Motivated Hess shines on opening day of 2021 USBC Senior Masters

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Standings: Round 1

LAS VEGAS -
Tom Hess of Granger, Iowa, walked into the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Senior Masters full of confidence and with a list of goals that certainly are within reach if he's able to turn in another masterful performance this week at Sam's Town Bowling Center.

The 51-year-old right-hander is riding the momentum of a win at the recent Professional Bowlers Association 50 Senior U.S. Open and nearing the finish line of a memorable rookie campaign on the PBA50 Tour.

Hess wasted no time finding the spotlight again Tuesday during the opening round of qualifying at the USBC Senior Masters, rolling games of 228, 268, 247, 262 and 206 to top the 223-player standings with a 1,211 total.

Walt Blackston of Hawthorne, California, made a run at the lead Tuesday evening, and his 277 finish landed him just behind Hess with a 1,197 total. David Leverage of Peoria, Arizona, is third with 1,159 and followed by Parker Bohn III of Jackson, New Jersey (1,141), and Tom Adcock of Decatur, Illinois (1,116).

BowlTV.com is providing wire-to-wire coverage of the Senior Masters, including the stepladder finals, scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Of the five games Hess bowled in his first visit to Sam's Town in two decades, he's most proud of the 206 he tossed to finish his first run at this week's 40-foot oil pattern.

"I got comfortable, was able to keep control of the lane and I was able to do what I wanted to do," Hess said. "Unfortunately, at the end, my ball speed got a little quick as I got amped up, which happens sometimes when I'm bowling well. I'm most proud of the last six frames, though, considering I had about 61 in the fifth but was able to put the strikes together when I needed them to save the game. You can't win this tournament in one day, but it sure does feel good to get off to a good start."

The list of what's on the line for Hess this week includes becoming the fourth bowler in history to win both the USBC Masters and Senior Masters, locking up the 2021 PBA50 Player and Rookie of the Year awards and boosting his chances of being selected to represent the United States at the upcoming International Bowling Federation Masters (formerly Senior) World Championships.

An additional goal was winning a PBA50 Tour title to go along with his 2011 Masters win and PBA Tour major, and checking that box only added to his confidence heading into one of his favorite formats this week.

USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber of St. Ann, Missouri, a two-time winner at the Senior Masters, leads the 2021 PBA50 points race and is followed by Brad Angelo of Lockport, New York, Chris Barnes of Denton, Texas, and Hess. Angelo is the front-runner for rookie-of-the-year honors.

Throughout his career, Hess has been known for his fiery personality, and while fans and fellow competitors still can tell from many lanes away if he's bowling well or not, he has learned to harness his passion and learn from both the ups and the downs on the lanes.

At the PBA50 David Small's Jax 60 Open last month, the final standard event of the 2021 PBA50 Tour season, Hess was the top qualifier and looking to make his second consecutive championship-round appearance.

He described the rest of his performance as tentative and said he felt he caught himself "bowling to not miss the show" rather than continuing to do the things that got him into that position in the first place. He finished the event in seventh place.

Instead of letting the disappointment negatively affect him at the Senior U.S. Open, Hess used the experience to motivate him in his run to the title, which came with an inspired 256-209 win over Barnes in the championship match.

Remembering the things he has experienced and learned over the last six months also will be important this week at Sam's Town, but so will pushing out the thoughts of all the implications and focusing on the things he can control.

"I've been bowling really well, and I'm on a roll, and I'm just trying to keep the momentum going," Hess said. "I'm trying to take it one shot and one frame at a time. There is a lot at stake this week, and that drives me. As competitors, we want to bowl with that kind of pressure, but we also have to be careful to not think about it. I'll talk about it off the lanes, and I'll be honest about being nervous, but when I'm on the approach, I need to stay focused."

Competition at the Senior Masters will continue Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern. After three days of qualifying, 15-game pinfall totals will determine the 63 bowlers who will join defending champion Amleto Monacelli of Venezuela in the double-elimination bracket.

Monacelli, who recently turned 60 and won the 2021 Super Senior Classic on Monday, is tied for 74th place after the opening round with a 991 total. He is guaranteed the No. 64 seed in the bracket if he falls out of the cut, but he can improve his seeding for match play during qualifying.

After five games, Terry Thompson of Jennings, Louisiana, is in 64th place with a 1,004 total, a 200.8 average.

Bowlers advancing to bracket play will compete in three-game total-pinfall matches until the top five bowlers are determined for Sunday's stepladder finals. The winner will take home a $20,000 top prize.

Even if Hess isn't the guy holding the trophy at the end of the week, he'll know he did all he could to help the pieces fall into place. When it's all over, though, there's one thing on the line that might stand out more than the others.

"I've put in my application to represent Team USA in the World Championships, and even though my two national titles in the PBA are majors, I think it would mean more to me to be able to go represent Team USA and bowl for the red, white and blue," Hess said. "I've got my fingers crossed for that, but I'm also here focused on my other goals. If I can perform again at the Senior Masters, I hope it will show the selection committee that I deserve to be on that team."

The Super Senior Classic and Senior Masters are taking place at the 56-lane Sam's Town Bowling Center together for the fifth time, a routine that began in 2016.