2020 OC Bracket Challenge - Head to Head

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Over the past couple of weeks, we've revisited some of the most significant moments and performances over more than a century of competition at the USBC Open Championships.

Now, we're going to remember some of the amazing competitors who have helped write the tournament's record book.

The short list of bowlers included in this Head-to-Head section of the 2020 OC Bracket Challenge certainly can't include every prolific performer, but it definitely is a nice sampling of the event's more memorable folks.

We've got details for each match, along with insight and picks from the OC public relations staff and some special guests.

Remember to visit the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page.

Heavy Hitters: Nelson Burton Jr. vs. Bill Lillard Sr.

In 25 appearances on the championship lanes, Nelson Burton Jr. collected a record nine titles, including a win at the 1976 USBC Masters, which was contested in the USBC Open Championships venue, a tradition that began with the first Masters in 1951.

At the Open Championships itself, Burton was dominant in the Classic Division, a special classification that separated the professionals from the non-professionals. The Classic Division was created in 1961 and existed until 1979. Burton's eight OC titles came between 1965 and 1979.

The Burton legacy at the OC also includes his brother Neil and their father Nelson Sr. Together, they own 12 titles at the Open Championships.

Bill Lillard Sr.'s career at the Open Championships spanned nearly seven decades from 1948-2015. During his 68 consecutive appearances, he collected eight titles, including a record four at the 1956 event.

Lillard is one of 14 bowlers with 65 or more OC appearances, and he tops the career pinfall list with a 124,087 total.


Matt Cannizzaro (OC PR Manager since 2005): Bill Lillard Sr.
Why: Bill Lillard always will be my No. 1 guy. During my time at the OC, Lillard and Sylvester Thiel (and their families) epitomized everything the event should be.

Lillard's passion, dedication, success, ambassadorship and humbleness on the OC stage were unmatched, rivaled maybe only by the likes of Joe Norris and Dick Weber.

Daniel Farish (OC PR Specialist since 2019): Nelson Burton Jr.
Why: These are two of the GOATS of the OC, and two bowlers whom I never had the pleasure of watching. I have Burton edging out Lillard strictly because of his 1976 USBC Masters title.


Duane Hagen (OC Tournament Director since 2008):
Bill Lillard Sr.
Why: 68 consecutive years, all-time pinfall and titles. Bill is the winner.

Fran Piraino (longtime bowling writer and historian in Syracuse area): Nelson Burton Jr.
Why: I will concede that Lillard is definitely on the Mount Rushmore of OC bowlers. But, I'm giving Burton the nod. Burton won nine titles in 25 OC appearances, including the Masters. That's good stuff.

Bob Johnson (Bowlers Journal International): Bill Lillard Sr.
Why: This is a tough one. Burton had one more win against tougher competition, but Lillard had to beat out far more bowlers for his titles, including the best of his day. The tiebreaker: topping the all-time pinfall list.

Bob Hart (USBC Hall of Famer/reaching 65 years of OC participation in 2020): Nelson Burton Jr.
Why: The ability of these two bowlers is not in question. They are both at the pinnacle of the game's all-time list.

Nelson Burton Jr.'s record was dominant in Classic-Division play. Bill Lillard Sr.'s record was established in the Regular Division.

I choose Burton based on the breakdown of his titles and the fact that he found more individual success.

Doug Shellum (Open Championships and Minnesota bowling historian, 31-time OC participant): Bill Lillard Sr.
Why: Nelson Burton Jr. won all of his titles in the Classic Division, which separated the professional players from the non-professionals. This is impressive, as he was bowling against the designated "professional players," who were higher-caliber players, though there were fewer of them.

Lillard won six of eight of his titles in the Regular Division in back-to-back years (two in1955 and four in 1956).

Again, this is really tough to pick, but I am going with Bill Lillard Sr. for his career over seven decades, even though while growing up, Nelson Burton Jr. was one of my all-time idols and still is! I could not wait to sit in front of the TV and watch him on Saturday!

Third time's the charm: Les Zikes vs. Anthony LaCaze

Only two bowlers in Open Championships history, both hailing from the Chicago area, have won titles in three consecutive years, and it's now time to decide which run was more impressive. Note, the only fair way to measure this is to compare only the three years of consecutive victories, not their complete careers.

