ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It's as close to a bowling "All Star Game" as you'll get: Professional bowling's eight top-money winners over the past two years are competing here at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park for one of the most coveted titles on tour -- the PBA Tour Finals.
Jason Belmonte from New South Wales, Australia; EJ Tackett from Huntington, Indiana; Jesper Svensson from Gothenburg, Sweden; Dom Barrett from Colchester, England; Anthony Simonsen from Austin, Texas; Marshall Kent from Yakima, Washington; Tommy Jones from Simpsonville, South Carolina; and Sean Rash from Montgomery, Illinois have traveled to the official Bowling Capital of the World, and are very happy to be back competing here at one of the PBA Tour's big annual stops.
In addition to the tough competition with each other, these professional bowlers also have to master four different oil patterns on the lanes. Keep in mind that one of the most important skills in bowling (something that I personally struggle with in my league), is changing technique and/or equipment to optimize the ball's angle into the "pocket" (the side of the head pin, for those of you who aren't bowlers).
And speaking of technique, these athletes bring two very different styles to Thunderbowl: Some of them bowl "conventionally," with one arm swinging and rolling the ball, while others use a two-handed approach that has been very successful for them. Here are some videos I shot from Friday night's competition showing you some of the bowlers' styles:
As for the competition itself, the eight bowlers are divided into two groups, which bowled to determine seedings for today's stepladder semi-finals. The bowlers showed tremendous skill, but also that they can struggle on these tough conditions. Here are Friday's scores, with total pinfall:
Jason Belmonte 236, 255, 204, 279 = 974
Anthony Simonsen 236, 247, 218, 252 = 953
Dom Barrett 205, 145, 238, 237 = 825
Sean Rash 178, 201, 225, 215 = 819
EJ Tackett 236, 212, 206, 258 = 912
Jesper Svensson 224, 223, 226, 227 = 900
Marshall Kent 238, 220, 222, 190 = 870
Tommy Jones 257, 162, 243, 181 = 843
The first semi-final match begins at 12:00 p.m. today at Thunderbowl, and doors open at 11:00 a.m. Based upon Friday's crowd, you'd better get there early if you hope to buy a ticket for today's semi-finals and finals. The second semi-final should begin roughly around 2:30 p.m., with the finals starting around 5:30 p.m.
You see the most professionalism and sportsmanship from professional bowlers
You've seen the arguments and fights in most other sports. Now, I'm not going to claim that every professional bowler is best friends with all of the others, but the majority of these guys are friends and get along fantastically. They frequently talk with each other during competition, as you see here when Anthoney Simonsen, Sean Rash and Dom Barrett were chatting during a short commercial break in the middle of a match.
At pro bowling events, you sit very close to the action, and see firsthand the great comraderie these guys have. It's actually quite refreshing and different to see them congratulate each other after great shots, or joke with each other...sometimes even in the heat of battle.
Professional bowlers: the most genuine and fan friendly professional athletes
Imagine heading to any other sporting event. What do you think the chances are of getting an autograph from the games biggest stars? The answer is practically zero, which is the direct opposite of what you experience at a professional bowling event. Not only are the players accessible to autograph programs and bowling pins, but they'll even take a quick selfie with you. Here are two photos showing how fan-friendly these athletes are...Dom Barrett signing a pin for a fan, and EJ Tackett signing a poster for a very excited girl. If you come to Thunderbowl today, I highly recommend buying a bowling pin, and bringing a sharpie to have players autograph it. You'll have all eight of the world's top bowlers over the past two years here, and getting all eight of those autographs on one pin will be a real nice momento to have.
So how far does this fan and media friendly attitude go? Well, having covered bowling for Local 4 over many years now, the players have seen me at many tournaments and always say hi to me, even during a match.
In fact, when I went over to EJ Tackett to say hi after his first evening match, I asked him if I could do a short interview with him at the end of the night. He insisted that we do it then...right in between his two evening matches.
Do you think Miguel Cabrera would let me interview him in between innings of a game? Do you think Matthew Stafford would let me interview him on the bench when the defense is on the field? Do you think Blake Griffin would let me interview him in between the first and second period of a Pistons game? EJ was so gracious. Here's what he had to say when I asked him how special it would be to win one of the tour's toughest tournaments in bowling's most historic city: