Ohio bowler handles pressure, takes lead at 2016 USBC Open

BOWL.com Article Image
RENO, Nev. - Brandon Novak of Chillicothe, Ohio, has enjoyed a consistent and successful decade on the lanes at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and he turned in the two highest sets of his career Friday to celebrate his 10th tournament appearance by taking the lead in Regular All-Events.

The 27-year-old right-hander needed two strikes in his final frame to secure the top spot, and he delivered three flush strikes to cap off a 260 game and 742 singles series. He preceded the memorable finale with sets of 703 in doubles and 688 in team for a 2,133 total. Jakob Butturff of Chandler, Arizona, previously held the lead with 2,124.

Since his tournament debut at the National Bowling Stadium in 2007, Novak has rolled just one set below 575 but hadn't been able to get past the 700 mark, until this week.

"I never thought this could happen, and I'm speechless," Novak said. "I've never had a big set out here, and right now, it feels like a big weight has been lifted."

Novak already had a bit of a hot hand, coming off a third-place finish at last week's Proprietors Cup event in Beavercreek, Ohio, where he tossed three perfect games, but he also got some good advice from some friends before taking the lanes at the NBS for doubles and singles Friday.

He talked to Team All-Events-leading Chad Roberts, Dan Higgins and Josh Conner, who gave him tips on where to play and what equipment to start with, and Novak also had the benefit of watching the group's success in person earlier Friday.

The trio, along with Tony Carson and Joe Bailey, cruised into the top spot in Team All-Events, and their overall performance included moving into second place in Regular Team, a second-place effort for Roberts and Higgins in Regular Doubles (1,395) and Roberts coming within one shot of raising the all-events bar prior to Novak's march to the lanes. Roberts settled into a tie for second place (now third) with a 2,122 total.

"Back home, we're all pretty competitive, but we also support each other, and what they were able to tell me really helped today," said Novak, who is the two-time defending champion at Kentucky's Bradley Open and made the top 12 at the USBC Masters in February. "I really just wanted to bowl the best I could, but it definitely helped having their scores to shoot at."

Novak is getting comfortable throwing big shots under pressure, and his growing resume includes three Professional Bowlers Association regional titles. He also is in position for a third consecutive top 10 finish in Regular Doubles at the Open Championships.

The 2012 PBA Central Region Rookie of the Year and Andrew Jordan of Columbus, Ohio, made a run at the doubles lead Friday before landing in sixth place with a 1,342 total. Greg Thomas of Irmo, South Carolina, and Christopher Hill of Franklin, Wisconsin, lead with 1,401.

Novak and Jordan finished eighth in doubles last year with a 1,358 effort and sixth at the NBS in 2014 with a 1,425 total.

The main difference between cracking the top 10 and taking the lead, though, is that the nerves don't end with the final shot on the lanes. Now, Novak must wait nearly a month to see if his score in 2016 is enough to claim a coveted eagle.

"I'll just take it one day at a time and hopefully be able to come away with an eagle," said Novak, who hones his skills at Chillicothe's Shawnee Lanes. "I know there's still a few good teams and a lot of great bowlers scheduled to come through, so I know it won't be an easy wait."

The 2016 Open Championships kicked off March 5 and will end its 129-day run July 11.

Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open/Women's Championships page.