Below are 10 intriguing questions as the season starts Sept. 18-23 with the Dydo Japan Cup in Tokyo, Japan, where 21 of the Denny’s PBA Tour’s biggest stars take on the best of Asia.
1. Can Tommy Jones continue his march to history?
After two dominating seasons in which Jones won a combined eight titles and earned the 2005-06 PBA Player of the Year Award, Jones had a quieter season in 2006-07, winning just one title over the first 20 events. It was in the last week of the season, however, that Jones proved he’s not going anywhere in his quest to be the game’s best ever.
Jones won the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions in dominating fashion, winning his second Major title in as many seasons and capturing his 10th Denny’s PBA Tour title in three seasons. The 28-year-old needed just two years, six months and seven days between his first and 10th titles, breaking the great Dick Weber’s record that had stood for 45 years by just four days.
Now Jones will have his eye on another record. With $923,282 in career earnings in just 204 career events, Jones could break Chris Barnes’ record for fewest events to reach $1 million. It took Barnes 220 events to reach the milestone and with 21 events on the schedule, Jones could break the record by season’s end as he needs just over $76,000 in the season’s first 15 events.
Having earned an average of $222,770 over the last three seasons, it should be no problem for the South Carolina native.
At such a young age, there’s no telling what other records lay in Jones’ reach over the course of his career.
2. Is Sean Rash the future of the PBA?
Two seasons ago Sean Rash was a kid learning the ropes of the Denny’s PBA Tour as a rookie. He bowled the weekly Denny’s PBA Tour Qualifying Rounds looking to gain entrance into each week’s events, but took his fair share of lumps when he came up just one spot shy of qualifying on a handful of occasions. Late in the season, however, Rash finally broke through and not only advanced to the 2006 West Virginia Championship, he made history in winning the title to become the first bowler to go from Qualifying Round to champion.
Now, Rash is looking to become the face of the PBA as he proved in 2006-07 his win in West Virginia was no fluke. Rash won two titles last season and ran his record on television to a perfect 6-0 in three career appearances. He goes into the 2007-08 season looking to tie George Branham III’s record for most consecutive wins on TV to start a career, needing just two wins to tie the record.
Though he struggled with consistency issues in 2006-07, Rash showed flashes of the talent that could make him the next big star. He also proved to be one of the most exciting – if not controversial – bowlers in the ESPN spotlight, with his flashy style and exuberant celebrations. It was no surprise when Rash was paired up with the PBA’s infamous “bad boy” Pete Weber for a special doubles event this summer, the GEICO PBA All-Star Shootout hosted by Six Flags. Rash is looking to carry on the torch of PBA Bad Boys, and only time will tell if Rash’s numbers will also someday stack up to Weber’s.
3. Can Walter Ray Williams Jr. put distance between himself and Earl Anthony?
After tying Earl Anthony’s all-time Denny’s PBA Tour titles record in the 2006 Denny’s World Championship which also gave him a four-year Denny’s PBA Tour exemption, the question wasn’t if Walter Ray Williams Jr. was going to break Anthony’s record but when.
Now, with a guarantee of at least three more seasons on Tour and the record chase in his rear-view mirror, the only thing left for Williams is to see how far he can separate himself from the left-hander as well as those who are sure to chase him in the future.
Will he reach 45? 50? More? The sky is the limit for Williams who at the age of 47 showed no signs of slowing down in 2006-07. Though he went winless after capturing title No. 42, Williams was still a force on Tour making four more championship round appearances. It seems that no matter the format, the lane condition or the competition, Williams always finds a way to figure it out and get to the top. And with no pressure on him to chase any records – only to extend his own – Williams could be a force on Tour for many years to come.
4. Will Pete Weber win his first Player of the Year award?
With 34 Denny’s PBA Tour titles, a record-tying eight Major titles, over $3 million in earnings and as one of only four bowlers to complete the Triple Crown, it would seem like a no-brainer that somewhere in Pete Weber’s 27-year career he won a PBA Player of the Year award.
Shockingly, he has not.
Weber just missed a great opportunity last season to accomplish one of the few goals he has left in his illustrious career. It appeared when the season was only a month old Weber was destined to finally get over the hump. He finished second to Walter Ray Williams Jr. in the Japan Cup, sixth in the USBC Masters – the only Major he has yet to win – and captured his 33rd career title the next week.
But things slowed down for Weber and one of the most crowded PBA Player of the Year races in PBA history emerged, and Weber fell back into the crowd.
