December 6, 2019
By Jef Goodger
You invited your friend over to watch the U.S. Open. Your friend doesn't watch bowling and only showed up because you said you'd buy the beer. You assured him he'd become a bowling fan after the show. After all, the best bowler-maybe ever-was bowling in the second match (and maybe the third and fourth matches).
You instantly regretted your phrasing because it then took you the entire opening match to explain the stepladder format to your friend, who loudly wondered how that's fair to the guy in the lead. You assured your friend that's why first place pays only five cents more than second, at which point your friend loudly wondered how that's fair to the winner.
There wasn't any time to get into fairness because Jason Belmonte, the man you'd been hyping so intensely to your friend as the best to ever play, was about to take the lanes.
Belmonte shot 148.
"This guy sucks," said your friend. "I can shoot 148. He's the best ever? I'm the best ever."
We can debate several points here regarding who is actually the best ever, whether it's wise to make the best players in the world struggle beyond belief so they look like fools to outsiders or whether you should remain friends with this jerk (no), but let's get into the actual game. Why did Belmonte roll the lowest TV score of his career?
Anthony Simonsen defeated Bill O'Neill to earn a match with Belmonte. In itself, Simonsen/Belmonte is a compelling match, but particularly here as Simonsen could've become the youngest bowler to win three majors (he's already the youngest to win two and one) and Belmonte could've become the third player ever to win the Super Slam of all five majors (Mike Aulby and Norm Duke being the others). This was a rematch of the 2019 PBA Players Championship, which Simonsen won and delayed Belmonte's record-breaking major count. Slightly.
The point: these are two of the absolute best bowlers in the world. Probably even better than your friend, whom you've since kicked out of your house.
Belmonte's first shot was exceptional. His second shot was good, too, but the 8-pin stood. The third frame was nearly a replay of his first shot. Three shots that could've been strikes, a lead and some swagger, and you were feeling pretty good about your proclamation to your stupid friend.
In the fourth frame, Belmonte didn't get the ball far enough to the right, but he was also facing the suddenly amplifying transition. Shooting straight at the 3-6-9-10, Belmonte wrapped the 6 around the 10, excruciatingly close to hitting it.
Next, Belmonte said something about his battery pack, which was interpreted as a re-rack, which he was issued but didn't want, then had to take because it was already happening, but wasn't charged because of the confusion.
After that confounding bit of fun, Belmonte left the Greek Church in the fifth, perplexing even himself. "Come on," he said to no one in particular. "Man, that was pretty close."
Belmonte knows when he's close or not. Generally, being close doesn't result in a count of five on a shot. Opting to go for the conversion rather than the count, Belmonte slid the 4-pin over into the 9, essentially getting the count in a strange way, but still, another open frame on a shot that was "pretty close."
In the sixth, he did the same thing he did in the fourth, but this time converted the 3-6-9-10. Again, his first shot wasn't that far off. Count didn't affect him here because of the open in the fifth, but after three shots that all could've struck to start the game, then three "pretty close" shots to follow, Belmonte sat with a mere 86 plus the value of his next shot after six, trailing in the match.
A huge move right in the seventh frame looked like a good one as he struck. The same shot on the left lane in the eighth cut through the middle for another five count. The 3-4-6-7-10 is makeable, but not this time, leaving another frame open.
Meanwhile, Simonsen wasn't exactly dominating the lanes, even whiffing on a single pin in the ninth.
Another excellent shot for Belmonte in the ninth took down all 10 before a decent shot on the left lane left a 2-8-10 in his final frame. He got one of them on the spare attempt.
He wasn't perfect. He didn't love every shot off his hand, but he didn't hate any of them either. He was simply punished severely for every slight deviation in his execution.
So, while this 148 game was actually an excellent opportunity for you to explain how good Belmonte truly is to your friend (the big move in the seventh, for instance), you'd have to begin so far back-starting by explaining there is oil on the lanes and moving on from there-that neither you nor your friend would have the patience.
The lanes were truly that hard. Still, like a fly out to the warning track in one ballpark that would've been a home run in Yankee Stadium, 148 stands as the lowest score of Belmonte's career.
Sure, your friend will never trust you again and he'll certainly never watch bowling again, but you tried. And although your effort was valiant-like Belmonte's-it just wasn't good enough.