It seemed as if it just was not meant to be for Bill O’Neill. Seven TV appearances into a 2008-2009 season that he would finish with a 223 average and nearly $100,000 in earnings, he still found himself without a title when he stepped up in the 10th against Jason Belmonte at the 2009 PBA Long Island Classic.
And by the time the match was over that afternoon, he also found himself lost in familiar disappointment. O’Neill fled to a corner of the set where he crouched down, clutched his hands together and stared down the pin he would see in his dreams that night – the 10 pin that withstood a great clutch shot to send him packing yet again.
With seven TV appearances in four months and not a single title to show for it, O’Neill must have felt as if he was playing the starring role in his own bowling-themed version of Groundhog Day. The scores and names of his opponents changed from week to week, but the song remained the same and it was a tune he had tired of long ago.
But another thing that remains the same, whether he’s banking $60,000 at the U.S. Open in Indianapolis or just trying to live through those seven tough afternoons of a season ago – is O’Neill belief in himself. And as he makes his World Men’s Championships debut in Munich this week, he will do so with the confidence of a bowler who finished last season in a tie for Player of the Year.
“My expectations are the same for the World Men’s Championships as they are every time I compete in any event,” O’Neill says, “and that is to win.”
O’Neill can talk that way these days. Coming off a season in which he bagged his first two titles, he is no longer just another player who says he expects to win; he is a player who knows he can win.
But like many great players before him, O’Neill is as certain of his ability to win as he is of the sacrifices he has made along the way.
“I really had no life in high school. I bowled every weekend, so there was no time to really enjoy my high school years,” he explains. “And these days I travel so much that I miss a lot of things that happen with my family and friends at home. It gets really hard at times, but I love what I do and I feel extremely lucky to be where I am at right now.”
O’Neill may feel lucky, but he also knows that it takes much more than luck alone to beat out players such as Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Michael Fagan for a spot on Team USA’s World Men’s Championships roster.
“It’s an incredible honor to be chosen for this team,” he says. “Last year in Puerto Rico was the first time I got to experience a Team USA event. I won a gold medal in the first event that I bowled, and just standing on the podium hearing the national anthem and seeing my teammates out there was an unbelievable experience.”