I just got some video footage back from the last day of Tour Trials and I’ve had a chance to take a look at some of the players who earned an ‘09-‘10 exemption whom I’ve never seen throw the ball before. Over the next few days, I’m going to give my assessment of their games, tell you which established player I think they most remind me of and offer my predictions for how well I think they’ll do on Tour next season…and beyond. If you’re an Xtra Frame subscriber, I’ll also be posting video analysis (in addition to post-event interviews of each player) later this week, so be sure to check that out too.
Let’s start with the #7 qualifier, Stevie Weber (I’m skipping Tim Mack, Mitch Beasley and Joe Ciccone because most of us are already pretty familiar with their games...although if I get a ton of fan email requesting their games to be analyzed, too, I may relent).
Weber got off to a fast start at Tour Trials, leading the tournament after two days on Cheetah and Viper. After a decent showing on Chameleon for day three, Weber struggled to the finish line, averaging less than 200 each of the last two days, including a 1751 final block on the difficult Shark oil pattern.
Weber tried a number of different line and ball combinations that day, all of which pretty much yielded the same iffy results. It looked to me like no matter where he tried to play (mostly between the 3rd and 5th arrows) when he threw the ball the way he liked, it broke off high (3-6-10’s and splits), and then when he tried to move left off that the ball failed to make it back (leaving a lot of 2-pin combos). Like many modern-day power players, Weber has a high, steep backswing and quick approach, but his rev rate is a little on the low side to be considered in the bona-fide Robert Smith, Tommy Jones power player category (he looks a lot like Ronnie Russell to me, with a slightly lower rev rate). His tilt is more than the average player (and he never tried to adjust his tilt over the course of what I saw…not sure that means he’s not that good at it or if he felt like he had enough of a cushion to just play his A game and coast to the finish) which tells me that he likes to see his ball hook a lot on the backend (which may explain his struggles as this is usually not a good way to play the Shark pattern).
He did mention in his post-tournament interview that he was pretty exhausted and that one thing he needs to work on is his physical conditioning prior to the Tour starting up in August (although to me, he looked like a pretty fit guy). He also said he was disappointed with the way he finished despite earning his exemption, which tells me he is a proud competitor. Those things should help him going into the Tour season because, based on what I saw of his game, I would say that there are quite a few players on Tour who are physically more talented. If he doesn’t improve his stamina and learn some new tricks in the off-season (i.e. changing tilt, speed or rev rate to keep the ball in a tighter zone) for playing on the Shark and Scorpion patterns, those weeks could be pretty tough. Overall, I’d say that Stevie Weber has an even money chance to earn his exemption next year, and that, with a few new tools and some hard work, could be a winner on Tour some day in the near future.
Let me start off my assessment of UK sensation Stuart Williams’ game by letting you know that even though I hadn’t heard a lot about him prior to TT, he’s got fans. In fact, a few of them let me have it when I made a couple little (harmless, or at least I thought so) jokes at his expense in my post-TT perspective piece. So after that, I was very curious to see the man in action so I could see for myself why these fans were berating me for my ignorance.
Unlike Weber, Williams had no problem throwing strikes on the Shark pattern. He started playing the first arrow and, with the help of a couple brooklyns in the second and fourth frames, got out of the gates with a nice 276-224 start. After losing his reaction in games three and four (163-157, ouch!), Williams jumped left between fourth and fifth arrows and shot a nice 252-231 in games 5-6. But he lost it again in game 7 (147), scratched out a 212 in game 8 and then limped in with a 152 in game 9 to finish 6th.
Williams’ ups and downs were not confined to his final day action, however. He started off Day 3 with a game my mom might be proud of (126) and tossed in a number of sub-180 games (a HUGE no-no if you want to compete on Tour) throughout the week. You can probably chock most of these brain-burps up to inexperience on the PBA patterns, and not knowing exactly what to do when certain changes begin to take place. But on Tour, the difference between the winners and the guys fighting it out in the TQR is mostly the ability to avoid the super-low, momentum-crushing games.
As for his physical game, Stuart reminds me a lot of Wes Malott (nice, rhythmic approach, figure-eight swing and an effortless release that yields good speed and a better-than-average rev rate), but with one nagging problem. He seems to cut short his release and grab the ball on occasion. This is especially troubling for two reasons: 1) Most of the PBA patterns are “push-patterns” (meaning your mistake area is right of target) and 2) under pressure, you tend to grab the ball more and there is no greater concentration of pressure situations than out on the PBA Tour (i.e. need a double to make the cut to match-play, need a double to stay alive against Chris Barnes and force a game seven, need a strike to put away Duke and move on to the Round of Eight, etc., etc.). So, if I were Stuart, I would work on accelerating through the ball at all times. Watch Walter Ray or Norm or Barnes and notice how, no matter how they’re playing the lanes, they always accelerate their arm through to their target on every shot. If Stuart can do this, he should be a factor on Tour to retain his exemption and to be yet another strong international Tour player in the tradition of Mats Karlsson and Mika Koivuniemi.
Well, that’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for my assessment of Cassidy Schaub (I was blown away) and Thomas “Destiny” Smallwood and be on the lookout for the video versions of these reviews up on Xtra Frame later this week. By the way, did I forget to mention that these guys (Weber and Williams) have the perfect names for bowlers?