Junior Team USA's Anthony Neuer among young talent at 2020 U.S. Open


Few would disagree that Junior Team USA member Anthony Neuer of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, has the background, experience and talent to hold his own on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, though he's just 17 years old.

The imposing southpaw has been dominant at the youth level, collecting a pair of titles at the Junior Gold Championships, and he recently hoisted the trophy at a PBA regional event. He also earned a handful of medals in international competition in 2019.

Add in that his father, Andy, is an accomplished bowler and PBA Tour titlist, and it would be easy to understand if the younger Neuer didn't want to wait to try to be the PBA Tour's next young sensation.

With stars like Anthony Simonsen and Jesper Svensson having major success and breaking many of professional bowling's age-based records, joining them is tempting.

Neuer has had some big decisions to make lately, not unlike the aforementioned standouts, and with the help of his family and coaches, he has chosen a path he feels is best for his future and career, both on and off the lanes.

The first big step was closing the door on his youth bowling career. Joining the adult ranks will allow him to compete in more events and test his skills against the best bowlers.

That doesn't mean joining the PBA, however, as he has decided to hone those skills for the next four years as a member of the McKendree University bowling team.

He'll be able to progress under the watchful eyes of Junior Team USA head coach Bryan O'Keefe, two-time Professional Women's Bowling Association Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe and Dennis Knepper, the head men's bowling coach at McKendree.

"I decided that going to McKendree is the best choice for me because it gives me time to work on my game and get to the next level before I come out to do it professionally," said Neuer, the 12-and-under boys champion at the 2014 Junior Gold Championships and the U20 winner in 2018. "I do think I could keep up out here, but I think the four years of hard work would be better in the long run and will help me be more competitive and consistent from week to week."

He's also looking forward to the team aspect and camaraderie of collegiate bowling, along with building relationships, similar to the experience he's had as a three-time member of Junior Team USA.

Having a college degree to fall back on also was a motivating factor for Neuer, who knows a successful career on the lanes isn't guaranteed. While at McKendree, he'll focus on environmental studies with a minor in biology, hoping to someday become a marine biologist.

This week, Neuer swam with some big and talented fish at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he's got a taste of the PBA Tour life and got to see where he ranks among the sport's best, all with his father by his side.

Andy Neuer, who won the $180,000 Bud Light Hall of Fame Championship in 1994 for his lone PBA Tour title, knows his son's game better than anyone and is excited to see what the future holds - this week, at McKendree and in the future.

"You know there always comes a time in life where it's time for the next step, and I look forward to seeing what's next for him," Andy Neuer said. "I'm proud of how he's approached some pretty big decisions, and I know he is in good hands with Bryan and the staff at McKendree, just as he has been with the Team USA coaches and the staff at the (International Training and Research Center) in Texas.

"This week, I'm here to be an extra set of eyes, talk through the things he's seeing and thinking. We had some open conversations during practice, and I'm here to help give him options and support."

Just as he did last year, Neuer earned the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Open by being a member of Junior Team USA.

Through two days of qualifying this week, he was in 74th place in need of a big final day on a challenging 37-foot flat oil pattern to be among the 36 competitors in Friday's Cashers' Round.

Though he did not advance, Neuer reached some smaller goals in Nebraska, which included improving on last year's 69th-place finish and learning as much as he could. He finished 57th this year, averaging more than 204 for his 24 games.

"I'm hoping that this week I can learn a lot and gain knowledge that will help me here in future and when I bowl on the tour after college," Anthony Neuer said on practice day. "I bowled in the U.S. Open last year, which taught me some things about what to do and what not do to. I just want to keep putting all the pieces together until everything falls into place."

With so much on the horizon for Anthony, and his sister, Alexis, who is bowling her senior year at Delaware State, Andy Neuer is excited to see how it all turns out.

"I think Anthony is more talented than his father ever was, my daughter, too, and they both want to compete professionally," Andy Neuer said. "I think they both have the talent and determination, and when they decide it's the right time, I'll be right there to support them."

Neuer wasn't the only teenage star entered in the 2020 U.S. Open.

He was joined on the lanes by a trio of 17-year-old Junior Gold champions, all of whom also have plans to further their educations and hone their bowling skills over the next few years.

Fellow left-hander Solomon Salama of Beverly Hills, California, a two-handed player, is the youngest and most accomplished of the group, having qualified for Junior Team USA and Team USA in 2019, before turning in a noteworthy performance at the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Masters.

He also is a two-time Junior Gold champion, having won back-to-back U15 boys titles in 2016 and 2017.

Salama is home-schooled, closing in on the completion of high school and already taking some college-level classes. He is unsure if he'll compete collegiately, but will continue to challenge himself at top-tier events.

Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri, also a lefty two-hander, was a U12 Junior Gold champion in 2015, is a two-time winner at the USA Bowling National Championships and owns the USBC record for 300s by a youth bowler with 32, one of which came in January at the 2020 USBC Team USA Trials.

Robarge currently is finalizing his plan for the near future, which will include bowling collegiately and pursuing a degree in business.

Cameron Hurwitz, a right-hander from Rochester, New York, and the boys winner in the new U17 category at the 2019 Junior Gold Championships, will head to Wichita State in the fall.

Competing in the 2020 U.S. Open was a bucket-list item for him, in the event his responsibilities as a member of the Shockers bowling program don't allow him to compete over the next few years.

All four players cited the challenge of events like Junior Gold and the Team USA Trials in getting them sharp and ultra-competitive, but also giving them a chance to see their weaknesses and things to work on.

Hurwitz and Robarge both were among the 20 bowlers who advanced to this week's 108-player U.S. Open field through the on-site pre-tournament qualifier, while Neuer and Salama were entered directly into the main field as Junior Team USA members in 2019.

Neuer, Robarge and Salama all qualified for Junior Team USA in 2020, while Hurwitz will benefit from the program as a member of the U17 Develpmental Team.

The field of 108 competitors at the 2020 U.S. Open endured three different lane conditions over three days of qualifying at Sun Valley Lanes. Each day included eight games, and total pinfall for 24 games determined the 36 players for Friday's Cashers' Round.

Robarge was the high-finisher of the quartet, landing in 46th place. Salama finished 89th, and Hurwitz was 103rd.

There's no doubt the four young players will use the things they learned in Lincoln to help them improve and potentially find success later this year in events like the World Bowling Youth Championships and Lee Evans Tournament of the Americas.

The 36 U.S. Open competitors who made Thursday's initial cut returned for eight additional games Friday morning on a fourth oil pattern, with 24 players advancing to round-robin match play based on their 32-game pinfall totals.

At the conclusion of the week, 56-game pinfall totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decide the five players for Sunday's live TV finals.

The finalists will bowl for the title, $30,000 top prize and coveted green jacket live on FOX at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Canada's Francois Lavoie is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, an event he also won in 2016 for the first of his four PBA Tour titles. He is one of 12 bowlers in history to win the U.S. Open on multiple occasions.

Only four bowlers - Andy Varipapa, Don Carter, Dick Weber and Dave Husted - have successfully defended their U.S. Open titles. Husted was the last to accomplish the feat, doing so in 1996.

Lavoie finished qualifying in sixth place and has cleared the first hurdle in his title defense. A strong performance in the Cashers' Round allowed him to move up a spot and advance to match play.