LAS VEGAS – During the Professional Bowlers Association’s World Series of Bowling III at South Point Casino and Hotel in 2011, international bowlers stunned their American hosts by winning seven of eight titles awarded.
A year earlier, Finland’s Osku Palermaa and Korea’s Yong-Jin Gu made WSOB history as the first international players to win WSOB events in a foreshadowing of things to come.
While the World Series of Bowling is not a team event, the fourth annual edition will resume Nov. 2-11 as a multi-event international competition that will showcase 66 of the most talented players from around the world. WSOB IV will feature players from a record 17 countries (Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, England, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Korea, Venezuela, Colombia, Finland, Canada, the U.S. plus first-time participants Costa Rica, Iceland, The Philippines and Saudi Arabia). Sweden and Korea are both sending the largest contingents they’ve ever sent to the World Series.
Whether team scores are kept or not, WSOB IV is going to be a matter of pride for America’s best players who hope to prevent another spanking by their international competitors.
“We had our chances to win titles and didn't get it done last year,” said reigning PBA Player of the Year Sean Rash of Montgomery, Ill., who led U.S. players with a record six television appearances during WSOB III, but failed to win a title.
“With the format on TV last year, the best player didn't win every time, so to say. I do think the international players can repeat their performances, but it’s a new year and new things can and will happen. As much as I travel worldwide, the players around the world are, for sure, very good, but I would take our USA players any day when it comes down to it.”
The most prominent international players in last year’s World Series, however, see no reason why they can’t repeat, led by Australian two-handed star Jason Belmonte who won three WSOB III titles in 2011.
“I can’t see why we can’t dominate again,” Belmonte said. “The international contingent has only become stronger since the last WSOB. With the formats as short as they are for most of the events, it's possible for anything to happen.”
Former PBA Player of the Year Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, wasn’t surprised by how well the international bowlers performed a year ago, but doesn’t expect a repeat.
“I’m sure there will be more attention paid to that (U.S. vs. international) aspect this year, but we already knew the international players were very good,” the 14-time PBA Tour titlist said. “Now everyone else does, too. That being said, I think the U.S. players as a whole were disappointed in last year's performance and will be looking to improve on it this year.”
Will the international players repeat their domination this year? “No,” Barnes said emphatically.
Finland’s Osku Palermaa, who became the first international player to win the PBA World Championship during last year’s WSOB, disagrees.
“Of course (we can repeat),” Palermaa said. “Obviously after it happened last year it can happen again, but I don't think we will be as dominant. There are so many good players from both sides, you never know.”
Mike Fagan of Dallas, who had a career-year during the 2011-12 season, plans to do his best to prevent last year’s results.
“I don't know if the play of the international players is promoting American pride, but it certainly was a wake-up call,” Fagan said. “The rest of the world has some great players and a good number of tournaments to sharpen their skills. The international players are certainly going to be a force for many years to come.
“But I would find it difficult for the Americans to get completely shut out again at the WSOB,” he said. “I’m going to try my best to not let that happen.”
“Anything is possible in bowling, but I have a hard time believing that something like last year will happen again,” fellow Finn Mika Koivuniemi said, stopping short of discounting another powerhouse performance by the record international contingent. “Everyone now knows that many international players can win in the World Series.”
England’s Stuart Williams, who won his first PBA Tour title in last year’s WSOB, noted, “Obviously it’s going to be nearly impossible for the international players to win all the titles again because there are so many more U.S. players. But I still expect a strong showing, especially from the European contingent.”
PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., doesn’t see the World Series as a global confrontation.
“This is not a team competition, nor is it an ‘us against them’ event,” Duke said. “It’s all about individual pride. I bowl for my family's living and that’s plenty of motivation for me. I’m trying to win bowling tournaments against everyone on earth.”
World Series IV will feature five PBA Tour title events – the Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Cheetah Championship, Viper Championship, Chameleon Championship, Bowlers Journal PBA Scorpion Championship and the PBA World Championship (the season’s first major). It will generate more than 100 hours of live coverage on PBA’s Xtra Frame online bowling channel and the first six ESPN telecasts of the season (including the Bayer Advanced Aspirin WBT Men’s and Women’s Finals presented by the PBA) on Sundays at 1 p.m. ET from Dec. 9 through Jan. 13.
