Hardly anyone knew who Wes Malott was the moment he threw his first shot on a PBA telecast at the 2004 PBA World Championship in Ypsilanti, Mich. The Wes Malott that bowling fans met that day was a guy who had just won the Regional Players Championship and had made a little more than nine grand in his first season on tour.
What fans did not know, though, was that he also was the guy who blitzed Walter Ray Williams Jr. with a 290 the night before to make the show.
Malott’s first experience bowling under the hot lights of TV cameras was a rather cold shower for the man who would soon be known as “The Big Nasty.” He did not just find himself bowling on TV for the first time; he found himself doing so inside an arena packed with fans screaming on behalf of their hometown hero, Mika Koivuniemi, who lived just three miles away from the venue.
In Koivuniemi, Malott faced a man so sure of victory over the newcomer that when asked how to say “World Champion” in his native Finnish, he answered “Mika Koivuniemi.” You couldn’t blame Mika for his moxie; the man had already banked season earnings of $200,000 before the lights flickered on in the arena that day.
When the match was over, Malott would never forget why there was a Big Finn before there was a Big Nasty. By then, the only thing on his mind was that 2-10 split he coughed up after hanging tough enough to lead Koivuniemi going into a must-strike ninth frame. One shot later, he was making plans for next week and wondering what it would take to rinse his mouth of that first bitter taste of a televised loss.
Malott will face another debut in his career at the 2010 World Men’s Championships in Munich — his international debut as a member of Team USA. But the Wes Malott who throws his first shot in Munich will have long ago grown out of the shoes he wore in that doomed debut of 2004. That Wes Malott will be the owner of six PBA titles and a PBA Player of the Year award. And he will be the “King” who kept his throne with the help of a couple of televised 300 games.
“I now know how to control my emotions and heart a bit more,” Malott says of the competitor he has become. “Your first couple of shows are like starting a new job. The first couple days are a bit nerve-racking, but after that it just becomes your job and you do the best you can.”
As the only first-time Team USA member among the six bowlers competing in the 2010 World Men’s Championships, the job that Malott takes on in Munich will be every bit as new as the job he took on in Michigan six years ago. But if his teammates expect to give him the rookie treatment, they might want to reconsider.
“I’m kind of like Dez Bryant. I’m not here to carry anyone else’s equipment!” Malott jokes. “Remember that, T.J. and Barnes!”
As for the nerves, Malott understands by now that pressure comes with the gig.
“I don’t expect my first shot in Munich to be nearly as nerve-racking as my first shot back in 2004 with all the experience I’ve gained in the past seven years,” Malott says. “But I could be wrong. I’ve never been in this environment and I can’t wait to experience it.”
An “experience” is exactly what Patrick Allen expects Malott to encounter in Munich. Allen, a member of the 2008 team that won the world championship in Thailand, knows that the environment Malott will find in Munich is unlike anything he has been through before.
“It is not like the PBA Tour at all,” Allen says. “It is a loud, hostile environment with a lot of people screaming and yelling and going crazy. Even lane courtesy is different; they only give you one lane in WTBA competition. It’s like a ball player going up to the majors and having a curve ball thrown at him.”
But if determination is any indicator of Malott’s ability to focus through those distractions, he at least has that much going for him.
“I do not want to let my teammates down, or my country,” Malott insists. “I have never had this opportunity before and I want to make the most of it.”