'Just trying to get out of his way'
There is a look Anthony Simonsen gets in his eye that every player on the PBA Tour understands. It is a look none of his peers want to see when they find themselves opposing him in match play of any event, least of all a major in the USBC Masters, which, in 2023, he bowled as the defending champ and already had won twice overall at age 26.
Now the youngest player to win ¬five majors thanks to his second consecutive Masters victory, this time at Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, Michigan, on April 2, the Texas spitfire now living in Las Vegas flaunted just such a look in the seeding match between himself and Michael Martell with top seeding on the line.
“Towards the end of the match, I was just trying to get out of his way,” Martell says of the 845 set capped by a culminating 300 game Simo shot to conclude a blistering match-play performance. “Let that man go finish what he set out to do because he gets that look in his eye, and you know that he’s almost impossible to beat.”
The small-statured Simonsen wasted little time each moment he took to the approach, cradled his ball and dropped into the kind of threatening crouch he styles en route to the foul line. He pursues the lane with the intent, steady focus of a pitbull that has been provoked and will not rest until he settles the score by any means necessary.
Parker Bohn III, who worked his own miracles by making the semi¬final show at age 59, marveled at the manner in which Simo’s power sends the pins flying “like balsam wood or popcorn.” PBA Tour Commissioner Tom Clark, for his part, described Simo as “a bowling genius” as he watched the young man chew up the bracket from one match to the next.
With every bruising strike in the final match of that bracket against Martell, fans gathered behind the lanes increased in number, and then in volume, as they belted out their hoots and hollers desperate to see the 12th strike come to fruition. When that strike finally came, Simo twisted toward the crowd, his teeth gritted, and punctuated it with multiple fist pumps. Then he buried his right fist in his left palm with a snapping bang that could be heard at the other end of the building. His conquest of the 2023 USBC Masters match-play field was, in no uncertain terms, complete.
The hirsute Simo’s penny-colored beard — bushier, longer, and more unkempt than the version he sported on the Tournament of Champions show in Fairlawn, Ohio, two weeks prior — lent another layer to the menace of his demeanor along the way.
“The first two games, I bowled as well as I had every other match,” said Martell who, up to that point in the tournament, was the only other player in the bracket to remain undefeated.
Indeed, Martell blasted a 252 in the opening game against Simonsen, only to lose by more than a mark when Simo overwhelmed him with a 266. Martell’s 690 — by no means a set to be ashamed of in any pro-bowling event at a 230 average — fell short of victory by 155 pins.
If Martell felt stunned, his peers easily could have told him to join the club.
Simonsen’s record-setting match-play journey saw him destroy by nearly five pins per game a record Norm Duke set 30 years prior, when Simo’s fellow Texan averaged 245.6 en route to victory at the 1993 USBC Masters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even that would have been no match for Simo’s 250.4 average through the bracket in Allen Park.
Simo’s fiery destruction of one of the sport’s most elite fields began with a 766 dismantling of Matt Russo, who shot 699 in the opening round to still lose by 67 pins and face the gauntlet of the elimination round.
Simo then trounced Dallas Leong, 705-637, before surviving easily his toughest match of the tournament against Keven Williams, 731-722. He then trucked everyone else he faced: Russ Oviatt, 692-632, and Chris Via, 769-694, before drubbing Martell.
After such a performance, the event’s format change away from a traditional stepladder finals to a scenario whereby the top seed had to be defeated twice seemed like an awfully imposing task. Martell, however, carried himself with the composure of a grizzled veteran on the first TV show of his life, handling Kyle Sherman, 208-187, inside the Thunderbowl Lanes arena before giving Simo a go in the title match but falling short, 243-222, to hand Simonsen back-to-back Masters victories and his third win in the event overall.
Following the win, Simonsen told Bowl.com’s Gene Kanak that, “This is the first event that I’ve been able to defend and probably the best finish I’ve had at a tournament that I’ve won previously.”
Simo added that, “It absolutely helped to know that I had that extra game in my pocket if I needed it.”
Among the unique traits that enable Simonsen to dominate the greatest bowlers on the face of the planet to the tune of having now won 12 titles overall at 26 years old, what stands out to PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Del Ballard Jr. is the fearless conviction behind every adjustment he makes.
“He reminds me of Duke. If he knows he doesn’t like his reaction, he will just change, no second thoughts. Win or lose, he does what he thinks is his best option,” Ballard said. “He is an old-school soul with a modern game. If he would have been bowling action 20 years earlier, he would have been the greatest action bowler of all time.”
And that praise comes from a man in Ballard who knows his action, having grown up bowling action alongside Duke when the latter was a teenager.
Simonsen also draws comparisons to another legend known as much for fearlessness as for fire: Pete Weber, who finished runner-up in this event in 2000 at a time when a year-long PBA suspension prevented him from bowling anything else that tour season.