Zikes' consecutive streak went from 1962-1964. In that time, he won Regular Team titles in 1962 and 1963 and Regular All-Events and Team All-Events in 1964.

LaCaze's success was much more recent. He was a Team All-Events champion in 2013 and 2015 and the Regular All-Events winner in 2014.

So as not to sway anyone's feelings or votes here, complete details about Zikes' amazing OC career can be found on the Open Championships page.

But, in their prime, whose run was more impressive and memorable?


Matt Cannizzaro:
Les Zikes
Why: This one essentially was a tossup for me. Both guys were relatively young and at about the same points of their OC careers when their streaks happened, but my vote goes to Zikes because he may have been less tested, as least formally, at the time of his wins.

Yes, Zikes grew up in an era when beer teams and match bowling ruled, so this could be completely off base. LaCaze experienced the structure and success of collegiate bowling and already was a Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion at the time of his first OC win.

Daniel Farish: Les Zikes
Why: Both players found their success with the help of their team, with five of their combined seven titles coming in Regular Team or Team All-Events. Like the previous match-up (Burton vs. Lillard) the winner of this one is decided by the slimmest of margins, that margin being Zikes' four titles to LaCaze's three.


Duane Hagen:
Anthony LaCaze
Why: As much as Mr. Zikes has done to date, compiling the more impressive "career," I am giving this one to LaCaze based on the strength and numbers of competition he needed to overcome to earn titles.

Fran Piraino: Les Zikes
Why: Zikes' three-year domination in the early 1960s is impressive to me. I think he faced a higher degree of difficulty to accomplish that feat during that era.

Bob Johnson: Les Zikes
Why: During his run, Zikes won four titles. During his, LaCaze won three. With each having just one individual title (all-events), the advantage goes to Zikes with his total number of eagles.

Bob Hart: Les Zikes
Why: LaCaze won three titles (two team shared, and one individual). Zikes won four titles (three team shared, and one individual). Zikes' individual AE score was the top contribution to the team's AE title. That gave him my vote.

Doug Shellum: Les Zikes
Why: Again, another hair-splitter! Both bowlers surrounded themselves with awesome players. I picked Les Zikes as winning titles in three consecutive years (1962, 1963 and 1964) not having the synthetic lanes and ball help. Shooting on wood lanes with rubber balls elevates Les as the winner for me.

Match 3
Lady Luck: Rayetta Dominguez vs. Wendy Macpherson

Women first competed in the Open Championships in 1994, and they immediately made their presence known.

Many competed for the first time that year and have been to every event since.

Among them, was Oklahoma's Rayetta Dominguez, who celebrated her debut by becoming the first woman to win a title of any kind at the Open Championships. She was part of the quintet that took home the Booster (now Classified) Team title.

More than a decade later, future USBC and Professional Women's Bowling Association Hall of Famer Wendy Macpherson of Henderson, Nevada, achieved a trifecta of record book-worthy accomplishments.

On the second-to-last day of the 2006 tournament, Macpherson rolled a 300 game en route to an 812 singles series, and the feat helped her become the first woman in tournament history to win a Regular-Division event at the OC.

Both are trailblazers on the biggest stage in bowling and among the now 18 women across three average-based divisions who can call themselves Eagle winners at the Open Championships.

Now, it's time to decide who's accomplishment made a bigger statement at the storied tournament?


Matt Cannizzaro:
Wendy Macpherson
Why: While Rayetta Dominguez was a trailblazer for women at the Open Championships and quickly found success on the championship lanes, her 499 series was just a small piece of what it took for five players to win the Booster Team title in 1994.

Wendy Macpherson turned in a monumental individual performance that bested tens of thousands of the best bowlers in the world in the event's highest average-based division at the time. A 300 game and 812 series are amazing any year and by any gender.

Daniel Farish: Rayetta Dominguez
Why: As highlighted in the story above, Dominguez wasted no time inking her name in the history books. How daunting must it have been for her, or any woman in 1994, competing in what had previously been a "men's only" arena. She carried the torch that lit the way for all the women who would win, or accomplish great things after her, at the Open Championships.


Duane Hagen:
Wendy Macpherson
Why: Wendy - hands down here. The trifecta and Regular Division title in dramatic fashion take the title here.

