BOWL Magazine Interview: BRAD TOLSON

January 1995

Trailing 1992 national amateur champion Anthony Chapman by 118 pins with only two games to go, Brad Tolson fired his sixth sanctioned perfect game to take a lead he would not relinquish in the Nation's Capital/Baltimore Area Masters Scratch Tournament at Annandale Bowling Center on New Year's Eve.

Tolson, a surgical technologist at Georgetown University Hospital, only started bowling in 1980 at age 26. He'd just taken a job with a neurosurgeon in Indiana when he was invited to participate in a hospital league.

A resident of Alexandria, Virginia, Tolson currently bowls in the Men's Industrial and Metro Invitational leagues at Annandale. He has won "three or four" scratch tournaments since moving here from Arizona five years ago, including the Eagle's Nest event at Dale City and a Metropolitan Men's contest at Alexandria.

Immediately following his Masters victory, Tolson discussed his performance and other topics with BOWL Magazine Editor Bob Cosgrove.


How does this victory rank as far as bowling thrills?

Any time you win a title, that's a thrill. I'm pumped up, whether I look like it or not.


What was the key to your success today?

Staying within my game plan, which means I bowled the games that I wanted to bowl, physically. The conditions were very scoreable, and I carried everything in the world today. It was as much luck as it was skill.


Was there a time today when you thought you could win this tournament?

Before I came! I came in with a good, positive frame of mind; I had a good game plan; I know the house pretty well; I know my equipment pretty well. I knew that if I did the things I needed to do physically, and I kept my mind into it mentally, I would bowl well. I knew I always had a chance to win.


Do you normally expect to make the finals in this tournament?

I expect to make the finals if I can bowl the game I know that I'm capable of bowling. Obviously, if you don't bowl well physically or mentally, you can't expect to make the finals. But I think that every tournament I enter, I know what I'm capable of doing, and if I can focus enough to do that, then I'm going to bowl well and finish well.

I have a pretty good, solid physical game. I don't practice as much as I should. My biggest problem, like most bowlers, is the mental game. Unless you're bowling a lot to stay sharp and focus on your mental concentration, then you can't expect to do well. I'm not practicing a lot, but I'm doing a lot of other things to help my mental and physical games so they help my bowling even when I'm not bowling.


Does this win change your view of yourself as one of the area's top players?

Oh, no. I've always thought that I've had a chance to win every tournament that I entered, but I don't devote enough time to the game as I should. I mean, I don't think by any means that I'm a top player in the area, but I think I'm competitive.


What does a surgical technologist do?

I set up and pass instruments in surgery and assist the surgeons. It's sports medicine, basically: a lot of sports injuries, total joint replacements, knee and shoulder reconstruction—things like that.


What got you interested in this field?

I was a corpsman in the Navy and the opportunity came for me to go to a specialty school. The operating room interested me, so I applied for the school and got it.


Had you planned for this?

I always was interested in medicine in high school. I wasn't really focused or centered on anything; I was just hanging out. I found something that suited me, and I've enjoyed it.


I doubt many of your competitors today have been in an operating room other than when they were operated on.

Probably not!


Does your concentration at work assist you on the lanes?

My work takes good organization, good preparation, and concentration on what's going on in the operative field so that you can anticipate what the surgeon's going to do and have what he needs when he needs it.


Like reading lane conditions when crossing pairs?

Yes. It takes a lot of anticipation and staying with the game mentally, so it helps. Definitely.


Have you ever had a time when you've erred in the operating room?

Oh, definitely. We make mistakes. But fortunately, no one's ever been injured by them.


Have you dealt with any well-known athletes?

The center for the Denver Nuggets, Dikembe Mutombo, a Georgetown alumnus, came down for surgery last year. It was kind of interesting: He hung off the table by about three feet. We had to put a special apparatus on to hold him.


Do you prefer higher-scoring settings or a more competitive atmosphere?

I think historically I've always done better on the tougher, competitive conditions because of my game. I throw the ball pretty straight, so it's easier for me to adapt to lane conditions than it is, say, for someone who really hooks the ball a lot.


You're like a right-handed Eric Forkel, who's also a throwback to the classic-stroker days of the 1960s and 70s. Have you made adjustments in your game to adjust to today's game?

Not really. I've just tried to work on basic techniques and master a few releases.