Simonsen’s insistence on talking to some media members but not others following his victory, and his threats to leave the media room should some not be dismissed, should have come as no surprise to anyone who has observed the young man’s fire over the years.
As recently as two weeks prior, Simonsen became incensed when told he could not throw shots on the designated practice pair several pairs to the right of the championship lanes while players were bowling for score on the TOC show. When he heard a fan shout during the show, Simonsen, standing in the shadows among ball reps, said aloud, “They can scream, but I can’t throw a shot!” During the commercial break that followed, Simonsen confronted tournament director John Weber about the policy, arguing that it was different than the policy in place as recently as the U.S. Open earlier in the season and shouting, “Where am I supposed to warm up? Stonehedge up the block?” It was a reference to a nearby bowling center in Akron.
Clark then took Simo aside, and later engaged Weber in a discussion in which the latter, typically one of the tour’s gentlest and most congenial figures, spoke with animated hand gestures, clearly exasperated.
In his anger, Simonsen, who subsequently was fined and put on probation, overlooked the multiple opportunities players have to warm up, even if they cannot throw shots while the nearby show is live. They can do so between matches and after the sixth frame of each game when commercial breaks occur, and they each get eight practice shots when it is their turn to come to the TV pair while their opponent gets none.
Simonsen’s explosive temperament long has been a feature of his on tour, and just as long has been a piece of himself for which he offers no apologies.
“I don’t give a [expletive] what anybody thinks of me out here,” he said when asked about his anger during a PBA Tour event in Jupiter, Florida, where he slammed a hand-held fan to the ground following a tough moment on TV.
A 2019 documentary by FloBowling, “Leave it Behind,” shed some light on the inner turmoil Simo’s antics express. As Jason Belmonte said in that film, “He freely admits to me that when he’s punching himself in the head or throwing his bowling balls around, he isn’t bowling his best. We’ve even had wagers where I’ve bet him a thousand dollars that he couldn’t lose his temper for a period of time.” Belmo then looked directly at the camera and said, “Thanks for the thousand dollars, by the way, Anthony.”
To an extent, Simonsen comes by that anger honestly. The documentary dances around some allusions to a trying upbringing that included challenging relationships with his parents and poverty.
“He had a rough life growing up. I don’t know if I should be saying all this,” Chris Johnson, who watched Simo grow up, says at one point in the doc.
Who is to judge the demons that haunt someone who comes from such circumstances, or the way the person they haunt responds to their presence in his life?
Perhaps Belmo put it best.
“The version of Anthony I’m really looking forward to seeing is 35 years old when he’s learned so much more, where he’s able to control his temper. I think, once he learns to control those inner thoughts, those inner demons that just want to explode out of him at times, with his skillset and versatility, he’s gonna be one of the best ever.”
If Belmo is right, and harnessing those “inner demons” is a prerequisite to even greater glories on the PBA Tour, imagine what greatness may await an immensely talented young man who already has done things no one before him has accomplished in the tour’s 65-year history.
Parker Bohn III’s Last Stand
Sitting at a conference-room table inside an Allen Park Hampton Inn the day after completing one of the most miraculous performances in the history of the USBC Masters, 59-year-old Parker Bohn grabs hold of the table and turns it into a metaphor.
“When I first came out on tour, I put my finger on the edge of this table. I clawed my way until I got my whole hand onto the table. And then finally, I stood on the middle of the table and I was kicking people off,” says Bohn, sporting a sky-blue shirt with white stripes emblazoned with the name of his longtime company, Brunswick, on the left breast. If his short, salt-and-pepper hair, a hairline receding over his left forehead, and crow’s feet at the outer corners of his eyes betray the man’s age, the enduring talent he showcased in Allen Park belies it.
“One by one, more people got on the table, and I got pushed to the edge. And now, I’m back to my one finger just holding on to the edge of that table.”
He turns his attention to the week he just experienced at the USBC Masters, an event he won in 2001 and, over the years, finished runner-up twice in back-to-back years (1998 and 1999), third in 1993, and fourth in 2013. Of all the memories he has made in the event over those decades, it may be this one, the one he bowled at age 59, that will stick out most vividly in the legendary southpaw’s mind for years to come.
“This week, I was able to hold on to the table pretty securely. Okay, it slipped off at the end there in the last game,” he chuckles. “And I’m not going to take anything away from Sean [Rash]. He bowled a hell of a game, obviously. But, my finger is barely on the edge of the table, and, at this point in my career, it’s not because I am going to climb on and stand in the middle of the table again.”
