Web Special / June 29, 2005

2005 PBA Tour Trials

The 2005 PBA Tour Trials at Merrillville, Indiana was exciting and nerve-racking. As a matter of fact, it matched the pressure and the heart-breaking results of a number of several veterans who failed to qualify in the 2004 trials. The 2005 trials also went down to the last wire, with Bill O'Neill barely edging out Byron Smith for the last spot by a scant seven pins.

Most of all, it was joyful and fulfilling for the Top 10 finalists who earned exemption to the 2005-06 PBA Tour. On the other hand, it was bitter pill to swallow for a number of veteran bowlers whose livelihoods were reliant on their individual bowling skills on the PBA Tour and now face a seemingly unknown future.

The only returnees from the 2004-05 PBA season (those who failed to qualify for exemption the past season) were Brian Kretzer from Dayton, Ohio and D.J. Archer, one of two Carrollton, Texas bowlers to survive the 45-game grind.

The 2005-06 Tour Trials marked a significant changing of the guard, perhaps an omen of a major youth movement for the PBA future. Christopher Loschetter, a 24-year-old smooth stroker, led the pack, averaging 224.13 for the five-day marathon that was conducted on five different lane conditions. Loschetter was followed by Kretzer, one of the world's top amateurs before joining the PBA in 2001.

Another youngster, Tom Daugherty from Tampa, Florida was third. Tom is a PBA dream -- a fun-loving, no-thumb bowler who should add a lot of excitement to the tour. The PBA, anxious to showcase colorful characters, had to be thrilled with the addition of colorful, animated bowlers like Rudy "Revs" Kasimakis; dynamic Dino Castillo (the other Carrollton, Texas qualifier); young gunners Ritchie Allen of Columbia, S.C.; and Bill O'Neill of Levittown, N.Y.

The PBA hierarchy should also be pleased to showcase another foreign bowler, Andres Gomez of Columbia, South America. Meanwhile, Christopher Collins, who failed to qualify in last year's trials, stroked his way to a return to the PBA 2005-06 Tour.

I seldom attempt to predict the future of newcomers to the professional ranks. However, Chris Loschetter has been extremely impressive, not only in leading the parade in the 2005-06 Tour Trials but also in past PBA tournaments that were open to all contestants. The former Ohio star, now bowling out of West Melbourne, Fla., has more than held his own against top PBA stars in head-to head competition at the past two U.S. Open events. Loschetter epitomizes proper bowling execution -- a smooth, well-balanced stroker who can blister pins with minimum effort. Additionally, he displays nerves of steel and never remotely flinches in crucial situations.

I'll go out on the limb and predict that Loschetter will not only be Rookie of the Year but also believe he will annex a PBA title in his first year on tour.

Although the top 10 qualifiers can relax and prepare for competition for the 2005-06 season beginning in October, a number of the remaining 60-plus bowlers will have to plan for an alternative means of livelihood, particularly the following veteran players who have spent the better part of their adult lives as professional bowlers:

Bryon Smith has been on the pro circuit since 1992. His lone title came in the 2003 ABC Masters championship in Reno. After failing to earn exemption for the 2005-06 season, he qualified 11th in the Tour Trials. Bryon was truly a victim of bad breaks. Needing a double in the 10th frame to assure exemption for the 2005-06 tour, Smith delivered what seemed to be a perfect pocket hit, only to be dismayed by an unbelievable 4-10 split. Although Bryan converted the split, his failed attempt for the crucial strike shot sent the likeable Oregonian into semi-retirement in professional bowling. Fortunately, Smith, a skilled carpenter, built his own home and is well prepared for another occupation.

Bob Learn, who finished 12th, has bowled on the PBA circuit since 1981.The stocky Blond Bomber has recorded 36 300 games on the PBA Tour and has captured five titles. The Erie, Pa., native put on a gut-wrenching performance on the final day of competition. Unfortunately, Learn was unable to overcome a slow start.