I had an excellent teacher, Patty Ann, one of the top women players in the country on the amateur level who is a former Team USA member.


How did you meet Patty Ann?

I just happened to meet her in a bowling center in Springfield, Ill., in 1983 or 1984. She and her husband, Cliff Tarpley, were giving instructions to anybody who wanted some help with their game. I was there a few days and took some lessons and their weekend seminar. They changed my whole game; I really owe it to them.


What did they do?

They taught me how to bowl! I was trying to be a cranker before I met them.


How did your bowling advance to its current level?

Actually, for the first couple of years, I didn't know what I was doing. My friends helped me, and I had one guy at the bowling center who drilled my equipment—he tried to help me and taught me the four-step approach.

When I met Patty Ann, that's when I learned good, basic technique—good approach, good swing. She really didn't work on releases or anything like that. That's stuff I picked up from other people, but she gave me a good, classic form and made me playable. The next year, I was averaging 195 and went up from there.

I have to give Patty and Cliff the credit for my game today. Yes, I had a lot of free time to practice cause I worked nights for three years, and I bowled every day and practiced. I had a very good situation with the bowling alley in Arizona. They let me come in and practice, and they didn't charge me. I bowled with a lot of good bowlers out there.


How did you get to bowl free?

It was with a Fair Lanes, and the guys I practiced with had their PBA cards, so they let me bowl.


Are you involved with all of the new equipment these days?

I have a lot of equipment, but not much updated equipment. I think the newest ball I own—as far as new ball out on the market—is a Gyro Pro Reactive Resin.


Do you read a lot about bowling?

Do I study the game? Basically, I try to keep up on everything. It's hard to keep up with equipment nowadays, but I have some really good people who help me and drill for me: The Strike Zone with Scott Bailey, and the World Class Pro Shop in Baltimore with Mark Anderson and John Gaines. Gaines is a very competitive bowler throughout the nation, and he helps me keep up a lot.


How do you like the game today? Do you feel you're at a disadvantage because you're not someone who winds up and throws right? You're a down-the-boards player.

I think the down-the-boards players today have the advantage. I don't like seeing the conditions that we have out there today—the conditions that are conducive to high scores. We should go to conditions that promote good shot-making. I believe that most of these scratch bowlers feel that way today.

Equipment has revolutionized the game. I personally don't throw the reactive-resin equipment a lot. I did throw it in the finals after I threw the 179 game with my urethane ball and I was able to find a really playable shot.

Personally, I'd like to see the conditions a little tougher and the equipment a little less explosive.


Do you think the younger players understand the scoring conditions of 20 and 30 years ago when a 630 series was something to be proud of?

I don't think they have a concept of how much the equipment and the lane conditions—even the pins—have changed the scoring in the game today. You carry a 200 average 20 years ago, and you were a player. Nowadays, a 200 average is not really indicative of your skill level.


You had a 300 game today.

I hit the pocket three times! What does that tell you about today's conditions and equipment? I really didn't hit the pocket solid but three times.


Are you less happy or proud about this 300 game than you would have been, say, 20 years ago?

Absolutely not. Today, 300s are pretty commonplace, and sure, every time you throw one you feel good about it. But it's not the same as 20 years ago. I wasn't bowling 20 years ago—don't get me wrong, I didn't start bowling until 1980—but I know what was out there 20 years ago. Still, I was pumped up when I shot it. I threw one good ball the whole game and that was the 12th shot—and that's the important one.


How important is bowling in your life?

It's No. 2. The main thing in my life is my wife, Karen. Without her support, I never would have gotten this far. She's really been a force behind me, and she's coached me, even though she doesn't know anything about bowling. She's watched my game for so many years that she knows when I'm throwing my hip out of the shot or I'm not staying down at the line or I'm not following through.

She knows these things by watching me, and she tells me. She told me today that I was pulling my hip out of the shot. I got my hip back in, and I started throwing strikes.


Have these Masters tournaments inspired you to become a better bowler?

Absolutely. This is the best scratch tournament in the area, and you have the most competitive players. We're up to 350 members now and that's phenomenal. When the Masters goes to two tournaments a month in 1995, you're going to see a lot of participation. It will be a really competitive year out there.


Any closing thoughts?

I'd like to thank Mike Hahn for the effort he's put into the Masters tournaments. He's done a lot for the scratch bowlers in this area, and he deserves a lot of credit. ·