Perhaps not. But that famed Neil Young lyric in which the rocker sings, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” seems to speak perfectly to the legend’s circumstance as he eyes his 60th birthday on July 13. Bohn’s star burned brightly in Allen Park. Even now, with “super senior” status rapidly approaching. If it were not apparent to some before the 2023 USBC Masters kicked off on March 26, it should be apparent to all now that Parker Bohn III will not fade away.
With his son Brandon, the three-time Junior Gold Championships titlist, hammering away at his own path through the bracket, Bohn trounced Steve Hoskins, 655-563, to initiate a run that would have many fans flocking behind every pair he bowled on over the coming days.
As the tournament wore on, and Bohn piled up one match-play victory after another, the urgency among those fans felt all the more palpable. They wanted their hero to give it one more run, living and dying with every shot he threw. In later rounds when it became apparent that, against all conceivable odds, this 59-year-old man who won his first PBA Tour title in 1987 — a decade before Simonsen was born — was about to make a TV show on the so-called “kids’ tour,” the pandemonium they raised with their fist pumps and shouts felt more fitting of a crowd begging for an encore at some rock show.
An early stumble made Bohn’s path through the bracket seem so much more unlikely. Rash, the person with whom Bohn traveled the word as roommates for more than a decade during their time together on the Brunswick staff, blasted Bohn, 676-595, to send the senior on an early trip to the grueling elimination backet. It would take every last reserve of stamina Bohn had learned to tap into over the years to help him survive that gauntlet. Which is exactly what he now would do.
Bohn overcame Marshall Kent, 652-644, in his first elimination-round match. Meanwhile, Brandon, who lost a devastating nail-bitter to Kris Prather in the second round despite putting up a 731 set (Prather shot 739), took care of Ric McCormick in his first elimination-round match, then absolutely destroyed triple-crown winner Dom Barrett, 657-462.
The chatter began among the gathering crowd. How about a match between father and son? Parker is bemused by the thought as he looks back on it now, sitting at that conference-room table with a grin.
“Let’s roll it back for just a second: I crossed with Justin,” Bohn says of his older son, who also bowled the event. “That was one of the more memorable moments I could have in the Masters. I’m crossing with my own son at the Masters. The Masters! Are you kidding me? One of the coveted majors on tour. Here I am, on the lanes with my son, shoeing it up, and we’re not home practicing. This is the real deal.”
Justin out-bowed dad in the first round of qualifying but fell back in later rounds to miss match play. Even as Bohn made his own run, he never failed to make time to be dad. When Justin missed match play as Bohn advanced in the 37-seed position, Bohn took Justin aside.
“Look, keep your head up high. You certainly didn’t embarrass yourself out here. Would you like to make match play? Of course. Everybody does. But you’re going to have many more years ahead of you. Now, Dad? Unfortunately, there’s only a couple of years ahead for me.”
When Brandon did make match play, Bohn says, “As much as I am focused on my match, I am watching a lot of Brandon’s shots.”
Bear in mind the dual difficulty here: Advancing to a TV show in a major at age 59 is one thing, but to do it with one’s attention divided between one’s own matches and those of a loved one? That is the stuff only a 35-time PBA Tour champion understands how to pull off.
“When I would be done, if I had a couple of moments, you better believe it, I’m gonna go down there to Brandon. He’s my son. I want to root him on. I want to make sure I keep things calm for him, keep things under control.”
Which is exactly what Brandon needed after that gutting loss to Prather.
“He was distraught. I said, ‘You’re at the Masters. Please understand this: There are sets that are won with 550, and there are guys who go home shooting 780.’”
Bohn’s own match at that moment served as a case in point.
After having just undone none other than four-time Masters champion Jason Belmonte by a blowout margin of 647-566, Bohn underwent a hapless set against Russ Oviatt in which he banged out only one double over the course of three games to scrape by, 546-521.
“I don’t know what the scores were for every match, but I might have had the lowest score to win a match all week,” Bohn says.
Brandon’s elimination-bracket journey ended with a single-pin loss to Sherman, 622-621. Bohn’s continued onto the semi¬final round of the event’s TV finals that Friday night on FS1, when his ball reaction — and his body — finally betrayed him as Rash thrashed him, 264-169. One shot in particular made it apparent to Bohn that his body had given him all it could by then.
“The shot that I completely went Brooklyn and left a 5 pin, I’m fighting a pinched nerve in my back, and I’ve been rubbing it endlessly for the last two or three months, and it’s getting a little bit looser. But what happens is, when I go to bowl, your neck pivots in your shoulder area depending on how you bowl, and in my case all of a sudden it will get locked up a certain way when I’m in the middle of my shot, and everything is just, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Well, Bohn’s performance at the 2023 USBC Masters left plenty of people gasping, “Oh, my God!” But in the manner of one amazed in an entirely positive way at the staying power of one of the greatest talents the sport ever will see.
