SYRACUSE, N.Y. - As if competing for one of the most coveted titles in bowling, and a major on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour at that, didn't create enough anxiety for the bowlers at the United States Bowling Congress Masters, holding it in a one-of-a-kind venue was sure to speed up a heartbeat or two.
But, with the USBC Masters and USBC Open Championships being held on the same stage for the first time since 2011, Masters competitors had the opportunity to get comfortable on the lanes at the Oncenter Convention Center before taking their shots at the Masters trophy and $30,000 top prize.
Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, and Steve Kloempken of Pleasant View, Utah, were among the bowlers who competed in the 2018 Open Championships prior to the start of the Masters, which gave them a few days and nine games to familiarize themselves with the 48-lane custom installation, layout of the facility and surrounding Syracuse community.
Bowling well at the Open Championships also was good for the confidence, as both bowlers saw their names at the top of the Open Championships leaderboard, before cruising into the 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket at the Masters.
The 107-day Open Championships kicked off at the Oncenter Convention Center on March 24, and Anderson's two-team group was among the first of more than 7,500 teams scheduled to compete. They left Salt City with the lead in every event, and Anderson still is in the top 20 in Regular Team (sixth), Regular Doubles (13th) and Regular All-Events (16th).
"Part of the reason I chose to go with the group I did is because they were going before the Masters, and I thought it would be beneficial to come get a feel for things," said Anderson, a 22-year-old right-hander and member of Team USA. "I personally don't feel like I bowled to the best of my ability at the Open Championships, so I definitely came in wanting to perform a little better. I was really comfortable right from the start at the Masters, and when the pattern is a little tougher, it helps to be comfortable early on."
During Masters qualifying, Anderson never fell out of the top 15, and he averaged more than 216 on a challenging 40-foot oil pattern to earn the No. 3 seed for match play. In the opening round of match play, he defeated Matt Sanders of Evansville, Indiana, 639-590.
Kloempken, a USBC Hall of Famer, was able to bowl in both tournaments in one trip and quickly made his presence known at the Oncenter Convention Center.
The 47-year-old right-hander rolled the first perfect game of the 2018 Open Championships on the way to a 707 series and teamed with fellow former Team USA member David Haynes of Las Vegas (746) to claim the lead in Regular Doubles with a 1,453 total.
Kloempken is a two-time titlist at the Open Championships - Team All-Events in 1993 and Regular All-Events in 2003 - and he owns a 300 at the Masters, so he's no stranger to success on the championship stage, but the extra time in Syracuse still was helpful and appreciated.
"It's nice to be able to have that familiarity with the environment, even when it comes to simple things like knowing where to park, where to get food and just knowing your way around town," Kloempken said. "Being able to spread things out and have the extra time here definitely helped feel more comfortable and less rushed."
Selecting their competition dates was strategic for Kloempken and his group and initiated by Alex Hoskins of Brigham City, Utah, who finished third at the 2017 Masters and planned to return to try and improve on that effort in 2018.
The game plan also was effective for Hoskins, who cracked the top five in Regular All-Events at the Open Championships with a 2,053 nine-game total and then advanced to the 64-player Masters bracket as the No. 56 seed. Hoskins defeated Denmark's Thomas Larsen in the first round of match play, 696-620.
Kloempken won his first match, too, topping Japan's Shota Kawazoe, 607-547.
"I don't get to put in as many games each year as I used to, but if I know the Open Championships is coming up, I spend two or three months making sure my equipment is ready and everything fits right, and that I put in the time to make sure I'm ready to compete," Kloempken said. "When I found out the Masters was going to be right after it, I was excited because I knew if I was ready for the Open Championships, I'd definitely be ready for the Masters."
2018 USBC MASTERS TIDBITS
Full house. The 2018 Masters began with a sellout field of 360 bowlers, representing 19 countries and 43 states. There were 69 entries from the host state of New York.
International flavor. The field this week at the Oncenter Convention Center included 45 international competitors. Canada had the most with 11 entries.
Lady luck. Seven women competed in the 2018 Masters - 2017 Professional Women's Bowling Association Rookie of the Year Daria Pajak of Poland; Colombia's Clara Guerrero; three-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois; Team USA member Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York; Ashly Galante of Palm Harbor, Florida; Latvia's Diana Zavjalova; and former Team USA member Ranae Janssen of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
All but Jansson are members of the PWBA and just two weeks away from the start of the 2018 PWBA season, which will begin April 26 in Las Vegas.
- Been there. Nine past champions competed in the 2018 Masters, and the list included defending champion Jason Belmonte (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017), Anthony Simonsen (2016), Tom Hess (2011), Walter Ray Williams Jr. (2004, 2010), John Nolen (2009), Sean Rash (2007), Doug Kent (1991, 2006), Parker Bohn III (2001) and Norm Duke (1993).
- HOF. Six USBC Hall of Famers were on the lanes this week in Syracuse - Steve Kloempken (2016), Liz Johnson (2015), Doug Kent (2014), Parker Bohn III (2008), Walter Ray Williams Jr. (2005), Norm Duke (2002).
Age is just a number. The oldest competitor at the 2018 Masters was 79-year-old Ernest Bourque of Acushnet, Massachusetts. The youngest was 17-year-old Jalen Mosely of Indianapolis, who made his second Masters appearance. Mosely finished tied for 13th place at the 2017 event in Las Vegas.
- Mix 'em up. The Masters field traditionally includes the best amateur and professional bowlers from around the world. There were 180 amateurs in the field this week. The last amateur to win the Masters was Arizona's Brett Wolfe in 2002.
All qualifying and match play rounds of the Masters are being covered live on Xtra Frame, the PBA's online bowling channel. For subscription information, visit PBA.com.