One of bowling's signature events — the U.S. Open — will not happen this year. Last fall, the Bowling Proprietors Association of America cancelled the 2014 tournament due to a lack of sponsorship money. Last weekend, the bowling website The 11th Frame published an article that quoted a BPAA official who indicated the group was struggling to find sponsors for next year.
Citing the official, The 11th Frame reported the 2015 event was also canceled. But the BPAA is disputing that claim. In an email to Only A Game on Thursday, President Cathy DeSocio said, "As of today, the 2015 U.S. Open has not been cancelled."
Bill Littlefield was joined by PBA Bowler Jason Belmonte, one of the people concerned about the future of the Open and his sport.
BL: What was your initial reaction to the news that there may not be a U.S. Open in 2015?
JB: Well, I think the first thing that came to my mind — and I want to make this very, very clear — is that I'm not upset, per se, by the BPAA. I mean, these guys, they are bowling. These are the big guys in our industry. And having this event, it can only help the industry. So I certainly do not think it's due to a lack of effort or laziness. We just need to find that bridge between our sponsors and our sport that can make it a little bit more appealing — almost sex it up a little bit, so to speak.
BL: Of course there still are other elite bowling tournaments that will be happening. But tell us what's special about the U.S. Open.
JB: The U.S. Open is the most prestigious tournament that we have. It's our signature event — the hardest tournament in the world to win. And it also has a very long history, which, of course, we bowlers, we want to be a part of that history and be able to win it.
BL: You know better than I how important this particular tournament is, but are you concerned about the future of the sport?
JB: Oh, 100 percent. Of course I'm concerned. I mean every year that I lace my shoes up to do this sport for a living, it certainly becomes harder and harder to support my family financially. And the last few years, I guess you could probably say the last 20 years, our industry has been on a decline. Every day I wake up and hear that there's another tournament cancelled, and it certainly does worry me.
But you have to stay positive. There are over 70 million Americans that bowl every year, and worldwide, collectively, we are one of the most played sports in the world. I think there's only one sport in front of us, and that's soccer. So I feel like as a collective group, the bowling industry is really like this sleeping dragon and perhaps, you know, the cancelling of our prestigious and unique signature event is what's going to wake up the sleeping dragon.
BL: Jason, perhaps we've talked enough about business. Let's talk a little bit about actual bowling. You made news when you joined the PBA tour several years ago because you use a two-handed delivery. Tell us a little about how that style developed.
JB: It's very difficult to explain over the radio. But basically it's a two-handed delivery where normally you see that long, one-handed swing while I keep my left hand on the ball until the very last moment. Then I release it off the ball. It allows me to create a lot more rotation, a lot more curve to the ball, and I can generate a lot more power than a traditional player. Since my successes around the world have become greater, I've seen a lot more children and young adults attempt to take up the style.
I kind of don't want them to copy me. Otherwise they'll get too good, and they'll beat me. But it certainly is flattering, and, honestly, as far as I'm concerned there's no one way to throw the ball down the lane. You do what feels right and what scores the best for you.
This segment aired on May 10, 2014.