BOWL Magazine Interview: BRIAN DEMATTE

March 1995

Brian DeMatte started his bowling career at age 6 when his father, a tenpin league bowler, took him duckpin bowling at Fair Lanes Rolling Road in Baltimore. Two years later, his dad tried him at tenpins. With his running approach, Brian became "halfway decent" and actually enjoyed the game, so he stayed with it through his teenage years at Brunswick Columbia.

He joined a junior travel league in Baltimore and was averaging in the 180s, believing he was "God's gift" to bowling until he ran into the likes of future PBA star Danny Wiseman, who was averaging 200—and who eventually recruited DeMatte for his team.

With no clear direction academically, DeMatte attended Frostburg State, primarily on the encouragement of his girlfriend, with whom he formed a college bowling club. But it was not a pleasant experience, bowling-wise, and DeMatte transferred to Maryland–Baltimore County for his sophomore year.

He soon was recruited by Terrapin bowling coach Mike Sinek to move to College Park, where in his senior year his teammates included future national amateur champion Anthony Chapman, then a promising freshman. The team enjoyed considerable success, including an undefeated conference record and appearances in the national rankings. DeMatte graduated in 1991, with a degree in psychology.

DeMatte finished 22nd at the 1991 National Amateur Championships in Chicago. He competed in more tournaments the following year, including the High Roller, the Hoinke Super Classic, and some PBA regional events. In 1993, DeMatte made it to the sixth round of the High Roller, coming through in the clutch several times, which he believes greatly boosted his confidence in his ability.

The 27-year-old Greenbelt resident was one of the most consistent performers in Masters competition in 1993, capturing one title. Last year, DeMatte failed to cash in a few events, but he finished strong with consecutive wins in Masters and Tournament Concepts' 3-in-1 competition. He led the Masters in points, and was third in earnings and fifth in average.

Admittedly, DeMatte, a medical equipment salesman with National Patient Care Systems, does most of his talking with his bowling ball, but he recently discussed several topics with BOWL Magazine Editor Bob Cosgrove.


How would you briefly describe yourself to others?

I'm a pretty quiet guy, a private guy. For the people who know me really well, I'm very loyal, trustworthy. I'm a friend-to-the-end kind of guy. I'm laid back, easygoing, and easy to get along with.


Can you be somebody totally different with your close friends than those who watch you bowl?

Yes. Back in my college days, I was a real goofball. I would be the team clown. I would do imitations of bowlers—anything. I have my moments with those I'm comfortable with.


I'm told that you've watched a lot of bowling on television.

Yes, I did. I started during the Mark Roth era—I guess when I started bowling tenpins at age 8.


Did you have heroes?

My hero was Earl Anthony. I always wanted to see Earl Anthony bowl. I started emulating my form after Mark Roth—even though I didn't like Mark Roth. It was the way he carried himself or something.


How do you describe your bowling style?

I guess I'm kind of a "tweener." I think I have a pretty simple game—there's not a lot of complex movements or anything like that. It's pretty straight forward. I don't catch it all like Tim Colley and those guys, but I certainly get a little more on the ball than a lot of the other guys do. I'm in-between.

I'm not a true power player because I like to throw the ball at a softer speed when I can. Nowadays, the lanes are usually a little drier than I really like them, so I have to throw the ball a little harder than I'd like to.


What is the best part of your game?

Just consistency. I'm a good spare shooter. I usually keep the ball around the pocket. I'm able to hit a variety of conditions. My best condition is way inside, but I usually can get by on most shots.

I'm not the kind of guy to shoot four million over and run away with a tournament. I'm more or less the guy who's going to be around there and have a chance.

It's always been my consistency. My mental game has always been pretty good. I don't get too upset. I try to keep an even keel. It's not life or death to me when I'm out there.


And the worst part?

I think the weakest part of my game is bowling on some of the wet-dry conditions that we've seen in the area—a heavy concentration of oil on the inside and very dry on the outside. I've really struggled with that. I think it's my trajectory: I like to go a little bit right with the ball, and I'm not real good going straight up the boards.

Plus, because of my smaller build, I have to really open up to create any kind of consistent shot. The weak part of my game is that and also the equipment. I'm giving a lot away to some of the guys who work in the pro shops. They have a new ball every week, and they can really experiment with a lot of different things. I'm sort of lacking at that. I don't have the opportunity to experiment that much.


