United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Jeff Richgels of Oregon, Wis., entered the Baton Rouge River Center on Friday night with a relaxed mind and a prepared team looking to successfully defend its title at the USBC Open Championships.
After being introduced as the reigning Regular Team champions, Richgels and his Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1 teammates set their game plan into motion. They got off to a slow start with a 947 game, more than 100 pins behind their target for the opener, but bounced back quickly with a 1,188 effort.
For the second-consecutive year, the stage was set for a dramatic ending, but the accomplished group fell short, finishing with 1,062 for a 3,197 total, which is good for 14th place. Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 of La Crosse, Wis., leads with 3,401.
Last year at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1 closed with a 1,281 game, the highest team game in 109 years of Open Championships competition, and cruised to the title with a 3,473 total.
Mike Shady, who has posted an all-events score of 1,900 or better in all 16 of his Open Championships appearances, led the way for Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1 this year with a 675 series Friday. He was followed by Gail Myers Jr. (655), Richgels (643), Marc McDowell (639) and Steve Richter (585). Thousands of bowling fans tuned in to watch the action live on BOWL.com, while hundreds more filled the bleachers at the River Center.
"It took a lot longer for the lanes to open up," said Richgels, a five-time Open Championships titlist who made his 31st tournament appearance. "It took longer for the pattern to break down here as compared to what we saw each time we practiced. This is a brand new surface, so it takes a little longer. I don't regret anything we did. I think we had the right game plan. We didn't get a lot of breaks the first game, our carry was bad and we missed a few spares. I preach being process-oriented as opposed to results-oriented, and I thought our process was good. You can't take the lead every year."
Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1, formerly Smith Barney 1 of Madison, Wis., has been together for a number of years now, first making waves as a team in 2005, when the Open Championships made its first to Baton Rouge. That year, Richgels and Richter claimed the Regular Doubles title and led the group to the Team All-Events crown.
The team's on-lane communication is a huge strength, and it was on display as they attempted to navigate the challenging USBC Sport-certified lane condition at the River Center this year.
Although they are getting older, they boast enough experience, camaraderie and success to compensate for any slowing down.
"We're all getting older, and there are teams that bowl this tournament that are more talented at the moment," said Richgels, who was inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame in 2011. "Not that we don't have a lot of good bowlers here, but I also don't think there is any 10-person group that works together better than us. We're all great friends. We've been bowling together for eons, and we all throw the ball within the same range of rev rate and speed. That allows us to be able to play the lanes together. We're like a family. That's our biggest source of strength. It's brotherly love. We're not done."
Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 2 also had a good night, finishing with a 3,057 total. Michael Walters led the way with a 734 series and was joined by Thomas Howery (618), Dan Goepfert (581), John Wittkowske (564) and Bret Faulkner (560).
After finally having the chance to compete on the tournament lanes, Richgels, an award-winning bowling writer, has an added respect for the current leaders and their 3,401 team performance.
"There was less hook in the front of the lane, and we couldn't get the ball to pick up in a predictable way to make the move," Richgels said. "We weren't able to until we could break down the front of the lane. That's what killed us. I'm more impressed with the 3,401 after bowling than I was before. I think even if lane 12 had been as nice as lane 11, we probably would've shot somewhere between 3,325 and 3,350. That's heck of a score. In my opinion, it's a bigger score than 3,473 last year."
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.