Wisconsin bowler overcomes injury, celebrates 50th appearance at USBC Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro and Makinzey Marracco
USBC Communications

For Butch Luther of Franksville, Wisconsin, this year at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships marked a big milestone.

Luther was the first of 23 bowlers scheduled to celebrate 50 years of participation during the 2019 event at the South Point Bowling Plaza. To him, that means reaching a lifelong goal.

The 74-year-old was supposed to celebrate the milestone last year in Syracuse, New York, but he had to overcome a minor setback - rotator cuff surgery.

"My 50th was supposed to happen last year, but I completely tore my rotator cuff, so I didn't bowl at all," Luther said. "I couldn't touch a ball from January to late August or early September. It just takes a little bit of time. It actually isn't completely healed yet, but for what I need it for, it's just fine."

After a special march to the lanes Friday, Luther was presented with a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the milestone.

Then, despite his healing injury, the right-hander threw games of 196, 203 and 163 for a 562 series, just shy of his 197.4 career average on the championship lanes.

"I just had trouble hanging onto the ball," Luther said. "Once I hung onto it, it was fine, I just dropped too many of them."

While conditions are different this year, there is much more to enjoy than just what happens on the lanes.

All the local entertainment makes Las Vegas Luther's favorite championship location. He was accompanied by his wife and his cousin, who lives in Los Angeles and also makes the trip out to visit the city with him.

Luther made his debut at the Open Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1965. Though he missed the next few years while serving in the military, he has been a loyal competitor since 1970.

His success on the Open Championships lanes includes a noteworthy overall performance in 1971 that helped him qualify for the 1971 U.S. Team Trials, where he finished third and earned an invitation to represent Team USA at the 1971 World Championships.

He went on to win three medals in that event and earned the honor of bowling in the White House with President Richard Nixon.

"I don't bowl as much anymore," Luther said. "But, I bowl this one, state, senior state and a match play tournament back in Racine. I've been retired for about nine years, and I now drive for Lyft and Uber to support my golf and bowling habits."

During doubles and singles Saturday at the Bowling Plaza, Luther added sets of 505 in singles and 486 in doubles for a 1,553 all-events total.

Reaching 100,000 pins on the tournament lanes is his next goal. Through 50 years, he has toppled 88,054 pins, a 196.9 career average.

Along with the 23 bowlers reaching five decades of participation this year in Las Vegas, three will bowl for the 60th time, and Frank Clay of Crystal Lake, Illinois, and Clinton Zavakos of nearby Henderson, Nevada, each will celebrate 65 appearances. Through 2018, only 12 competitors have reached the 65-year mark.

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