting to the top eight, while keeping 40th (cut number to match play) in mind. I want to be here until the end.”
And that he did! Duke opened up with an 816 the first three games of block four, shooting +362 for the 9-game block, finishing 2nd going into match play. After receiving two byes in match play for finishing in the top eight after qualifying, Duke then went 8-1 in his matches, nearly shooting 300 in game three of the Super 16 Round. Then the very next game, he threw three clutch strikes in the 10th frame to sweep Mike Scroggins shooting 278-277.
You could see the determination in Duke’s eyes. At the verge of nearly being eliminated from the tournament, Duke then put things in high gear and never looked back. The TV show was a mere sample of Duke’s greatness. I was fortunate enough to witness and hear it first-hand.