Defending champion Walter Ray Williams Jr. unbeaten at 2018 USBC Senior Masters


In nearly 40 years of Professional Bowlers Association competition, Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Oxford, Florida, has been able to find continued success by navigating through constant changes in equipment and oil patterns and striving to be as versatile and prepared as possible.

This year, he is one of the early frontrunners in the PBA50 Player of the Year race and looking to pull ahead with a win at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Senior Masters, where he is one of 16 unbeaten players at the Sam's Town Bowling Center. There's also 16 competitors remaining in the Elimination Bracket.

Williams, the defending champion this week, is looking to become the first person since Tom Baker in 2007 to successfully defend a USBC Senior Masters title. He also can become the event's first three-time winner, having won for the first time in 2014.

"I'm in the Winners Bracket after two matches, which is good, because that's where you want to be," Williams said. "Being in the (elimination) bracket is the long road. I've done that before, but I'd rather not have to go that route. If I can win six straight matches, I lead the tournament and only have to win one match on TV. That's the ultimate goal, but I need to take it one match at a time, and hopefully, I can continue winning. I had a couple good matches today, that were close after two games, but I was fortunate to win."

Among the other winners are USBC Hall of Famers Norm Duke of Clermont, Florida, and Harry Sullins of Chesterfield, Michigan, 2017 PBA50 Rookie of the Year Michael Haugen of Phoenix, new PBA Hall of Famer Ron Mohr of nearby North Las Vegas, Nevada, and No. 64 seed Michael Calvin of Warren, Michigan, who won a one-game roll-off to earn his place in match play, after tying for the final spot.

Competition resumes Saturday at noon Eastern with both winners-bracket and elimination-bracket matches, and Calvin is excited for a chance to keep the momentum going, even if his first match Saturday will be against Duke, who is aiming to become the third player to win both the USBC Masters and Senior Masters.

"I feel great, and I'm excited," said Calvin, the 2018 Michigan State Senior Masters champion. "This is more than I ever expected, and I probably won't sleep well, but tomorrow, I'll come out on the fresh, and I'll have a shot. I realize I'm bowling Norm Duke, one of the greatest of all-time, but I'll give it my best."

The Senior Masters is the premier event for USBC members age 50 and older, and the winner this year will take home $20,000.

When Williams returns to the lanes at Sam's Town on Saturday, he'll face the red-hot Don Breeden of Urbandale, Iowa, who averaged 215.13 in qualifying and then tossed sets of 775 and 781 in wins over Steve Smith of San Diego and Brian LeClair of Delmar, New York, respectively.

This week, Williams used one of his newest tools, a work-in-progress two-handed approach, in tandem with the classic style and dead-eye spare shooting that have helped him win more than 100 combined PBA titles, to average more than 222 in qualifying. He then dispatched Australia's Andrew Frawley (750-611) and Robert Brown of Cody, Wyoming (683-593), to remain unbeaten.

Having the two-handed approach gives Williams another option to help him stay competitive in an ever-changing game. In addition to PBA50 events, he still competes regularly in PBA Tour and PBA regional competition.

"I'd been trying out bowling two-handed, and this year, I decided to get semi-serious about it and work at it a little bit," said Williams, who said he bowled seven of the 15 qualifying games this week two-handed. "I've got the fundamentals down, and now it's about minimizing my misses. I think that's what's holding me back from doing it a lot more. When the lanes break down and get a little nicer, my scores are probably just as good, if not better."

All 272 competitors at the 2018 Senior Masters bowled 15 games over three days to determine the 63 bowlers who joined Williams in the double-elimination match-play bracket.

All rounds of qualifying and match play are being broadcast live on BowlTV, and the five players who advance through the bracket will battle for the title and $20,000 top prize in the stepladder finals Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Now 58, the USBC and PBA Hall of Famer said he'll continue to practice bowling two-handed, as being multi-dimensional is a key to success.

"It's a matter of knowing when to do it and doing it right," Williams said. "If I can continue to get better at it, which I am, I think it will help me continue to compete with the young guys. Right now, though, I've still got a lot to go, because they're really, really good. It gives me a little something else to look at. Obviously, one-handed is my forte, but when the lanes open up a little bit, it's a very viable way for me to strike."

Coming into the 2018 Senior Masters, Haugen is just ahead of Williams in the PBA50 points list. The 2018 PBA50 season is nearing its halfway point, and in five events, Williams has three runner-up finishes.

Up next is the Suncoast PBA Senior U.S. Open presented by Storm, being held next week at Las Vegas' Suncoast Bowling Center. Haugen is the defending champion, and Williams never has won the event.

"I'm having a really good season, and I'd like to be the player of the year, but I need to have some really good finishes," said Williams, the PBA50 Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013 and PBA Player of the Year on seven occasions. "It would be great to win here, and we also have a lot tournaments left this season. I just want to keep bowling well and keep plugging along and maybe improve a little bit more."