Tinsel and Rot (current name change being considered: Bowling and Death) continues its recent theme with its report from this year's U.S. Open Pro-Am in North Brunswick, NJ. As devoted readers (a redundant phrase if ever there was one) will no doubt recall, last year's trip culminated in a glorious photo op with PDW himself, Mr. Pete Weber. The goal for this year's trip was some up close and personal time with PDW's rival, and maybe the greatest bowler of all time (certainly Top 3, with Dick Weber and Earl Anthony), Mr. Walter Ray Williams Jr. Walter Ray is not only the owner of 42 PBA titles (most ever)--earning over $3 million in the process--but he is also a six-time world horseshoe pitching champion and a member of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America Hall of Fame. Aint that a man?
Walter Ray is nearly the exact opposite of the high-energy, showboaty Pete Weber, as documented in "A League of Ordinary Gentlemen", a documentary you should clearly put on your precious little Netflix queue, if only to see Hall of Famer Wayne Webb's admission to fellow bowler Randy Pederson that it may be time to call it quits. But it's a fine movie for other reasons, as it documents the "rebranding" of the PBA by a bunch of Microsoft guys and the struggles along the way--both for the league and bowlers such as Webb, an all-time great who has to face that he has no place on the tour anymore and must head back to his part-time karaoke business to make ends meet. And the movie also plays up the rivalry between the brash PDW and the timid Walter Ray, the latter of which travels by RV while on tour. Another classic scene shows Walter Ray chipping the ice off his RV. The juxtaposition of a man who is probably the top player in his sport climbing up to the roof to clean the ice off his RV's roof is a fitting coda for the movie. Go rent it; it's good.
Anyway, back to the U.S. Open in North Brunswick. Monday was Pro-Am day, where you, Mr. or Mrs. Average Bowler, gets a chance to bowl alongside PBA Tour professionals for a very reasonable sum. What other sport will do that for you? Just imagine how much you'd have to go through to shoot hoops with Gilbert Arenas, catch a pass from Peyton Manning, or misplay routine grounders with Alex Rodriguez. If you could even get near these people, you'd probably have to pay several thousand bucks to hang with them. But at the U.S. Open you could do that for as little as $69 (or as high as $189, plus you'd get a free ball).
Of course, I once again forgot to sign up, so I just paid $25 and spent the day wandering around the lanes, securing autographs and a few pictures. And that was fun, too, until a couple of amateurs pitched a fit when I accidentally knocked over a Smirnoff Ice (or something clear and alcoholic), thus creating a "situation," because this made the area behind the lanes sticky. Of course, this could create a potentially catastrophic situation with bowling shoes and your slide foot. If someone loses the U.S. Open this week because of a sticky shoe, I will feel awful. Right now, I'm OK with it. Sorry, but OK. Shouldn't have beverages in the lane area anyway, amateurs.
But up until that point, it was a fun day punctuated with a constant barrage of the greatest sound in sports: when the ball hits the pocket dead on. It looks a little like this (bad photo quality, but you get the point):
That's Hall of Famer Brian Voss knockin' 'em down. And here's future Hall of Famer and current color commentator for ESPN Norm Duke going wide in what might be my new favorite picture:
And if all goes right, you'll see another personal fave (and featured subject in "A League of Ordinary Gentlemen") Chris "Master of the Flying Eagle" Barnes in the Hall of Fame one day, too. Here, he demonstrates the proper form for you kids out there:
But the best approach on the tour is currently the mighty Jason Couch. Check out the height:
And in between watching the pros, it was photo time with Barnes and Duke:
And, yes, mission was accomplished with the snapping of this photo of James Andrew and Walter Ray:
By the time I hopped on the bus back to the New Brunswick train station and, eventually, home, I had met the Sunday afternoon heroes I wanted to meet (including PDW again, to have him sign the photo of the two of us from last year, which his wife, who took the pictures, correctly noted featured no smiles at all) and was the proud owner of a bowling pin signed by 25 PBA pros, which joins its brother from last year and poses with my ball for the team photo that now wraps up this entry.
I'll talk about something other than bowling soon, I promise.