RENO, Nev. - James Kennedy of Plattsburg, Mo., only had one bowling ball in tow when he walked into the National Bowling Stadium for the first time, and that's all he needed to find his way to the top of the leaderboard in his United States Bowling Congress Open Championships debut.
The 40-year-old right-hander got off to a slow start but improved with each event. He finished with games of 238, 202 and 191 to set the Classified Singles bar high with a 631 series Sunday.
"I looked up at the champion banners while I was bowling and saw it only took 655 to win last year," said Kennedy, who added 472 in doubles and 453 in team for a 1,556 all-events total. "I've shot 660 before, so I knew it was definitely something I could do. I didn't quite get there, but I'm excited to be in the lead. I'd love for it to hang on and maybe be able to say I'm a champion out here."
Kennedy comes from a town of 2,500, so his success at the USBC Open Championships is certain to make headlines. He's looking forward to talking about his tournament experience while working at Glory Days Sports Bar and Grill and when he's back at Plattsburg Bowl, the town's six-lane bowling center.
His bowling career started about seven years ago, and until the end of last season, he had been using a friend's old ball. Having his own equipment has helped him improve, and despite a recent battle with carpal tunnel syndrome, he was able to alter his delivery to find success at the NBS.
"I've always wanted to bowl in this event, and I've been looking forward to being here since the group from Plattsburg added a third team and asked me to bowl," Kennedy said. "I heard a little about what it was going to be like, but the whole experience was better than I thought it would be. It was all really exciting."
In the Regular Division on Sunday, tournament veteran Richard Thomas of Middleton, Wis., celebrated his 23rd Open Championships appearance with a 2,051 all-events total, the second-highest of his career.
Thomas shot 737 in team, 667 in doubles and 647 in singles to move past Michael Henry of Brunswick, Ohio, who previously held the lead with 1,948.
"Even though I knew today was going to be a different lane condition, I came in with confidence because I was throwing the ball well," said Thomas, who shot 2,086 at the 2008 event in Albuquerque, N.M. "The lanes hooked a little more today and transitioned faster, and it took some time to catch up with the changes. Toward the end, I decided to slow down and move in, and I was able to finish strong."
The 42-year-old right-hander regularly bowls in early March and has been fortunate enough to see his name at the top of the leaderboard before, including Saturday after he led Sport Bowl Pro Shop into the Regular Team lead with a 3,038 total.
There's no question Thomas will return to Middleton Sport Bowl, where he's the general manager, and keep an eye on the standings, but he knows it's early in the event and there are bigger scores to come.
"It's always nice to lead this tournament, whether it's the first week or the last," Thomas said. "Sure, the money is different if you win, but it's definitely fun to see your name on the leaderboard. Even though I left some pins out there, I am pleased with my score no matter what."
Presenting sponsors for the 2013 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.