You heard tall tales about the big fish that got away. My tale is tall but true. Tall because it was unlikely that a player who had suffered a game altering injury and who had not cashed in national professional event in over a year could have a chance in hell at winning a major event. Well I had the chance. The big fish was on the line and I had the net ready. Just as I was ready to land the thing, it got way.
The story begins October 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota where 240 of the best female bowlers would vie to become the champion of one of the most prestigious tournaments, the U.S. Open. I was reluctant to bowl this tournament. Would it be yet another event where I’d bowl bad then get sent home early without pay? I set a modest goal to just make the top 60. Apprehensive and anxious, I set out for Minnesota.
Remember when you bowled your first big tournament. The butterflies in your stomach were so big you thought they’d consume you from the inside out. It felt like my first big tournament. I’ll let you in on a secret. Most professional bowlers get nervous and anxious before the start of a major event. Not until we get a round under our belt do the butterflies lie dormant.
My first round certainly settled me down. Even though I just barely averaged over 200, I had a good feeling. The good feeling continued into the following rounds. For each round, I scored better and better.Averaging over 220, the first cut to the Top 60 was no problem. Flabbergasted and elated, I qualified 9th for the match play finals. Since I reached my initial goal, everything from here on out would be gravy.
You should have seen my ball reaction! I was using a Sapphire Zone drilled “flip leveraged”. It was magic.I had hold, swing, and carry. You could not ask for more. It was not surprising with the ball reaction I had that I bowled a 300 game and an 800 series in the last round of match play. It was my 10th 300 game and my most memorable to date. With several hundred fans watching, I nervously prepared myself for the 12th shot of the game. Just as I took my first step, a flicker of light from behind the masking unit on the adjacent pair caught my eye. I immediately stopped my approach and set the ball back down on the rack. The fans let out a big “aaah” in disbelief. How could someone balk on 11 in a row? My heart beating uncontrollably as I reset myself on the approach. This time more jittery than the last, I tugged the ball way left of target. It went Brooklyn and struck. The fans went wild! That night’s unbelievable performance landed me the 4th position on the show. Here I was not expected to make the Top 24, given a chance to bowl for the U.S. Open championship.
Remember seeing the professional men bowl in the first arena finals televised on ABC? Have you ever wondered what it would be like bowling in front of thousands of screaming fans in a sports arena set up for bowling? Every fiber of my being craved for a chance to perform in a setting where professional bowling would be played at a locale with the excitement and energy found only at other professional sporting events. I got my chance.
When Larry and I walked into the arena the afternoon before the show, I was so excited. It gave me goose bumps! In just a few hours I would be performing in front of thousands of bowling fans. "What a rush it will be", I thought. And it was. The D.J. played jock rock songs while we warmed up. The atmosphere was like a rock concert. I felt very comfortable, especially once I found the bowling ball that gave me a good reaction. During the warm up the lane condition started out very similar to the condition we bowled on all week. But it broke down differently. Everyone seemed to be struggling. Tish Johnson was having a hell of a time with the approaches. Sandra Jo Shiery and Wendy were throwing the balls that got them there. But since the oil carried down the lane more, their balls weren't finishing on the back end. Cheryl Daniels and I had the best shot because we could get the ball to flip on the backend. I was confident and ready to relish the whole thing. Let the bowling begin.
I started the first match against Sandra Jo throwing the first 6 strikes. This got the crowd rowdy and behind me from the start. After easily defeating Sandra Jo , I went on to shut out Wendy by striking out in the 9th and 10th frame. I knew Cheryl would be my toughest opponent of the evening. We had a close match from the start to finish. She finished the game first by striking out in the 10th forcing me to strike on my first ball in the 10th then fill 10 in the next two shots. I remember taking my time and then going through my mental checklist before the shot. The shot was tugged a little but held pocket to blow all 10 pins into the pit. The crowd roared. Not knowing what I needed to win , I just wanted to throw another strike. This time I rushed the shot and set it short leaving the 3-6. Now I knew exactly what I must do just to tie and keep my chance of winning my first major alive. This was not a spare I felt comfortable shooting all night. There was a lot of carry down on the right edge. If I threw my plastic ball, it might slide out too much. But I knew if I threw my strike ball, that there would be a chance of it hooking sharply on the backend and chopping the spare. I went with the strike ball. I made my 8 boards left with my feet and 4 left with the target and threw the ball chopping the 3 off the 6 to lose. The loss remains the most disappointing of my career.
It was the most thrilling experience of my life even though I suffered the most disappointing loss of my career. I wonder now if I'll ever get another chance to hook the big fish. I sure hope so. But if not I'm grateful for having an incredible tale I can share with others that is tall but true.