SEATTLE – Four first-time Professional Bowlers Association title winners, players representing six foreign countries, a returning PBA Hall of Famer and the oldest player ever to earn an exemption are among the 49 “exempt” players who will headline the 2011-12 PBA Tour when it gets underway during the PBA World Series of Bowling Nov. 4-20 at South Point Lanes in Las Vegas.
A focal point of the season for the elite group will be an exclusive new PBA Exempt Players Championship with a $35,000 first prize and a $191,000 prize fund during the World Series which also will give its winner an elite “Round of 32” berth in the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions.
The four players who earned exemptions by winning their first PBA Tour titles during the 2010-11 season are Tom Hess of Urbandale, Iowa; Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, N.Y.; Scott Norton of Costa Mesa, Calif., and Osku Palermaa of Finland. Hess, as winner of the United States Bowling Congress Masters, earned a two-year exemption through the 2012-13 season.
The strongest international presence ever will include representatives from six countries plus the United States: Australia (Jason Belmonte), Finland (Palermaa and reigning PBA Player of the Year Mika Koivuniemi), Canada (Dan MacLelland), Sweden (Martin Larsen), Colombia (Andres Gomez), and Venezuela (Amleto Monacelli).
PBA Hall of Famer Monacelli, a 19-time PBA Tour champion and two-time PBA Player of the Year, will return to full-time exempt player status for the first time in five years based upon his competition points performance as a non-exempt player last season.
And Kerry Painter of Henderson, Nev., at age 58, became the oldest player ever to earn a PBA Tour exemption when he finished eighth in the 2010 PBA Regional Players Invitational in Reno, Nev.
The 2011-12 exempt player roster also includes four additional PBA Hall of Famers (47-time titlist Walter Ray Williams Jr., 35-time winner Pete Weber, 34-time champion Norm Duke and 32-time titlist Parker Bohn III), the only woman ever to win a PBA Tour title (2010 PBA Tournament of Champions winner Kelly Kulick) and, for the first time ever, three two-handed players (Palermaa, Belmonte and former Junior Team USA member Brian Valenta).
There will be nine first-time exempt players next season: Hess; Larsen and MacLelland from the 2010-11 PBA Tour competition points list; Steven Black, Johnathan Bower, Paul Gibson, Tyler Jensen and Painter from the 2010 RPI, and Valenta (2010-11 Tour Qualifying Round points leader), but the race for PBA Rookie of the Year honors will be limited to non-exempt players because all of the first-timers have exceeded Rookie of the Year eligibility rules (appeared in more than three Tour events in one season and/or seven total Tour events).
And the PBA Player of the Year chase will have plenty of contenders among the exempt players. Past winners of that honor are Williams (seven times), Duke (twice), Koivuniemi (twice), Bohn (twice), Monacelli (twice), Chris Barnes, Tommy Jones, Patrick Allen and Wes Malott.
The oldest player in the group is Painter (who turns 59 on Dec. 23) and the youngest is Bower, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday on Dec. 14.
While the exempt players are automatically qualified for all PBA Tour events this season, the three World Series events that will showcase the exclusive group are the Carmen Salvino Classic, the Exempt Players Championship and the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship.
The Salvino Classic will be open to the exempt players and a minimum of 15 non-exempt players who will qualify through a Tour Qualifying Round. Qualifying rounds in the Salvino Classic will be combined with EPC qualifying games to determine the top 32. Another six-game round will reduce the EPC field to 16 finalists and those standings also will determine the players who will be paired up for the PBA Doubles Championship. PBA.com’s Xtra Frame online video streaming service will air more than 25 hours of live coverage of the Exempt Players preliminary rounds.
Combining the three events, exempt players will bowl for more than $375,000 in prize money including the $35,000 first prize in the Exempt Players Championship, $15,000 to the Salvino Classic winner and a $15,000 top prize for the PBA Doubles champions. Overall, the WSOB will pay an estimated $1 million in prize money.
The 2011-12 PBA Tour exempt players, and how they qualified, are:
Major Title Winners (8): Chris Barnes, Double Oak, Texas, 2011 PBA World Championship; Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla., 2011 U.S. Open; Tom Hess, Urbandale, Iowa; 2011 USBC Masters; Mika Koivuniemi, Hartland, Mich., 2011 PBA Tournament of Champions; Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions; Bill O'Neill, Southampton, Pa., 2010 U.S. Open; Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 2009 PBA World Championship; Walter Ray Jr. Williams, Ocala, Fla., 2010 USBC Masters.
2010-11 PBA Tour Title Winners (5): Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., Earl Anthony Memorial; Jason Couch, Clermont, Fla., Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship; Eugene McCune, Munster, Ind., Brunswick Pro Bowling Cheetah Championship; Scott Norton, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2010 Chameleon Championship; Osku Palermaa, Finland, GEICO Shark Championship.
2010-11 PBA Tour Competition Points List (28): Dick Allen, Columbia, S.C.; Patrick Allen, Baltimore; Brad Angelo, Lockport, N.Y.; Jason Belmonte, Australia; Parker Bohn III, Jackson, N.J.; Dino Castillo, Carrollton, Texas; Joe Ciccone, Buffalo, N.Y.; Mike DeVaney, Murietta, Calif.; Mike Fagan, Patchogue, N.Y.; Andres Gomez, Colombia; Michael Haugen Jr., Carefree, Ariz.; Steve Jaros, Yorkville, Ill.; Tommy Jones, Columbia, S.C.; Jack Jurek, Lackawanna, N.Y.; Brian Kretzer, Dayton, Ohio; Martin Larsen, Sweden; Chris Loschetter, Avon, Ohio; Dan MacLelland, Saginaw, Mich.; Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas; Amleto Monacelli, Venezuela; Sean Rash, Montgomery, Ill.; Ronnie Russell, Indianapolis; Mike Scroggins, Amarillo, Texas; Ryan Shafer, Horseheads, N.Y.; Lonnie Waliczek, Wichita, Kan.; Chris Warren, Grants Pass, Ore.; Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo.; Danny Wiseman, Baltimore.
2010 PBA Regional Players Invitational (6): Steven Black, Huntington Beach, Calif.; Johnathan Bower, Middletown, Pa.; Wayne Garber, Modesto, Calif.; Paul Gibson, Brunswick, Ohio; Tyler Jensen, Fort Worth, Texas; Kerry Painter, Henderson, Nev.
PBA Golden Parachute Exemption: Rhino Page, Dade City, Fla.
2010-11 PBA Tour Qualifying Round Points Leader: Brian Valenta, Lockport, Ill.