WSOB IV also is the launching pad for a new set of goals by all players, including the 2012-13 PBA Player of the Year race.
“My goals are simple,” Rash said. “I want to give myself chances at making TV shows, win titles, win majors, win Player of the Year and keep learning. Every time we shoe it up, the game is changing.”
Barnes said, “My goals include winning the USBC Masters to complete the Grand Slam and winning a second Player of the Year title. To accomplish this, I think I need to win at least one of the WSOB events, maybe two.”
Fagan wants to improve upon last year. “It’s never easy to win on the PBA Tour, so my goals are to give myself a chance in every event and be prepared for anything,” he said. “If I give myself many chances, hopefully I can cash in on a few. It’s also important, because the World Series formats are short, to come out of the gates strong and not look back.”
Duke has his eye on a third Player of the Year award. He won in 1994 and 2000. “I want to have a shot at Player of the Year. It’s a lofty goal and usually requires a victory in at least one of the majors,” he said, “so all of my preparation and decision-making is with this goal in mind. It’s a plan that has served me well throughout the years.”
Belmonte’s goals are understated: “I just want to bowl to the best of my ability. If I bowl each frame and focus on the process, then I trust the results I want will follow.”
Palermaa would settle for another year like last year: “I had a pretty good year last year, winning my first major at the WSOB, so I'll try and repeat that. Bowling at the same place for multiple events at the start of the year gives you a chance of doing good, so I'll try and get a good start and just keep the momentum going.”
Koivuniemi is one win away from completing the PBA’s “Grand Slam.” “My big goal is to win the PBA World Championship and get that fourth major to complete the grand slam,” Koivuniemi said.
Williams just wants to be consistent in a good way. “I don’t have any particular goals, just to try and continue learning and improving my performances,” he said. “I think the key to the World Series in general is to stay positive on the days when you are struggling because it’s such a long format for the World Championship. Hopefully there won’t be too many times when I’m struggling.”
HISTORY OF PBA WORLD SERIES TITLE WINNERS
Motor City Open – Walter Ray Williams Jr., Ocala, Fla.
Cheetah Championship – Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla.
Viper Championship – Rhino Page, Dade City, Fla.
Viper Women’s Championship – Liz Johnson, Cheektowaga, N.Y.
Chameleon Championship – Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa.
Chameleon Women’s Championship – Shannon Pluhowsky, Kettering, Ohio
Scorpion Championship – Mike DeVaney, San Diego
Scorpion Women’s Championship – Shannon Pluhowsky, Kettering, Ohio
Shark Championship – Jack Jurek, Lackawanna, N.Y.
Shark Women’s Championship – Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J.
Women’s World Championship – Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J.
Senior World Championship – Harry Sullins, Chesterfield Twp., Mich.
PBA World Championship (concluded in Wichita, Kan.) – Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich.
Brunswick Pro Bowling Cheetah Championship – Eugene McCune, Munster, Ind.
Pepsi Viper Championship – Bill O’Neill, Langhorne, Pa.
Pepsi Chameleon Championship – Scott Norton, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Scorpion Championship – Yong-Jin Gu, Korea
GEICO Shark Championship – Osku Palermaa, Finland
PBA World Championship – Chris Barnes, Double Oak, Texas
GEICO World Bowling Tour Men – Mika Koivuniemi, Finland
GEICO World Bowling Tour Women – Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Keller, Texas
Bayer Viper Open – Stuart Williams, England
Chameleon Open – Jason Belmonte, Australia
Scorpion Open – Dom Barrett, England
GEICO Shark Open – Jason Belmonte, Australia
Mark Roth-Marshall Holman Doubles – Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas/Norm Duke, Clermont, Fla.
Carmen Salvino Classic – Andres Gomez, Colombia
PBA Elite Players Championship – Jason Belmonte, Australia
PBA World Championship – Osku Palermaa, Finland