Fran Piraino: Wendy Macpherson
Why: Macpherson's performance in 2006 is a no-brainer. That was some high-level bowling on the OC lanes, and being the first woman in OC history to win a Regular Division crown is big time.

Bob Johnson: Wendy Macpherson
Why: One must always consider the competition when making these types of comparisons, and no matter how you slice it, Macpherson's was tougher. (Then again... was it? I don't know too many men who'd care to go head-to-head with Wendy Macpherson).

Bob Hart: Wendy Macpherson
Why: Rayetta shared her title with teammates, and the title was in the lower-average Booster Division.

Wendy won individually in the top average category, the Regular Division, with scores of 300 and 812, and won the singles title. A very significant performance. My choice is based on that fact.

Doug Shellum: Wendy Macpherson
Why: Being the first to accomplish a record in the Open Championships in 1994 is what memories are made of. Rayetta Dominguez was the first!

But, winning a Regular Division title by shooting a 300 and 812, clinches it for me!

Think of all the men that have yearned for a 300, an 800 or a title, and she completed that feat in one memorable day. Macpherson's accomplishment clearly made a bigger statement for me.

Match 4
Grand Slam: Ed Lubanski vs. Mike Neumann

Again, we encounter the challenge of choosing between two bowlers who achieved the same things decades apart in completely different eras. We also will try to ignore the rest of their tournament careers, while focusing on the performances that earned them their spots in the record book.

Ed Lubanski (1959) and Mike Neumann (1990) are the other two bowlers in 116 years of Open Championships competition to win four titles in a single year. Bill Lillard Sr. was the first, doing so in 1956.

Lubanski's dominant year in 1959 included wins in team, singles, all-events and Team All-Events.

Neumann's record-tying appearance came in 1990. He bowled on the first two days of the event, and his scores held up for 123 days to win team, doubles, all-events and Team All-Events.

Both Lubanski and Neumann had other successes at the Open Championships, but that's for another day and discussion.

For now, whose four-title year was more of a head turner?


Matt Cannizzaro:
Ed Lubanski
Why: Though they came from different eras, Eddie Lubanski and Mike Neumann both could be revered as one of the best of their generation, making this vote another tough one.

Their scores in their record-tying years also were pretty close, but Lubanski's performance, for his time, was much more impressive. He had 700 in team, 652 in doubles and 764 in singles for a record 2,116 all-events total. He was the first bowler in tournament history to break 2,100.

Daniel Farish: Mike Neumann
Why: I struggled on this until I came across the final line in the story, "...whose four-title year was more of a head turner?"

Instantly, I knew it had to be Neumann. It's not rare the someone early in the tournament leaves with the lead in multiple events. Why, Ryan Mouw did it just last year. It wasn't two days into the event; more like, a few weeks. But Mouw left knowing he could potentially win four eagles. He ended up with one.

To hear that Neumann's numbers held on for 121 days is unbelievable and is why I give him the nod on this matchup.


Duane Hagen:
Ed Lubanski
Why: This one is a coin toss for me - will go with Lubanski because of more individual titles.

Fran Piraino: Ed Lubanski
Why: Oh wow. Can I split my vote? No? OK then, Lubanski edges out Neumann by a nose. I'm going with the individual who bowled during an era that had limited equipment, compared to what was available in the 1990s.

Bob Johnson: Ed Lubanski
Why: One almost needs a point system for this one, with points weighted in favor of individual titles, since this is a battle between individuals. Using that method, Lubanski outscores Neumann, 2-1.

Bob Hart: Ed Lubanski
Why: Mike Neuman had three shared titles with teammates and one individual title. Ed Lubanski had two shared titles with teammates and two individual titles. Ed's two individual titles gave him a slight edge toward my decision.

Doug Shellum: Ed Lubanski
Why: There are millions of bowlers that would like one Eagle, yet alone achieving a feat of four in one year, is unfathomable.

The Eagle symbolizes everything about the OC! Mike Neumann surrounded himself with awesome players on the Brunswick Rhinos No.1 team to be put in a position to win. And that he did.

Now, the challenge of picking one of two bowlers that achieved the same things decades apart in completely different eras is really difficult again.

I feel Lubanski's sensational performance in 1959 still ranks as one of the greatest scoring achievements on the way to becoming the second to win four titles in a single season as captain of the Detroit's Pfeiffer team.

Both of them turned my head, but doing it in 1959 spun it around!

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