LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Yong-Jin Gu, a slightly-built 48-year-old left-hander, had never bowled in a Professional Bowlers Association event before the World Series of Bowling, but he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in PBA history when he defeated an international field of opponents to win the PBA Scorpion Championship at South Point Bowling Center.
The finals of the PBA Scorpion Championship aired Sunday on ESPN. It was the first Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour television final ever to include four international players and only one American.
Gu (pronounced “coo”) upset four straight opponents, including top qualifier Jun-Yung Kim, 236-224, in the all-South Korea championship match, to become the first South Korean ever to win a PBA Tour event.
In a stunning finish, Gu held a 10-pin lead entering the ninth frame, but he missed a 7 pin spare conversion to surrender his lead. Needing a nine-count spare and strike to win, Kim then left a pocket 7-10 split on his first shot in the 10th frame to hand the victory back to Gu.
Gu started the stepladder finals with a 245-204 victory over former Saginaw Valley State collegiate All-American Dan MacLelland of Windsor, Ontario, throwing strikes on seven of his first nine shots. In his second match, Gu routed 2010 Pepsi Viper Champion Bill O’Neill of Southampton, Pa., 256-208, again striking on eight of his first 10 shots. He then romped to a 233-208 victory over Australia’s two-handed star, Jason Belmonte, throwing seven strikes in eight tries. Gu had his first open frame in the 10th against Belmonte, but by that time he had already clinched a trip to the final match.
“I can’t even say how happy I am,” Gu said through an interpreter. “This was my first trip to the United States. Winning wasn’t even in my dreams.”
Regarding his first-ever shot on television, Gu said, “I didn’t feel anything. I just threw the shot.” But he quickly showed high-pitched emotions which followed virtually every strike. “It’s what we call showmanship in Korea,” he said. “It helps me relieve my stress before the next shot.”
Gu, who idolizes PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke “because he’s small like me,” had no idea what kind of reception awaited him upon his return home, but he had already learned he and Kim had become instant national celebrities simply by qualifying for the American television finals. South Korea’s leading newspaper, television network and bowling magazine immediately flew representatives to the U.S. to cover the finals.
Kim, who realized Gu had given him an opening when he missed the 7 pin, said his immediate reaction after leaving the 7-10 split was, “I lost. My shot in the 10th went farther right than I wanted. It was a good shot, but not the one I wanted to throw.”
The GEICO Shark Championship, the final World Series of Bowling “animal pattern” event, will air on ESPN next Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern. The Shark stepladder finalists will be the first in PBA Tour history to feature two two-handed competitors: Finland’s Osku Palermaa and Belmonte. Also in the finals will be Mike Fagan of Patchogue, N.Y.; reigning PBA World Champion Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Mich., and MacLelland, the top qualifier.
The sixth and final World Series of Bowling telecast will be a special U.S.A. vs. The World team competition which will air on ESPN on Sunday, Jan. 9, at 1 p.m. Eastern.
Free post-finals interviews and other World Series of Bowling special features are available on PBA’s Xtra Frame video streaming service. Visit pba.com or xtraframe.tv to access Xtra Frame. Full year and monthly subscriptions to Xtra Frame are available. During the month of December, PBA fans can sign up for a free trial offer to watch all Xtra Frame programming.
South Point Bowling Center, Las Vegas, Nev., Dec. 19
1, Yong-Jin Gu, South Korea, four games (970 pins), $15,000.
2, Jun-Yung Kim, South Korea, one game (224), $8,000.
3, Jason Belmonte, Australia, one game (208), $6,000.
4, Bill O’Neill, Southampton, Pa., one game (208), $5,000.
5, Dan MacLelland, Canada, one game (204), $4,000.
Match One: Gu def. MacLelland, 245-204.
Match Two: Gu def. O’Neill, 256-208.
Semifinal Match: Gu def. Belmonte, 233-208.
Championship: Gu def. Kim, 236-224.