Michael Martell, the Comeback Kid
Exactly a year prior to the day that Michael Martell clinched the second seed at the 2023 USBC Masters, he made a resigned Facebook post in which he essentially bid a sighing adieu to his greatest bowling ambitions.
“This year was the make or break year for me bowling full time. And quite honestly, nothing went the way it was planned to,” Martell wrote. “I’ve struggled both physically and mentally in 8 out of 12 events. Going through all of the low points proved to me just how hard it is to do this.”
Martell’s post was not yet done doing its best to put the nails in the coffin of his bowling dreams. He was certain those dreams, from that day forward, forever would languish in the rearview mirror of his life.
“I am not sure this is what I want anymore … The love for the game is something I never want to lose.”
Martell’s mother, Nicole, skipped town last-minute to watch her son bowl the first TV show of his life, but only after scrambling to find someone to handle a massive tournament she was to oversee at Maple Lanes Rockville Center on Long Island, New York, where she works. She spoke through tears as she remembered the darkness of her son’s resignation, her pain at hearing him, like so many others in life, seem to be giving up on chasing his dreams.
“It was rough. He really had pretty much decided he was only going to maybe bowl the U.S. Open and the Masters. He was saying, ‘I don’t belong. I can’t keep up. I can’t keep doing his. This is defeating.’ A kid who knows he’s good was defeated.”
Peers would not allow him to stay in that frame of mind. Peers like Bohn, whom Nicole describes as “a dear family friend” and an idol to Martell’s later father, Michael Mastroianni, who also was a lefthanded bowler like his son.
“Parker’s one of those guys who I admired growing up. Smoothest game on the left side of the lane I’ve ever seen. My dad loved watching him, and loved watching Jason Couch,” Martell said. “He was somebody last year who saw my Facebook post and he caught me and sat me down for an hour-and-a-half in the bar area at Gold Coast in between his matches [at the 2022 USBC Masters]. He was in the winner’s bracket bowling, and he came and found me, which was unbelievable. It shows the type of person he is. He talked me out of quitting.”
Bohn told Martell that, “There’s a reason you continue to put yourself in this spot. Figure out what’s derailing your process and fight through it. Make the necessary changes, whether it’s what type of equipment you’re throwing or layouts or what your tricks are. Just force yourself to adapt.”
Which Martell did, challenging himself back home to set aside what he calls his “finesse” game in favor of a firmer, straighter, up-the-lane approach that has paid massive dividends for the 25-year-old.
“I put in a lot of work. I noticed I was having trouble matching up to what lefties were doing really well. Firmer ball speeds and straighter angles have been really good, and I’m a rotation-dominant player and I’m lower ball speed, so I worked really hard on using my legs to create ball speed. I came into this week thinking, ‘I’m going to try to use what I worked on, and if it doesn’t work, at least this was an opportunity to get my feet wet doing it.’
“Not only did it work, but I never moved my feet right of a certain part of the lane. Every time I saw that spot hooking earlier, I amped up, I added speed; my tricks were on full display.”
Martell paused and shook his head as if in disbelief.
“I don’t know. This is an unreal feeling,” he said.
A feeling made all the more unreal when he and his mom think back to his days bowling with dad, who died in 2007 when Martell was 9.
Nicole again becomes emotional when she thinks back on those days, recollecting them with a quivering voice.
“Michael dreamed about this since he was little,” she began. “Big Michael [Mastroianni], as we call him, put the first ball in his hand and knew this was what he wanted to do. If he were still alive, he would be traveling the world with him. He would just tell him, ‘Go out there and do what you do and get it done. This is what you’ve dreamed of.’”
Nicole adds, “The world’s crazy, and people don’t chase their dreams.”
It is all she can say before succumbing to her tears.
“My life would be very different if he were here,” Martell said of his dad. “I’m grateful that he is watching over me every day, watching me do what he would have loved to do. I can only imagine how much fun we’d be having together on this trip. He would have given up everything to be able to travel with me and watch me bowl and support me. I hope I’m making him proud.”
Martell certainly did that in match play, hardly having bowled a set under 700. He burst out of the gate with a 694-645 win over Brandon Novak, then blasted Nick Pate, 676-596. From there, it was lights out for the southpaw as he handled Zack Wilkins in a rout, 701-598; again shot 700 with a 717-667 decision over Brandon Bonta; and shot yet another 717 in the next round, this time against Patrick Dombrowksi, before his seeding match against the eventual champion.
“[Simonsen] was great to me as a person, as a friend, as a competitor the whole week. I couldn’t be happier for him that he won,” Martell said of his 2023 USBC Masters rival before turning his attention to his future. “I’m gonna get back here. I feel good. I feel ready. I have a lot of belief in the fact that I can get back here.”
As does “Big Michael” watching from on high.