Late in the season, however, it seemed like Weber had finally done what he needed to wrap up the award. A win in the season’s most grueling and difficult event – the U.S. Open – gave Weber his record-tying eighth Major and fourth U.S. Open crown and, it seemed, an edge in the Player of the Year race.
The PBA Hall of Famer stumbled down the stretch, however, and despite an outstanding season he was upstaged by Doug Kent, whose late-season charge to the Denny’s World Championship gave him the honor for the first time in his career.
Still, it was an impressive season for Weber, who at age 44 seems to be getting stronger and has shown his toughness after rebounding from a difficult 2004-05 season when he lost his father, the legendary Dick Weber, and battled injuries.
After a strong off-season in which he captured three PBA Regional Tour titles, Weber should again be on the prowl for the elusive hardware.
5. Can Doug Kent continue his late-career success?
Speaking of Kent, he is just another in a long line of veteran PBA stars that seems to be getting better with age. At 39 years old and in what he figured was going to be the last season of his 18-year career, Kent instead won two Major titles and captured his first PBA Player of the Year award.
The season didn’t start out well for Kent, who was the only American player not to cash in the season-opening Dydo Japan Cup. After heading home and retooling his game, Kent went into the USBC Masters feeling confident and it showed, as he rolled to his second career Major title and second Masters, though his first came before the event counted as an official PBA title.
As the season wore on, Kent continued to be the steady force he has always been. Then as the Denny’s World Championship approached, Kent’s confidence surged again, as a bowler who admitted he thrives on the pressure of Majors.
Kent was Superman again as he became just the sixth bowler in history to win two Majors in a season and for his efforts emerged from a crowded Player of the Year race as the king. Now, instead of riding off into the sunset of retirement, Kent will look forward to four more seasons.
6. Will Norm Duke continue to get better with age?
Is there anything Norm Duke can’t do?
In a season in which he missed seven events due to a broken toe and one because of a neck injury, Duke still managed to lead the Tour with three titles, break the season average record, break another record with a 14-0 record in a single event and finish second in the PBA Player of the Year voting.
Not bad for a guy in his 25th year on Tour.
Duke was on a mission to win the Player of the Year award that eluded him in 2005-06 after he made a Tour-best seven championship rounds but won just one title. He was a perfect two-for-two in the first half of the 2006-07 season, going 14-0 in match play to win the Lake County Indiana Classic, then won four matches in the stepladder finals of the Columbia 300 Classic to win his second title of the first half.
Unfortunately for Duke, he suffered a broken toe in the first week back after the holiday break, and he was out of commission until just five events remained. Duke made the most of those five weeks, finishing fifth in the 64th U.S. Open and winning the Pepsi Championship before wrapping up the season with a fourth-place finish in the PBA Tournament of Champions.
Though it wasn’t enough for him to earn Player of the Year honors, Duke showed that at just five-foot-six he may have the biggest heart on Tour.
7. Can Chris Barnes break through?
While plenty of bowlers would trade their careers for the career Chris Barnes has had so far, many might say the 37-year-old has greatly underachieved in his nine seasons on Tour.
Barnes has hardly been a slouch, winning eight titles and two Majors and reaching $1 million in career earnings faster than any bowler in history. But, since winning two titles in his second season on Tour, Barnes has managed just one each in the last six seasons despite making a combined 32 championship round appearances.
Last season was yet another just-miss kind of season for Barnes, who won a title but, as in years past, had opportunities to win the Player of the Year award and couldn’t capitalize.
By making the finals in the last two Majors of the season, Barnes once again put himself in position to get over the hump. A second-place finish in the Denny’s World Championship and a third-place finish in the PBA Tournament of Champions, however, left Barnes to once again ponder “what if.”
There’s no doubt Barnes will be even more motivated in 2007-08 to prove the doubters wrong and secure his legacy as one of the game’s best.
8. Which of the impressive crop of newcomers will emerge as a star?
If anyone doubted the benefit of the weekly Denny’s PBA Tour Qualifying Rounds, they can look right to the bowlers who came out of the 2007 Lake County Indiana Denny’s PBA Tour Trials to see how much the experience a player can gain in competing every Wednesday on Tour comes in handy down the road.
Of the seven bowlers who qualified for the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour that week, three spent the entire season grinding it out during the weekly qualifiers, one had considerable success in bowling half the TQRs while two had their share of success in a couple tries. The only other one – Brian LeClair - didn’t have the chance as he was exempt in 2006-07.
