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Gorches: Star power of final four just like good old days

Mark Williams bowls finals OlympiLanes Wednesday August 8 2013. | Jim Karczewski~Sun-Times Media

Mark Williams bowls in the finals at Olympia Lanes on Wednesday August 8, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 10, 2013 6:36AM



HAMMOND — When fans of individual professional sports like golf, tennis and bowling get to be my age (for the record, I’m 42 years old, but feel much older at times), they reminisce about the good old days of their particular sport of choice.

In golf, it’s the days when Tiger Woods was winning majors, or even further back when Jack Nicklaus was thriving. In fact, I still remember fondly his improbable victory in the 1986 Masters at 46 years old.

In tennis, it’s the days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, or further back to John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg. I still remember watching the classic Wimbledon final between McEnroe and Borg when I was a kid.

In bowling, it’s the 1980s and 1990s and even the early 2000s when the all-time title leaders were going head-to-head. Now, the Professional Bowlers Association is ruled by young guns such as Sean Rash, Jason Belmonte and Bill O’Neill, with the exception of a couple oldie-but-goodies.

One of those oldies was performing pretty well this week at Olympia Lanes during the PBA50 South Shore Open as Pete Weber led qualifying by a ton, then won his first five games on Thursday to sweep the first two matches and reach the final four.

And it was a final four like no other in the 16 years (14 straight) Olympia has hosted the PBA’s senior tour.

All four were PBA Hall of Famers with multiple national titles.

All four had won major titles on the national tour.

And each had faced each other multiple times back in the 80s and 90s.

It was enough to make any middle-aged fan think back to those halcyon days.

Weber and his 37 national titles lost to Mark Williams, who has won twice at Olympia Lanes before (2008 and 2009) in this same event.

“I love bowling here,” Williams said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever qualified outside the top eight here.”

All-time title leader Walter Ray Williams Jr. (47 titles on the national tour and the reigning senior player of the year) defeated Randy Pedersen in their semifinal match that came down to the final frame.

“This was a pretty solid top four,” said Walter Ray Williams Jr., who edged Mark Williams 217-198 when the latter needed a strike in the 10th frame to win, but left a debilitating pocket 7-10 split. “We’ve had a little bit of that this year (on the PBA50 tour) — it’s been star power.”

Yeah, but it really hadn’t happened in the history of this event at Olympia. In fact, with the exception of Mark Williams’ victories and a handful of other winners, this event has been known for first-time and lesser-known winners. There has been Mike Pullin in 2000, Vince Mazzanti in 2003, Roger Kossert in 2004, Gene Vincent in 2005, Jimmy Young in 2006, Don Sylvia in 2007 and the most improbable, Mike Henry in 2010.

After that last event, Olympia owner Nick Loxas made a comment that he “liked when guys like that won.”

On Thursday, he admitted that the fans probably like a top four of Williams Jr., Williams, Weber and Pedersen much better.

Weber and Pedersen, who is known as much for his ESPN analysis as his 13 titles during a hall of fame career, are in their first seasons on the PBA50, adding to an all-star cast of stars turning 50 in recent years like Amleto Monacelli, Bryan Goebel, Mike Edwards (who was also in Thursday’s final eight) and Bob Learn Jr.

“It’s a lot of fun out here,” Pedersen said. “It’s a little more light-hearted. Everyone wants to win, but it’s definitely more fun. I just need to figure out how to throw it better or not bowl anymore.”

That’s a little harsh considering he’s only bowled four PBA50 events and made the final four in two, winning in Dayton, Ohio, after taking seven years off from the national tour while still watching from the ESPN analyst’s chair.

“It’s harder watching,” Pedersen said about working for ESPN. “The booth is for guys who can’t beat the other guys anymore. I’d rather be competing. But being out here (on the PBA50) brings validity to my ESPN work. My problem at times is that my mind still thinks it’s the 80s or 90s.”

That’s like most of us middle-aged fans who remember the good old days.

The PBA50, with its star power, now looks a lot like the PGA senior tour in the early 1990s when Nicklaus turned 50 and won five majors in his first two years on tour.

It’s perfect for the fans, whwhoich packed Olympia Lanes for the finals.



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