Past champion makes milestone appearance at 2019 USBC Open Championships

By Daniel Farish
USBC Communications

Mike Putzer of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is no stranger to the limelight at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

He was the Regular Singles champion and Regular All-Events runner-up at the 1976 event in Oklahoma City, but none of that success could help prepare him for the nerves and anticipation he'd feel heading into the 2019 tournament.

Surrounded by friends and family Friday at the South Point Bowling Plaza, the 70-year-old right-hander marched to the championship lanes for the 50th time in his career. He is one of 23 bowlers scheduled to reach the milestone this year, and he received a chevron, plaque and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the achievement.PutzerMikeFam2019OCForWeb250x140

"I've been nervous all week, and I'm really nervous as I sit here getting ready to bowl," Putzer said shortly before he hit the lanes for his team event. "But, having everyone here means a lot. My wife and daughters are on my pair tonight, and a bunch of family and friends came down from Wisconsin. It's just amazing."

Putzer grew up around the sport of bowling at Oshkosh's eight-lane Rec Lanes, owned by his father. The center opened in 1939 and closed in 2017. Putzer started bowling at age 7, and from that point on, the sport became a lifestyle.

In college, Putzer's educational focus was on accounting, but he made sure to spend any free time he had practicing at the local bowling center or traveling around the region to compete. Once college was over, he was left school with an important decision to make.

"I was really good at accounting, and one of my professors tried to talk me into furthering my education," Putzer said. "I said 'no.' I wanted to bowl full-time."

Putzer's career at the USBC Open Championships began well before the decision to bowl full-time, however.

At just 15 years old, he joined his father for the 1965 tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he only competed in doubles and singles. After a few years off, Putzer returned to the championship lanes in 1968 and only has missed three years since (1992, 2012 and 2015) due to health reasons.

At the 1976 Open Championships, Putzer put together a performance that left him atop the leaderboard in Regular Singles (758) and Regular All-Events (2,036). He rolled a 646 set in team and 632 in doubles to go along with his leading singles score.

Since he bowled during the early portion of the tournament that year, Putzer had to wait a long time to see if the scores would hold up.

"Back then, a lot of the top bowlers would bowl in the Open Championships before they bowled in the USBC Masters, but even after the Masters was over, I knew there were some talented guys left to bowl," Putzer said. "I never got comfortable with my leads."

Over the final two days of the 1976 tournament, Jim Lindquist of Rosemount, Montana, bowled sets of 757 in singles, 696 in doubles and 618 in team for a 2,071 all-events score, surpassing Putzer by 35 pins.

"I was lucky," Putzer said. "On his final ball, he needed nine pins to beat my singles score, and he had already passed me in all-events. Well, he only got seven, and I beat him by one. That was a close call, but I'm very proud that my 758 held on to win."

It was evident in looking at the crowd in the stands at the South Point Bowling Plaza and across the nearby lanes Friday, that Putzer has a lot of proud supporters. The group on the lanes included four teams and 20 total bowlers.

"My dad was my inspiration on the lanes," Putzer said. "He taught me the right way to compete, and he taught me how to handle myself when things got tough. And then, my brother, David. Well, I wouldn't have made it to 50 years if it wasn't for him pushing me and motivating me."

On the lanes this year at the Bowling Plaza, Putzer rolled sets of 488 in team, 482 in singles and 455 in doubles for a 1,425 all-events total.

In 50 appearances at the Open Championships, he has knocked down 85,304 pins for a career average of 190.8.

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