Chad Kloss, Ronnie Russell and Troy Wollenbecker were rewarded for their hard work throughout not only the 2006-07 season but the last couple seasons as non-exempt bowlers. Each was in the hunt for the non-exempt points race throughout 2006-07 but each gained that exemption through the grueling seven-day event in June which solidified the final seven exemptions.
Stevie Weber, meanwhile, bowled in several TQRs in 2006-07 and had his fair share of success. He earned the final exemption by finishing seventh at Tour Trials, just seven pins ahead of Randy Weiss. Todd Book, who led the Tour Trials, and Steve Harman also spent time bowling the TQRs in 2006-07.
Additionally, Dino Castillo proved you don’t need to be exempt to have a stellar season. Castillo had the most successful season of any TQR bowler in the three seasons of its existence, posting a better point ranking (40) as a non-exempt bowler than he did in 2005-06 as an exempt bowler (45). Castillo qualified a record nine times and advanced to the Round of 8 twice, just missing out on his first career TV appearance.
While they all may be new to the exempt list in 2007-08, they’re hardly new to the Tour and they’ll look to parlay their TQR experience into stardom.
9. Will there be another Sean Rash or Mike Mineman?
A disappointment to some non-exempt bowlers may be the fact that Emerson Lanes in Parkersburg, W.Va., is no longer on the Denny’s PBA Tour schedule. The center has been the place of dreams for non-exempt bowlers the last two seasons.
Sean Rash made history in 2006 at Emerson Lanes by becoming the first bowler to advance from the TQR and win a title the same week. While it seemed improbable it could happen twice, it seemed unimaginable it could happen twice in the same place. And yet, it did.
Mike Mineman, a journeyman who had never passed the Round of 16 in his previous 39 events, shocked the bowling world when he repeated Rash’s feat, defeating Mike Machuga to win the 2007 Bayer Classic at Emerson Lanes.
Though Emerson Lanes won’t return as a host in 2007-08, 15 other centers will look to transfer that magic onto their lanes. And with bowlers inspired by the success of Mineman, Rash and others who have had success through the TQR, chances are good lightning might strike a third time.
10. With no Billy O, who will be the Rookie of the Year?
Calling all bowlers nicknamed “Billy O”: You have a good chance of winning the PBA Rookie of the Year award.
Last season, Billy Oatman at 41 years old became the oldest bowler ever to win the PBA Rookie of the Year award, following in the footsteps of a much younger “Billy O” – Bill O’Neill – who captured the award at the age of 24 in 2005-06.
While there appears to be no “Billy O” who will challenge for the award in 2007-08, a pair of exempt rookies will look to battle it out for the hardware. Todd Book and Steve Harman are the only exempt bowlers eligible for the award, but as they did last season several TQR bowlers could also make a run for the award. Last season, young Edward VanDaniker Jr. made a case for himself as did Andrew Cain, Chad Kloss and Greg Thompson Jr. who all had a lot of success through the weekly qualifying rounds.
Bonus: Which women will standout on the new PBA Women’s Series?
Women’s bowling is officially back.
After losing their own tour when the Professional Women’s Bowling Association folded in 2003, women will now have a mini-tour which hopes to lead to a bigger and more expansive tour for women in the future. For now, 16 of the greatest female bowlers in the world will compete in four events to run concurrently with Denny’s PBA Tour events during the first half of the 2007-08 season.
The list of names reads like a who’s who in women’s bowling, with such legends as Tish Johnson, Wendy Macpherson and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard returning to the professional ranks. A handful of women who have had success on the Denny’s PBA Tour and in PBA Regional Tour competing against the men also qualified, including Missy Bellinder, Michelle Feldman, Kelly Kulick and Liz Johnson.
Kulick may have an edge as she spent all of last season fine tuning her skills on each of the Denny’s PBA Tour’s oil patterns as the first woman ever to earn a full-season exemption onto the men’s tour. She’ll be joined by Johnson, who has had the most success of any women competing against the men, finishing second in the 2005 Banquet Open. Bellinder, meanwhile, is the only woman to win two PBA Regional Tour titles, while Feldman has also had success against the men.
But, they’ll be competing against their fellow female competitors instead, including some of the best young talent in the country. Past and present Team USA members including Joy Esterson, Stefanie Nation, Tennelle Milligan, Shannon Pluhowsky, Olivia Sandham and others will make it an exciting and competitive season for the women.