Would you like to work in a pro shop?

I wouldn't mind it. The only thing that might be tough is the money, but I'd like to do that and be sponsored by a pro shop and be able to bowl some tournaments with a little bit of help.


Does money play a big role in your bowling?

I don't think it's really much for me—especially in local tournaments. There, it's more just to compete and see how you fare against the other guys. I think it's for fun because I can do anything on a Sunday. There are other things that I like to do.

I don't get into many shoot-out boards. For a lot of these guys, it's the whole thing for them. They put all their money in the shoot-out boards, and they don't care if they finish in the middle of the pack or whatever.


Does your attitude put you at a disadvantage in local competition?

I don't think so, because I really want to do well. Some of the guys I see don't do well, but they win a shoot-out board and they're happy. And they'll hang out the whole time and watch the finals or whatever. But they know the next day that they're going to bowl in another league and have more opportunities to win money. They're going to bowl every night of the week or every weekend.

When I go out there, I have high expectations for myself, even though I don't bowl around the clock. I feel I should make the finals every time I go out there. I should have a chance to win. It could be a local tournament for $300 or $400, but I still take the same approach.

I don't think it really hurts me. I guess my goals may be just a little different.


Do you keep up with all of the latest equipment?

I can definitely learn a lot more about that stuff. I try and get a couple of new balls every month, and I try to keep up with all the balls. As far as the new drillings, I've got a long way to go on that.

It's something that I've neglected over the years, and just recently I've started to get more interested in it because I see what kind of difference it makes now. You know, it's so important.

That's one thing I can definitely improve on, especially after last year. I'd bowl so well in qualifying, and I was making the finals a lot. But once the lanes broke down, I usually struggled and didn't have the right equipment to go to, and that always seemed to hurt me.


In his BOWL Magazine interview (Summer 1994), Masters Tournament Director Mike Hahn appeared to question your aggressiveness on the lanes when in Fredericksburg last year you led a tournament by a wide margin but did not win. Any response?

I thought it was a simplistic view of the whole situation. I didn't think a whole lot about it because if you look at the overall picture, you see it's happened to a lot of guys. That happened to me in that one tournament, but I think from week to week, you see it happen to a lot of guys.

A guy will do really well in qualifying, and then as the lanes change or what have you, he starts to struggle down the stretch, and some guys end up passing him. It doesn't always happen; sometimes a guy will lead from start to finish.

It's really tough in match play because one guy who has qualified tenth or eighth or ninth can make an adjustment and go out and shoot back-to-back 270s and win his matches and then you shoot 180s and lose and, all of a sudden, the whole field is bunched up. That's just the way it is with match play.

It's not like we qualified with 24 games and the field is kind of spread out a little bit. Usually everybody's within 70 to 100 pins, so a lot can happen.


Many Masters qualifying leaders have finished ninth or tenth.

It's happened to me a couple of times, but it certainly wasn't my aggressiveness. The way I looked at it is that I really struggled with the conditions.

I remember at the time that the equipment I was throwing was really good in the qualifying, but once [the lanes] broke down, I really didn't have anything else to go to and that really threw me off. I had to throw it the way I don't want to throw it, which is kind of a kill shot or a spin shot to get the ball down the lane.

You can ask any of the right-handers in that particular tournament at Fredericksburg, the lanes really changed—a drastic change.

When I get into the finals, I try to be aggressive, and I think I was aggressive at the end of the year when I won back-to-back tournaments, so I don't think I'm really lacking in that. I might appear that way on the outside....


But you're churning on the inside?

Yes, I'm churning—trying to win.


What do you think about Mike Hahn's efforts to enforce a dress code in the Masters tournaments?

It's good what he's done. It's great that he's had his tournaments. Whatever he wants to do with it, as long as it keeps scratch bowling going in the area—that's great. What he wants to do as far as making the image better in the game, that's also good.

I've never been one who likes the name on the back of his shirt. You don't see Fred Couples' name on the back of his shirt. But I think you have to have a dress code: slacks, collar—you've got to look decent.

It's good, because in a lot of other areas, especially in California, there are many guys wearing shorts and tee shirts, with hair down to their knees.

