The USBC Masters is the greatest Major event, not only on the PBA Tour, but in all of bowling.
Obviously that’s a subjective statement, and in no way do I have any facts to back it up. After all, the Tournament of Champions boasts the most star-studded field (remember Firestone? And this year’s 50th Anniversary Gala?), the U.S. Open puts players through the ultimate test of skill and longevity (51 games, and a grueling lane condition that is flatter than the lane surface itself), and the World Championship provides the third leg of bowling’s Triple Crown. Nevertheless, why is the Masters so special?
For me, the Masters has a mystique found nowhere else in our sport. Just the very nature of the word, “master,” refers to a title signifying dominance, full control, or worthy of respect. After getting a bachelor’s degree in college, demonstrating command of a particular field results in a student’s receipt of a “master’s” degree. So if you apply that to bowling, winning the Masters would show the world that you command your sport, right? That’s where the mystique comes in…
I’m sure few would argue that the Weber family is the most prominent in our game. The family has excelled decade after decade, but has no Masters trophy to show for all their achievements. Contrary to my prior explanation, shouldn’t this mean that they don’t command the lanes? No, of course not (come on, Pete and Dick have won how many U.S. Open and All-Star titles, not to mention the vast number of Halls of Fame to which they belong?)…but the elusiveness of this one itsy-bitsy, teeny, tiny little title helps illustrate the magic surrounding the event. Moreover, have you ever watched the Masters for golf? What makes it so unique? The format is the same as all the other tournaments, the players are the same, but the history, hype, and prestige make it stand head and shoulders above the rest…oh, and don’t forget that Augusta might be the most fantasy-picturesque course outside of Pebble Beach (I think they use green straight out of the Crayola box to fill in the fairways)
I came into this year’s USBC Master’s with nothing to prove and certainly nothing to lose. I’m not in great shape to retain my job next year via the points list, but still began the first day of qualifying as one of the PBA’s 58 elite exempt players in a field of over 400. Strangely, I feel like I get to live the dream while still chasing the dream. Early in the week, I competed in a couple of sweepers to get loose and regain some feel in my swing. Both went quite well, and after finishing day 1 of Masters qualifying in 45th place, I had started to rebuild some of the confidence that previously felt like it was bleeding away.
Day 2 was another story, however. Aside from transition, Andrew has been Andrew’s biggest challenge on Tour this year; actually, it may have been a combination…my reactions to transition have been more derailing than the changes on the lane itself. A solid 213 start should have been enough to mentally propel me into the next day’s round on auto-pilot, but the next two games were my undoing. I actually didn’t flinch much after my dismal 157, especially knowing how tight that pair played and how low scoring was on that pair in the previous squad. With 3 games to go, there was no reason to panic, but just remount the proverbial horse and trudge forward. Unfortunately, a couple of bad ball choices and bad breaks in game 3 sent my brain into a flat spin –just think of the scene in Top Gun where Maverick crashes after going through the jet wash. The 7-10 in game 3 was the jet wash, and the remainder of the night was my self-induced flat spin.
I could have rallied and made the cut, and more importantly, saved some face, confidence, and certainly a little sanity. But maybe on the other hand, it was good to get every ounce of frustration out so I can move forward (and trust me, I’m pretty sure I got most of it out). Interestingly enough, this scenario is perhaps the biggest riddle of all when bowling full time on the PBA Tour: how do you move forward while taking things one week at a time? If focusing on one shot at a time –not the game score, cut score, or even lunch – is imperative to having success, why do you always hear people say, “Oh well, there’s always next week.” The answer is simple to say but hard to achieve, or, should I say, master. Balance is not only the fundamental physical key to bowling well, but also the mental key. You have to learn how to focus on every shot until there are no more, and then move on to the next tournament.
Earlier I mentioned that I get to live the dream while still chasing the dream. In an email I received last week, a gentleman recommended that I not be too hard on myself. He put it in perspective by saying that while I’m out here proverbially (well, sometimes) bashing my head against the wall, there are 50,000 people at home who wish they had the opportunity to be on Tour. I agree with that statement, but have to add a little more to make it complete. My whole life I wanted to be a professional bowler and just have the chance to bowl against the best. Once you achieve that part of your dream, however, your goals change. Now I want to beat the best, and once I accomplish that goal, I want to try and be the best. You can’t ever stop wanting more or to be better, otherwise what is the incentive to chase the dream in the first place? In juniors I wanted so badly to bowl in the annual Las Vegas tournament. My first year I finished 3rd in Bantam Handicap, while my friend won the Scratch title. I wanted to win that title next, and after I did, I wanted to win it again, and then I wanted a bigger title in a bigger tournament…it was like a runaway train that kept picking up steam. To come back to the original point, however, I think that the balance lies in the grand scheme of it all. In order for people at home to want to be in my position, I have to make it evident that I want to be in my position. If the youth see the professionals winning and always striving to get better or move forward, then they are motivated in the same way. That is how goals are perpetuated and dreams become reality.
Watching the show on Sunday, I can safely say that John Nolen exemplifies this very point (by the way, he wins this week’s “first,” hands-down). While winning the Masters may be a culmination of careers for the Weber family, it is merely the first chapter for Nolen. John mentioned that the title bought him two more years (of exemption) in which he had ample time to learn and become a top player. He may have won his first title, but the real value is in having more opportunities to expand his goals and push the threshold of his dreams a little farther.
As for me, the magic of the Masters will have to be put on the backburner until next year. Not qualifying was pure bowling tragedy, but it did earn me some valuable time to spend in the City of Neon with my wife, both sets of our parents, and their friends. See you next week during the most controversial event of the year…the GEICO Plastic Ball Championship. Thanks for reading!