March 24, 2008 19:00
Brian Valenta doesn’t have a whole lot of experience bowling on the Denny’s PBA Tour, but he does have the distinction of being doubles partners with one of the greatest bowlers of all-time.
The 22-year-old, who has teamed up with PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber for some doubles events recently, used what he has learned from the four-time U.S. Open champion to take the lead after the first day of competition in the 65th Denny’s U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone Carolier.
While he’s not a PBA member and has only competed in a handful of PBA events, Valenta has proven to be a star in the making. He finished 20th in the 2004 U.S. Open as an 18-year-old and 31st the following year but has not competed the last two seasons.
After a shaky showing in a recent regional event, Valenta spent hours working on his timing last week which resulted in a 230.17 average on Tuesday.
“I thought it was a good start,” Valenta (Lockport, Ill.) said. “I made the right ball choice. I had two ways of going and the ball I chose helped me keep the ball in play a lot better. Other than that it was making good shots.”
Valenta, who bowled on the pair next to the defending champion Weber all day, said he was comfortable bowling so close to the 34-time titlist.
“Pete and I have bowled a couple tournaments together and I don’t have to ask him for much advice, all I have to do is watch him and see his demeanor,” Valenta said. “That’s why he’s the best. He hasn’t won four US Opens by accident. Being partners with him, you take bits and pieces here and there and you take it for everything it’s worth.
“Bowling next to him was a really big factor today. I know he didn’t have a great day, but just knowing your partner is next to you, you can get in a comfort zone.”
Valenta, who was a two-time USBC Intercollegiate Singles Champion at Lindenwood (St. Charles, Mo.) University and a two-time Junior Team USA member, had considered becoming a PBA member last week but he’ll wait to see if he gets a big paycheck this week so he can afford his membership dues. A win this week would give him $100,000.
“I was supposed to become a member a week ago but needless to say I didn’t do too well at a regional,” Valenta said. “I haven’t had the money to join yet but I will soon. I might be able to get a card if I win this week.”
Much of the hype surrounding this week’s season-ending event has centered on Chris Barnes and Walter Ray Williams Jr., who have been running neck-and-neck in the 2007-08 PBA Player of the Year race. Neither bowler had a very good day Tuesday, however, with Barnes finishing 155th with 1,162 and Williams finishing the day 162nd with 1,157. Barnes holds a two-point lead over Williams meaning the all-time titles leader has to finish at least fifth this week to have a chance at catching Barnes.
The only other bowler still in the hunt is Mike Scroggins, who would need to win this week and hope Barnes and Williams do not advance to the finals. Scroggins finished the first day 70th with 1,229.
Besides Valenta, three other amateurs finished in the top five with 16-year-old Andrew Koff (Miami) finishing second, Dominic Barrett (Walton on the Naze, England) finishing fourth and Mark Clark (Naperville, Ill.) finishing fifth. In between them, exempt bowler Todd Book finished third.
All 488 bowlers will return Wednesday for the second of three six-game blocks. The field will be cut to the top 25 percent after Thursday’s play and the top 24 after Friday’s nine-game qualifying block. The top 24 will bowl round robin match play Friday and Saturday to determine the finalists.
The top four after Saturday’s match play will advance to Sunday’s championship round live on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET. The winner will take home $100,000 and a three-year Denny’s PBA Tour exemption.
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