Randy Pedersen, a 25-year veteran of the PBA, has 13 PBA titles and has earned over $1.4 million in his career. Like Bob Learn, Randy began competition slowly and, despite a strong finish on the final day of competition, fell short of exemption. Fortunately, Pedersen will continue to been seen as the analyst on the PBA telecasts on ESPN.

Dennis Horan, a PBA member since 1985, has four career titles. He can take satisfaction in being the highest left-handed in the 2005-06 Tour Trials. Left-handers were seemingly at a disadvantage. Horan was the lone southpaw among the top 15 players, 160 pins out of 10th place. Fellow lefty Steve Gallagos finished 27th, 210 pins behind Horan.

Del Ballard Jr., a 23-year veteran of PBA wars, has recorded 12 titles, including two U.S. Open crowns, plus the prestigious Tournament of Champions and the equally prestigious ABC Masters. He has fashioned 40 300 games on the PBA Tour and has earned over $1.2 million in his career. However, Del was unable to maintain a steady run during the entire tournament, despite posting a respectable 212.78 average for the event. He can take solace in claiming rights to the top bowler in the Ballard family. He outscored his wife Carolyn by 204 pins.

Brian LeClair, a PBA member since 1984, earned exemption the past season, placing 47th in the 2004-05 rankings. However, he failed to make the exempt list for the 2005-06 season and could finish no higher than 25th. He thus will have to re-qualify in regional competition. During his career, covering his first 313 events through the 2003-04 season, LeClair never won a title. However, he owns seven regional titles and, by virtue of competing regularly in his region, could conceivably lead his region in points and return to the regular tour in 2006-07.

Dave Arnold, a 20-year veteran of the PBA, has three titles and has earned over $800,000. Arnold failed to gain exemption for the 2004-05 season and was barely edged out for exemption for the 2005-06 season through the regional point system. Arnold averaged 210.07 for the 45-game grind and will likely attempt to re-qualify for the 2006-07 season through the regional point system.

Richard Wolfe, the smooth-stroking lefthander from Vienna, Va., who won the final spot for exemption in the 2004-05 season, finished far down the list, at least 500 pins off the top ten qualifiers.

Lonnie Waliczek, had one of the best records in the 2003-04 season. He finished that season tied for 12th in match play appearances (11)…cashed in 17 of 21 events, had seven Top 10 finishes, appeared in a career-best four televised championship rounds, and was third in match play win percentage, going 20-8. However, after finishing 13th on the 2003-04 point list, he fell completely out of the top rankings in the 2004-05 season and continued to perform below his standards in the 2005 Tour Trials. Actually, Lonnie finished 125 pins lower than his brother Brian.

There were several notable circumstances worth mentioning:

The fate of hundreds of PBA players centered around the Greater Chicago area. For a period of 10 days, the Windy City and its neighboring surroundings became havens for PBA tournaments. The PBA Wild Turkey Bourbon Regional Players Championships were held at Stardust Bowl in Merrillville, 40 miles southeast of Chicago. Three days later, the Tour Trials began at the same site. During the last few days of the Tour Trials, a Midwest Regional Tournament was held at Lombard Lanes, 30 to 35 miles west of the Windy City and, at the same time, a PBA Senior Regional event was being conducted in Lyle, another Chicago suburb, roughly 35 miles southeast of the city.

Unfortunately, the 2005 Tour Trials attracted only half as many entries as the 2004 event. Perhaps the PBA's decision to eliminate all prize money in the tournament played a major role in the reduction of approximately 70 bowlers from the previous year.

Could this have been a logical reason for the low entries?

Did bowlers who signed up for the Tour Trials do so to possibly alleviate expenses by making a few bucks in squad prizes or were they there to invest $1,500 for a shot of a minimum $40,000 in the 2005-06 PBA Tour?

If the lack of prize money for the Tour Trials was a major concern, bowlers with this mindset were better off staying home to engage in PBA regional tournaments or, better yet, opt for non-professional events.