Young Simonsen making name for himself

GARLAND, Texas - Professional Bowlers Association Tour rookie Anthony Simonsen grew up 10 minutes from AMF Garland Lanes, and he's looking to make history in front of his family and hometown friends.

A win this week at the 2015 Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open would make the 18-year-old the youngest PBA national champion, a distinction he thought he was in position to have after recent success at the Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship in Las Vegas.

Simonsen, a right-hander who uses a two-handed approach, teamed with Connor Pickford of Charlotte, North Carolina, to earn the top seed for the event's championship round, but since the finals won't take place until Dec. 19, a victory would mean he would miss the record by a couple of days.

The current mark belongs to PBA and United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Florida, who claimed his first title in 1983 at 18 years, 11 months and three days.

While many 18-year-old bowlers are focused on youth tournaments and preparing for college bowling, Simonsen is three years removed from a challenging decision to pursue a new level of competition and prize money in the adult ranks. Not long after some success in PBA regional competition, he joined the PBA as a wide-eyed 17-year-old.

"Leaving juniors was something I thought about for a while, and after talking to a few people, I decided it was best," Simonsen said. "Deciding to join the PBA was another important decision, but it was an easy one. I had cashed in two PBA regionals for the year, and there was one about an hour away, but I had to join if I wanted to bowl. I already knew I could compete, and the cash ratio is pretty good (1:3), so there wasn't too much to think about."

Simonsen quickly proved himself with two PBA regional victories on the way to PBA Southwest Region Rookie of the Year honors for the 2014 season. He followed those with a Regular Doubles win on bowling's biggest stage at the 2015 USBC Open Championships, an event with more than 110 years of history and tradition and more than 40,000 participants annually.

The Open Championships victory not only earned Simonsen a place on the national map, it also served as a tribute to his mother, who died about a month before he and Mark Sleeper Jr. of Kaufman, Texas, surged to the top of the leaderboard at the 127-day event in El Paso, Texas.

"I'm one of those people who looks at life as everything happens for a reason," Simonsen said. "Winning the eagle and being able to dedicate that to her made that experience even more special."

Simonsen's mother was instrumental in giving him the confidence to leave his youth bowling days behind him, and he knows she'd be proud of his growing list of accomplishments.

"She knew bowling was what I loved, and she did everything in her power to get me where I needed to go when it came to bowling," Simonsen said. "When we talked about my decision to leave juniors, she told me to do what made me happy."

This week at the U.S. Open, Simonsen will have the support of his father and brother as he battles through 24 games of qualifying, looking to be one of 92 bowlers who will advance from the initial 273-player field.

"If I could win this week, it would go down as one of the best experiences ever, plus, anytime you can win a tournament in front of your friends and family, it's pretty special," said Simonsen, who averaged 217 and was tied for 39th place after Tuesday's first qualifying round. "When I first realized I could possibly become the youngest PBA national champion in history, I made sure to bowl in every event that awarded a national title. Being able to win at any point would be amazing, but holding a record would mean so much, too."

Simonsen's recent doubles run with Pickford came as part of The South Point Bowling Plaza PBA Fall Classic at the new South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas. The December finals will be part of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada.

Having dedicated himself to bowling for a living, Simonsen will hit other top local and national events. He also hasn't given up on his dreams of representing the United States as a member of Junior Team USA or Team USA, which he can accomplish through the USBC Team USA Trials, held each January.

Right now, he's focused on the task at hand and enjoying every moment of bowling in a major event minutes from home.

"It definitely has been a fun run," Simonsen said. "I had a feeling I could compete at this level, and to come out and get a couple of early wins made me even happier with my decision. I am excited to be able to chase my childhood dreams, and I'm hoping for another successful week at the U.S. Open."

BarnesChris200x200Barnes watching - Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, isn't bowling in the U.S. Open this week as he recuperates from back surgery four weeks ago, but he's been at the bowling center to help his wife, Lynda, one of seven women and five Professional Women's Bowling Association members competing in Garland this week.

"It's bittersweet that the tournament is here, especially since I did well the last few times we had events in the area," said Chris Barnes, the 2005 U.S. Open champion. "But it's nice to be able to watch Lynda, and she's bowling well. She's definitely inside the cash number so far, and she has a chance at the top 24. That's all you can ask for."

Barnes is two weeks away from starting his rehabilitation, and he initially doesn't expect to be able to compete again until January. For now, he's enjoying seeing the event from a different perspective.

"I miss bowling this event, especially with the A-B-C format with no re-oils," Barnes said. "Seeing it from this perspective really makes me admire the skill some of these guys have. As a competitor, I usually have to watch in a different way, so I've enjoyed that aspect of it."

BurkettJohn200x200Former pitcher John Burkett in field - John Burkett of Southlake, Texas, just finished his PBA50 Tour rookie season, but he is best-known from his 16 seasons as a major-league pitcher.

He pitched for the San Francisco Giants, Florida Marlins, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox. His career that began in 1987 and ended with his retirement in 2003 at age 38.

The two-time MLB All-Star is a lifelong bowler and competed in a few PBA events over the years, including the USBC Masters. As his 50th birthday approached, he set the wheels in motion for his second career as a professional athlete.

Fresh, burn and double-burn: The Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open has three squads for qualifying, with only the first squad bowling on a fresh oil each day.

During Tuesday's opening round, the top four scores were rolled on B squad but 13 of the top 20 came from the C squad, bowling on the double burn. B squad did produce six of the top 20 scores while only defending champion Wes Malott, in eighth place, made the top 20 bowling on fresh oil on A squad.

All competitors will bowl 24 qualifying games over three days in a rotation that allows them to experience each phase of lane transition - fresh, burn and double-burn, before the field is cut to the top 92 for eight additional games. The 32-game pinfall totals will determine the 24 players for round-robin match-play.