The Grand Slam, two Majors in a season, $100,000 and the one accomplishment that has eluded him in his illustrious career.
With so much riding on the line, getting a mark in the 10th frame was never more difficult for Norm Duke.
Needing any spare to win the 65th Denny’s U.S. Open, Duke left the 2-4-5-8, giving him flashbacks of the 2000 U.S. Open that slipped out of his hands by one pin. But facing the biggest spare attempt of his career, Duke converted to defeat Mika Koivuniemi, 224-216, to win his fourth career Major and 28th Denny’s PBA Tour title.
Additionally, he became just the second bowler in history to win the four Grand Slam events – the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Masters, Tournament of Champions, World Championship and the U.S. Open.
The win capped a wild roller coaster ride of a season for Duke, who just five weeks ago was on the verge of losing his Denny’s PBA Tour exemption. He sat 51st in the PBA World Point Rankings after battling numerous injuries and, even worse, caught the flu the week of the Denny’s World Championship.
Always known for having a flair for the dramatic, Duke made an incredible run through the World Championship to win his third career Major and, more importantly, earn a two-season exemption.
Fueled by the desire to win the most coveted event on Tour and the one he has had several close calls in, Duke was a man on a mission all week. Though he lost the top seed for the finals by going just 3-5 in the final round of match play Saturday, he salvaged the No. 3 seed which meant he had to win three matches on Sunday for the title.
After looking unstoppable in defeating No. 4 Doug Kent, 234-160, and No. 2 Chris Loschetter, 267-245, to reach the title match, Duke faced the top-seed Koivuniemi, who was looking for his second U.S. Open title.
Koivuniemi held the lead until a spare in the eighth frame after which Duke struck in the eighth and ninth to take the lead. Koivuniemi had a chance to put some pressure on Duke by striking out, but he left a 2-pin with his first shot in the 10th, converting the spare and finishing with a strike to force Duke to mark.
With everything on the line, Duke re-racked but left the 2-4-5-8, one of the few bad shots he threw all day.
“I was protecting against going high because you can make the bucket but you can’t make the 4-6,” Duke (Clermont, Fla.) said. “But I wanted to strike, too, so it had to be somewhere in between. I didn’t throw it awful, I just missed it enough. When I left that I thought, ‘It’s over. I’ve done it again.’”
Duke was referring to the 2000 U.S. Open title match against Robert Smith where he needed a strike with his first ball in the 10th frame to win, but he left the 8-pin to lose, 202-201.
“That was the longest 10th frame today,” Duke, the first No. 3 seed since Dave Husted in 1996 to win the U.S. Open, said. “Under those circumstances, I was a lot calmer today than I had been on Friday and Saturday. Fatigue really plays a role in this event. If you watched last night, guys were dying and I was one of those guys. Not dying mentally, but physically. But I threw some warm-ups this morning and had the game I wanted to have and that really calmed me down.”
After Duke picked up the “bucket,” the diminutive crowd favorite who is one of the most emotional players the Tour has ever seen, pumped his fist and jumped wildly, showing just how much this event meant to him.
“I cannot put into words how special this is to me,” Duke said. “Five years after I missed that shot against Robert I would still cry about it. It was the one thing I would constantly think about that I hadn’t done. I could just never cap it off. Now, I’m the reigning champion of the U.S. Open.”
The win capped off an incredible month for Duke, who became just the seventh bowler to win two Majors in one season. He moved past Mike Aulby into sole possession of sixth on the all-time titles list, moved into a tie for fifth all-time with his fourth Major and joined Mike Aulby as the only bowlers to win the Grand Slam, although his 1993 Masters title does not count as an official PBA title.
“This format, this grind… it’s why so few people can actually win this event,” Duke said. “There are probably 25 people out here who can actually win this. It’s why Pete (Weber) has won it four times. Now after 27 years of dreaming, it means everything to my career.”
Duke took home $100,000 for the win and extended his exemption through the 2010-11 season. Koivuniemi (Hartland, Mich.) earned $50,000 for second, Loschetter (Avon, Ohio) took home $25,000 for third while Kent (Newark, N.Y.) earned $13,000 for fourth.
The 65th Denny’s U.S. Open concludes the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour. Chris Barnes wrapped up the 2007-08 PBA Player of the Year award this week, edging out six-time PBA Player of the Year Walter Ray Williams Jr. by two points in the standings to win the award for the first time in his career.
For the fourth consecutive season, six bowlers will roll off for a $150,000 winner-take-all top prize in the Motel 6 Roll to Riches special event, which takes place Tuesday, April 8 at Colonial Lanes in Orlando, Fla., and airs as two back-to-back one-hour shows on ESPN, Sunday, April 13 at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. ET. Participants include Duke, Kent, Sean Rash, Michael Haugen Jr., Parker Bohn III and Chris Barnes, who earned a berth in the event thanks to Duke winning two Majors. Barnes was the runner-up to Bohn in a fan vote.Denny’s PBA Tour
65th Denny’s U.S. Open
Brunswick Zone Carolier
North Brunswick, N.J.
Sunday, March 30
|1.||Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla.||725 (3 games)||$100,000|
|2.||Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, Mich.||216 (1 game)||$50,000|
|3.||Chris Loschetter, Avon, Ohio ||245 (1 game)||$25,000|
|4.||Doug Kent, Newark, N.Y.||160 (1 game)||$13,000|
In the first match, Duke def. Kent, 234-160; in the second match, Duke def. Loschetter, 267-245; and in the final, Duke def. Koivuniemi, 224-216.
This is Duke’s 28th career Denny’s PBA Tour title and fourth career PBA Major.