Team USA men ready for Pan American Games in Peru

ARLINGTON, Texas - Jakob Butturff and Nick Pate were 11 years old when Shannon O'Keefe and Stefanie Johnson made their Team USA debuts, and while the gentlemen now have combined for five appearances on the team, O'Keefe and Johnson have logged 30 - 15 consecutive for each.

Despite the differences in experience, the four are about to experience something together for the first time, as they head to Lima, Peru, to represent the United States at the 2019 Pan American Games, which will take place July 26 through Aug. 11.

The event traditionally brings together approximately 6,700 athletes and features 39 sports and 62 disciplines.

The bowling competition will be held July 25-30 at the Bowling Center of La Villa Deportiva Nacional (VIDENA). There will be 16 men's countries and 16 women's countries represented.

Competition at the quadrennial event starts July 25 with doubles competition and will conclude with the singles medal round on July 30.

Doubles will include 12 games over two days, and medalists will be determined by their total pinfall.

Singles will include 12 games of qualifying over two days, before the field is cut to the top eight bowlers in each division for match play. The top four bowlers after match play will advance to the knockout-style semifinals.

Since bowling was added to the Pan American Games in 1991, Team USA has won 21 of a possible 32 gold medals and claimed 35 medals overall, 20 more than the next-closest country.

"Being a part of Team USA already is an amazing feeling, and getting the opportunity to represent your country for something like the Pan Am Games is an incredible honor," said Butturff, who won the 2017 USBC Team USA Trials to secure a spot on Team USA for the first time. "It also will be my first time in South America, so in addition to showing everyone what Team USA can do, I'm also looking forward to experiencing a new place and culture."

Butturff has spent much of his short professional and Team USA career in the spotlight, first because of his unique double-joined delivery and then because he always seems to be the player to beat, no matter the format or how challenging the lane conditions are.

In 2019 alone, the 25-year-old left-hander has collected three Professional Bowlers Association Tour titles, including the United States Bowling Congress Masters for his first major title. His recent win at the Lubbock Sports Shootout in Lubbock, Texas, gave him his seventh overall PBA Tour win, to go along with nearly two-dozen PBA regional victories - and he's only been a PBA member since 2015.

His time on Team USA also has been memorable, and his success includes a win at the 2017 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup, followed by a team gold medal at the 2017 World Bowling Combined World Championships.

He admits that outside of the World Cup title, he may not have performed his best individually in his two World Championships appearances (2017 and 2018) but is ready to use what he learned in those experiences and take on a new continent. His trip to Mexico for the World Cup and Hong Kong for the 2018 World Bowling Men's Championships were his first two trips out of the United States.

"Every tournament you bowl in, you have to go in thinking you're going to come out on top and not worry about the past or think too far ahead," Butturff said. "I've had my fair share of struggles, especially overseas with some Team USA stuff, but this is a fresh opportunity and a chance to show that I've learned along the way, whether I won or didn't perform as well as I'd hoped."

Pate is in his second year with Team USA and recently had a memorable international debut at the 2019 Pan American Bowling Confederation Bowling Championships, where he helped the United States to the team gold medal with a record six-game score.

That event was the first event of any kind held at the Bowling Center of La Villa Deportiva Nacional, and Pate came within minutes of bowling the first perfect game at the new facility.

That honor went to Canada's Mitch Hup‚ - during the same game. Canada and the United States started the six-game PABCON team event on the same pair of lanes, and Hup‚ finished off his 300 before Pate closed out the game for Team USA.

Team USA's Darren Tang added his name to the list the very next game, and Puerto Rico's Jean Francisco Perez rolled the event's fourth 300 during the tournament-ending Masters event.

"It's definitely one of the greatest feelings ever to have qualified for the Pan Am Games and have a chance to represent Team USA at what essentially is bowling's Olympics," said Pate, a former collegiate standout at Midland University and the men's winner at the 2017 Intercollegiate Singles Championships. "I barely can put it into words and can't wait to get back to Peru. I bowled well there last time, and it was nice to see the hard work pay off. I've been working even harder since, and I feel like I'm throwing it the best I have in a long time. I'm feeling pretty confident going in."

Team USA topped the medal table at the 2019 PABCON Men's Championships, claiming seven medals overall, while Canada and Puerto Rico earned four each, Colombia grabbed three and Costa Rica nabbed one.

Along with the confidence of finding success on the international stage, Pate and Team USA head coach Rod Ross also learned a lot about Lima, and, more importantly, about the characteristics of the bowling center.

"I learned a lot about the topography, what balls looked good and where to play, and I was able to relay some of that information to Shannon when she asked," Pate said. "The more you bowl at a place, the more you learn. I hope to use that knowledge when we go back. Even with the wins last time we were there, there's still work to be done."

Since the PABCON event wrapped in late April, Pate, too, has been busy competing in top-tier events around the world, including tournaments in Spain and San Marino. Outside of the competition games, his on-lane routine includes spare shooting and other drills. He also has dedicated himself to a regular workout routine.

The time on the lanes has kept him sharp physically, while a catastrophic mistake that cost him his first PBA regional title tested him mentally.

Needing just two pins on the last shot of the title match at the PBA Mermaid Lanes Midwest Open presented by Columbia 300 in early June, Pate's final offering went into the gutter, and he lost the match and title, 240-239.

"I learned a tough lesson, and I now know how important it is not to lose focus, no matter what's happening," Pate said. "The mind is a very powerful thing. I turned around as he took his first step, and I saw that he guttered on his final shot, but the actual score didn't register to me. I thought I needed the first strike, and when I didn't get it, I just lost focus and overreacted. But, I've learned a lot from it."

Both Butturff and Pate, who's in his second full year on the PBA Tour, have put in the time and work on the men's side, while O'Keefe and Johnson both are having successful seasons on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour.

Now, it's time to take the show on the road and continue Team USA's success at the Pan Am Games.

At the 2015 event in Toronto, Team USA's Devin Bidwell and Tommy Jones won the doubles bronze medal, and Bidwell repeated the performance in singles.

On the women's side, Shannon Pluhowsky and Liz Johnson won the silver medal in doubles and then earned gold and bronze medals, respectively, in singles.

This year's Team USA representatives earned their spots at the Pan Am Games by outdistancing their teammates in a two-part, point-based qualifying process that spanned more than three months.

The initial part of the process was a four-day, 24-game event, contested on four different World Bowling oil patterns, held at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington in early March.

The men's qualifying concluded with the USBC Masters in Las Vegas at the end of March, and the women's qualifying wrapped up with the conclusion of the 2019 USBC Queens in Wichita, Kansas, in May.

"It has been a successful year so far, but like I said before, every tournament is a brand new event and opportunity," Butturff said. "You have to have a clear mind and focus on that particular event. I'm really excited about the Pan Am Games and to share is with three amazing teammates. We're looking forward to representing the United States and showing them what we do best."