I mean, I think it's a good thing, but at the same time, who the heck's coming to watch? It's not like we have a million people—or even a thousand people, especially locally. It's basically just our friends.


How would that affect you if the local scratch tournaments were packed with spectators?

I think it would be fun. It would be great. They would make it a little more prestigious. The pressure would be a little more. It obviously would increase the prize fund.


Would something like that turn you more into a showman?

Yes, especially if they start getting behind you and root for you. In college, we had our whole families at some of our tournaments.

When you get people behind you and encouraging you, it's easier to let loose and get down on your knees or whatever—run out shots. I was the king of running out shots in college.

If it's you by yourself and nobody's there applauding, you feel kind of funny.


Do you feel you have the respect of your fellow area bowlers?

From some of them I do—the ones I know well. I think they respect me. They know I can bowl and that I've accomplished enough. I think they can respect that.

There are some who maybe don't—maybe the ones who don't know me as well or maybe just in talking with them, they'll talk about this ball or that ball, with this weight in it or that weight, or the different shims in the oiling machine. I'm not completely all up with that stuff. I try to keep it rather simple.

I think some of the guys think that maybe I'm just out there. I've got some good natural talent, and it works for me sometimes, but I don't think they look at me as somebody who might be on their knowledge or experience level because some of these guys have bowled in a lot of regionals or have won regionals or things like that. But I really try not to worry about that. I feel that if I go out there and do well and I've been consistent, I just let the numbers speak for themselves.

It doesn't matter to me if everybody's kissing my toes or thinks I'm great or if they think I'm lucky. That's kind of the nature of bowling.

It seems like a lot of guys don't get respect. People are always saying, "Oh, well, this week the lefties seemed to have it all. It's not that they're good, it's just that the left side was so easy." or "The guys who throw the ball straight had it easy this week." That's kind of the nature of our game.


Is there too much luck involved with bowling?

No, I don't think so. To be consistently good, you have to have talent, you have to know what you're doing.


What about the influence of equipment today?

Yes, sometimes that bothers me. You go to these tournaments and you see the whole field 200 pins over. I really don't think it should be like that, but there's not much you can do about it.

It's had a big impact; everyone in the area is averaging 200 and 210 now, and everybody at these tournaments has a possibility of averaging a ton. It's hard to pick out a ranking of who are the best bowlers and who are at a level under that and who are the guys who really aren't there. It's kind of hard to decipher that now the way the equipment is.


How would you rank yourself locally?

There's the highest level, which I think consists of the guys who are not only winning locally but who have won regionals and who have done a lot all over. There are a couple of guys who are really good, like John Gaines, Rich Wolfe, Tony Chapman, and Rich Dodge. There's a select few in that group who are in a level higher than mine.

But I like to think that I'm in the next group—guys who at any given time can compete with those I just mentioned and have won and had some success. I'm in the group that can't go out in the regionals right now and win right away or go out on tour or go into the Team USA events and win them. Maybe I can do that at one time, but I'm not on that level right now.


Were you surprised when Anthony Chapman won the national amateur championship in 1992?

I bowled with him for two years, and I saw the talent that he had. But the thing that impressed me the most was his mental game and way he carried himself. He was so ready for success.

It wasn't like he was super-driven for success or anything, but his personality was such that it came so easily to him. It was like nothing was out of the question. If he got on, he could just let it ride. The pressure situations for some young guys are going to get to them. But they just didn't with him.

His attitude is so laid back, so casual. He could throw 279 and go play a video game or talk to somebody and come back and throw a 280. None of it phased him. He'd see his name up on the top in college tournaments or wherever, and it never seemed to phase him. I just figured that he had what it takes for big success.

I was a little surprised that it happened so suddenly. He was still in college when he did that. But I've always thought that big things were going to happen for Tony.


Do you see him as a national touring player?

If he wants to, he could do that. I'm not sure what he wants to do right now; I think he's still finishing school.

With that Team USA experience, if he wanted to be a top amateur bowler and bowl in the High Rollers and the Super Hoinke and travel around to all the amateur tournaments, he could be a factor in those.

In fact, when I go to those, a lot of the guys I see are Team USAers and top amateurs and they're always asking me because they know he's from my area: "Where's Tony? Why is he not bowling in this?" I say, "I don't know. Maybe he'll bowl in this some day."


How do you deal with pressure?

