Splits, spares and strikes: Pro bowlers going live this weekend on ESPN

There’s a really good chance you didn’t catch the pro bowlers Sunday on TV, since for about the umpteenth week in a row, ESPN put the taped telecast of a tournament up against the NFL.

I watched about a half-hour of the bowling before I felt “forced” to watch the Broncos and Patriots, so I taped the rest of the bowling show, which actually lasted three hours with a Teen Masters event that followed.

Great news for this weekend, however. Not only will there not be NFL games to compete for your interest, unless you count the Pro Bowl – which I don’t – but the PBA will be live with the Tournament of Champions five-person stepladder finals starting at noon from Thunderbowl in Detroit, which will be on its usual station, ESPN.

As of Sunday night, Australian two-hander Jason Belmonte was leading through 20 games of qualifying, averaging nearly 250 a game. Next came former Saginaw Valley State University bowler Dan MacLelland, future Hall of Famer Chris Barnes, no-thumber Tom Daugherty, who appeared on Sunday’s telecast, and one-time winner Chris Loschetter.

The tourney was set to cut to the top 24 after another round of qualifying this morning, then spend tonight and all day Tuesday in match play to whittle the field to the final five. Those guys – or maybe Liz Johnson or Kelly Kulick – then have to wait to finish up on Sunday.

The bowling that ESPN had on Sunday was quite captivating, with a TV first-timer winning the PBA Regional Players Invitational Finals, Ben Laughlin of Arizona, and recently missing-in-action Walter Ray Williams Jr. taking the title in the PBA50 Tour Finals.

Laughlin called it his best day ever in bowling, while it was great just to see Walter Ray back on TV now that he’s a “senior” at age 54.

Just within the last week or so I had a fellow bowler at Red Rock Lanes in Ishpeming ask me whatever happened to Walter Ray. I didn’t know for sure, though I suspected he was still bowling with the “kids” and probably hit the PBA50 – the new name for the Senior Tour – pretty hard, too, which was confirmed from information TV analyst Randy Pedersen provided.

The Teen Masters was the most interesting part to me. They had a boys champion and girls champion square off, and the boy, 17-year-old Greg Young, was at least a head taller than Ashley Dunn. At first, I was wondering how this would be a fair fight.

Then they explained that the bowlers could only use two balls, one generic urethane and one generic plastic ball, and the two lanes would have drastically different oil patterns.

It showed, as the scores were in the 150s to 180s, though I found it endlessly fascinating watching them try to adjust.

It came down to a one-ball rolloff when Young struck and Dunn didn’t.

Pedersen explained how they used less than a quarter of the PBA’s normal amount of oil conditioner on each lane. But actually that made using urethane and plastic a better choice, because neither bowler could’ve kept the ball on the lane if they were using modern reactive resin.

It made me think of what high school bowling does now in Michigan. From talking to local coaches and looking at the MHSAA website, they use an oil pattern that from my understanding, is about halfway between a typical league shot and a “sport” shot, the kind touted as making bowling more challenging.

It’s why Upper Peninsula high school boys averages top out in the 180s and girls in the 160s. I’ve seen them bowl often enough to know they would all average at least 20 or 30 pins higher on the typical league patterns.

Now onto The Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week for Jan. 3-9:

We’ll start with the ladies, where Karen Foster blew away the competition when she shot 180 pins over her 143 average in the Friday Nite Mixed League at Red Rock Lanes, putting together a 609 series on games of 192, 203 and 214.

The next two women also came from Red Rock. Loretta Waananen in the Thursday Night Ladies was 106 pins over her 153 average with 565 and a high game of 222, while Katherine Rogers of the Friday Nite Mixed was 87 over her 123 average with 456 and a top game of 177.

The men’s race came down to a single pin. Winner George Porter of the Tuesday Major at Red Rock shot 151 over his 179 average with 688 on games of 232, 202 and 254.

Right behind him was Nathan Larsh of the Wednesday Industrial at Superior Lanes, shooting 150 over his 166 average with 648 and a best game of 235.

In a solid third was Duane Rantala of the Monday Northern Electric Automotive Industrial at Red Rock, where he was 137 over his 197 average with 728 and 270 top game.