Reflecting on his victory at the 2009 United States Bowling Congress Masters, John Nolen uses phrases like "magical" and "something special" to describe that week.
When Nolen arrives in Reno, Nev., to defend his title, he knows he will need some of that magic to return in 2010.
"Boy that was a pretty magical week last year," said Nolen, who led qualifying, went undefeated in match play and then defeated Danny Wiseman, 202-193, to win the title. "It was probably the best week of bowling I've had in my life. I look back at it now and tell myself that I know I can get it done no matter how hard the lanes are."
Nolen again will take on a field of the country's top professional and amateur players in the 2010 USBC Masters, one of the Lumber Liquidators Professional Bowlers Association Tour's four major championships.
Competition begins Feb. 9 with qualifying at the National Bowling Stadium and concludes with the live ESPN finals Feb. 14 at 3 p.m. EST.
As for his chances of repeating as champion, a feat last accomplished by Billy Welu in 1965, Nolen said anything is possible.
"I have the confidence in my own ability to get it done, but I have to stay in the present and force my opponents to make good shots," said Nolen, who will be seeded directly into the 64-player match-play bracket as defending champion. "I think any of the 64 players have a chance to win. It's just about hitting a hot streak at the right time."
Nolen is currently in the midst of his first season as an exempt player on the PBA Tour and after 10 events he ranked No. 54 on the points list. He knows he has proven he can win on Tour, but it's dealing with the pressure of winning again that has been his Achilles' heel.
"For awhile there, I put way too much pressure on myself as far as trying to win again," Nolen said. "The biggest challenge has been dealing with unrealistic goals instead of just going out and bowling the best that I can. I got wrapped up in wanting to hold another trophy because that's the dream for me."
With his mental game now in check, Nolen feels like the time could be right for him to break through again and said he's looking forward to the challenge the Masters presents.
"No matter what happens, I'm guaranteed to take home a prize check, so I've already won in that respect," Nolen said. "I'm just going to go out there, and hopefully be fortunate enough to have good ball reaction. I've also got a little confidence in my back pocket that I can make some good shots. We'll see what happens."
All participants will bowl two five-game blocks of qualifying on Feb. 9 and 10 before the first cut is made to the top 25 percent. After another five games the morning of Feb. 11, the top 63 bowlers will join Nolen in match play, which continues until the top four bowlers are determined Feb. 12 for the TV finals.
Check back on BOWL.com for video features leading up to the USBC Masters. Here's a schedule of what to expect:
Jan. 29 — Steve Wunderlich looks back on the 25th anniversary of his Masters title in 1985
Feb. 1 — Andrew Koff on the experience of bowling the Masters as a high school athlete
Feb. 3 — Del Ballard Jr. on the difficulty of winning the event twice
Feb. 5 — Liz Johnson and Kelly Kulick on a woman’s chances of winning the Masters
Feb. 8 — John Nolen on being the defending champion