I usually just try to concentrate and focus really hard. I take a deep breath and really focus on my mark and stay down.

A lot of it is just experience. When I was younger, I would do some things wrong under pressure—my ball speed would go way down or I'd pull out of the shot or I'd squeeze it. I've had chances in the past to win tournaments and I'd throw a terrible shot.

I remember one time I had the first 11 [strikes] and I was leading a pro spot qualifier and I don't know what happened, but everything humanly possible went wrong. I ended up getting five—I missed the headpin to the left! I was so nervous. I was 19 or something like that, and I ended up losing to Jeff Harding by about eight pins. I was really disappointed.

I've had a lot of bad things happen like that. It took me a long time to bowl 300. I left a 5-pin the first time I shot 299! I don't know if I spun the ball or what; I thought I threw it good.

But after a while you just learn, Hey, don't get too excited—this is what you need to make a good shot. You just learn from your past mistakes. That's what I try to draw upon now. It's still hard when you're not throwing the ball well—when you're struggling.


Do the different lane conditions—from center to center and from house conditions to those on the PBA Tour—create frustrations for you?

It's a big factor in deciding if you want to dedicate everything to bowling or not. After a while, it just wore on me. You get tired of hearing everybody say, "Oh, that guy got lucky again." or "Those damn lefties."

I'm not saying that everybody does that. I really enjoy bowling in this area because most of the guys are really good sportsmen. If you bowl well, they're right there to congratulate you.

In other areas, such as New Jersey and even Baltimore—I hate to say it—sometimes it seems like you don't always get the credit—there's some kind of an excuse or something.

That's a frustration which keeps me at a little bit of a distance from the game. I don't want to get to caught up in that.


What have been your biggest bowling thrills?

When I won back-to-back last year—that was a pretty big thrill. It felt good that you could keep it going like that. I like to win a tournament when you beat a lot of guys over the course of several games—that's always been more of a thrill for me.

Actually, one of my biggest thrills was when I won the National Junior Championship state finals and beat Danny Wiseman and John Gaines in the two stepladder matches. I think it was in 1985, and I went to Denver. That was exciting for me because I felt that I could actually compete with those guys—the year before, I'd see them do so many great things. I never really considered myself on that level.

Beating Penn State while I was at Maryland also was a big thrill.


What do you like to do outside of bowling?

I like to spend time with my girlfriend and with other friends. A lot of my close friends really aren't even bowlers. When the weather gets better, it's hard for me to stay away from the old golf club.


When did you get involved with golf?

I guess I was about 14 or 15 and my dad took me out a couple of times. I had some friends who like to golf, so we used to always go out and hack it around. Golf is kind of relaxing for me. I just enjoy being outside.


Is there anything else?

Actually, I do lift weights now. I've gotten into a pretty heavy workout program with a good friend of mine, Joe Ashley. He's worked out for a long time, and he threw me in there. I don't know if it's helping right now, but eventually I think it will pay dividends. So that's been a hobby of mine lately.


Do you read a lot about bowling?

I get Bowlers Journal, Bowling Digest, BOWL Magazine, and I watch TV, but I haven't been one who reads all the bowling instruction books, like Par Bowling. I haven't really kept up with that. I'm one of those people who, for the most part, when I'm there, it's all bowling and I'm usually pretty much all business.

But when I'm away from it, I tend to stay away from it for the most part. I like to have my free time away from it, so I'm not thinking about it or worrying about it. Otherwise, it could drive me crazy.


Do you do a lot of reading outside of bowling?

Not as much as I should. I really like reading, but it seems that with everything else going on, I don't get to consistently read as much as I'd like to.


If you were the czar of bowling, what would you change?

I would like to see it go back to more oil on the lanes and to where the equipment and the conditions wouldn't make such a difference. I'd like to see it be more like tennis or golf, where you have to practice. The golf pros don't drill up a golf club with 15 shafts; they go on the practice range, and they practice, practice, practice until they can do it. Of course, you change clubs every once in a while.


What are your immediate bowling goals?

I'd like to do even better in the High Roller and the Super Hoinke, and possibly bowl in a couple of the other [big money tournaments] if I can, financially. I'd like to have another good year and win again locally.

I like to win at least once a year; you feel like you're maintaining your top ranking by doing that. ·