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PBA Tournament of Champions: a Prestigious Showcase of the Best in the World

Peter CiminoContributor IIMarch 17, 2013

PBA Tournament of Champions: a Prestigious Showcase of the Best in the World

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    In 1962, members of the PBA developed a tournament to showcase all of the season’s champions (there were 25 that year) in one event to find out who was the best, naming it The Tournament of Champions.

    In 1965, Firestone took on the sponsorship of this unique event, renaming it the Firestone Tournament of Champions. Many believe that this sponsorship not only put pro bowling on the map, it helped catapult the PBA into mainstream sports.

    Although the sponsorship has changed hands a few times since 1994 (Firestone relinquished its sponsorship that year), over the span of 51 years, this one of a kind event has been filled with unforgettable moments, memorable matches and incredible personal achievements.

    The TOC remains the only PBA “invitational” event for champions only, and is considered by most, the holy grail of PBA tournaments.

    During the past few years, the TOC has gone through an evolution of sorts, experimenting with expanding the field. However, this year (sponsored by H&R Block) the TOC returns to its grass roots.

    The first 48 entrants are the most recent 48 PBA champions, who hold a Touring 1 or Touring 2 status—meaning the bowler had to participate in at least 60 percent of last season’s events. 

    If this total does not equal 48, then extra invites are extended to recent champions that are not of Touring 1 or Touring 2 status.  Also, any previous winner of the TOC, regardless of status, can enter, possibly pushing the field over the 48 player mark. As of this writing, the field stood at 53 contestants.

    With nothing but champions on the stage, it just doesn’t get any better than this for the PBA, or any pro sport organization for that matter!   

    It all starts Wednesday, March 27th at the Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis, Indiana, at 10AM with the first of three qualifying blocks of eight games.

    Read on to relive some of the historical magic, and find out what some of the pros have to say about the prestigious Tournament of Champions.

Defending Champion Sean Rash

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    Last season, Sean Rash locked up Player of the Year honors, beating Ryan Ciminelli 239-205 to capture his first major championship.

    Can he make history and become only the second bowler to win back to back TOC’s?

3-Time Winner Mike Durbin

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    In 1984, Hall of Famer Mike Durbin accomplished what no other bowler had been able to up until that point, win three TOC titles.

    After capturing the title in 1972 and 1982, he did it again by beating Mike Aulby, 246-163.

    Of his 14 PBA Titles, three were TOC wins. To say he thrived in this environment is an understatement. 

3-Time Winner Jason Couch

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    Between 1999 and 2002, PBA Hall of Famer Jason Couch owned the Tournament of Champions!

    He not only won back to back events in 1999 and 2000, he won it again in 2002. Technically that made an unprecedented three in a row because the tournament was not held in 2001.

    Without question, this is one of greatest single achievements in the history of pro bowling.

2-Time Winners

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    Among the two-time winners of the TOC are: Earl Anthony, Jim Godman, Marshall Holman and Mark Williams.

    There are 14 TOC Champions going after their second this year: George Branham III (1993), Bryan Goebel (1998), Johnny Petraglia (1971), Wayne Webb (1980), Pete Weber (1987), Norm Duke (1994), Steve Jaros (2005), Chris Barnes (2006), Tommy Jones (2007), Michael Haugen Jr. (2008), Patrick Allen (2009), Kelly Kulick (2010), Mika Koivuniemi (2011)and defending champion Sean Rash (2012).

Don Johnson's Championship Match 299

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    In 1970, in arguably one of the most memorable TV moments in TOC history, PBA Hall of Famer Don Johnson near-missed a perfect game in the championship match against Dick Ritger, with a ringing ten pin on his final shot, shooting a 299.  

    This still stands as the highest TOC Championship Match score ever.

Kelly Kulick

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    There is very little doubt that the single greatest moment in TOC history was Kelly Kulick winning the title in January 2010.

    Kelly not only became the first woman to ever win a men’s event, she did it by winning the greatest tournament of them all.

    She accomplished this by beating Mika Koivuniemi and Chris Barnes (neither of which are strangers to major championships) in the step ladder finals.

    This bodes the question–can another woman win the TOC?

Diandra Asbaty

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    Kelly Kulick proved a woman can win this event. There are a few women pros out there who are capable of capturing this title, and Diandra Asbaty, without question, is one of them

    However, in order for that to happen, a women’s tour needs to be reborn, and the TOC invitation rules need to be tweaked again. Hopefully, these will both happen in the near future because pro bowling needs women, as does the TOC.

    Q&A with the reigning USBC Queens Champion, and 3-time PBA title winner, Diandra Asbaty.

     What does the TOC mean to you?

    “To me, the Tournament of Champions means that you're a champion. Not everyone can enter which makes it an ultra-prestigious event. When thinking of the TOC, I think of great competition, the best athletes in the world, and a legacy that will live on in each competitor.”

    Can another woman win this event?

    “I think anyone can win the TOC if given a chance.”

Scott Norton

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    Going into this year’s TOC, Scott Norton is one of the hottest bowlers on tour. He won the Chameleon Championship and has made two other television finals, making him not only an early front runner for Player of the Year, but one of the 2013 TOC favorites.

    Q&A with Scott Norton-

    What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the TOC?

    “The first thing I think about when I think about the TOC is prestige. The only people allowed to bowl in this tournament are the best 48 in the world. It's such an honor to compete alongside such great champions.”

    What does this tournament mean to you?

    “This particular championship means a great deal to me because of the prestige associated with it. In order to win this tournament, one must truly beat the creme de la crème, and to be in the ranks of those who have won would mean more to me than anything.”

Jason Belmonte

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    If Scott Norton is hot right now, then Jason Belmonte is on fire. He dominated the World Series of Bowing, making three TV appearances (two 2nd place finishes & a 3rd). He made the TV finals again in the Winter Swing’s Earl Anthony Classic. Then he busted through by winning the USBC Masters a few weeks ago, his first major title.

    Jason on the TOC:

     “The TOC is such a great tournament just to be involved in. To bring the best of the best into one event, with a long, traditional format and all the history that the TOC has is what makes this event an honor to bowl in.”

    “I am very excited to bowl in the TOC this year. I have been working hard on my game and I want nothing more than to add this title to my career achievements.”

Pete Weber

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    The 36-time PBA Champion Pete Weber won this event back in 1987and he is hungrier than ever to win it again.

    Pete has nine majors to his credit, including five US Opens. Needless to say, he lives for this kind of event.

    Q&A with the legendary PDW-

    Besides it being a "major", what separates the TOC from other tournaments?

    “I feel it's more traditional. Looking back to the old style tournament the way it use to be, where it is only past champions and everybody cashes. I think the PBA and fans will like it like this.”

    What would it mean to you to win this again?

    “It would mean completing the "Triple Crown" for the second time, which no one has done.”

Tommy Jones

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    Known simply as TJhe owns 14 PBA Tour Titles, including two majorsone of them the 2007 TOC.

    Q&A with the great Tommy Jones-

    What is it about the TOC that separates itself from the rest of the majors? 

    “For me the TOC is about the prestige of the event. I grew up watching it in Akron and was in heaven when it was on. When I came on tour it was a goal to get to bowl it, no less win the event. The greats of the game have won the tournament and to me that's very important. “ 

     What goes through your mind when you are preparing for this championship?

    “I approach it like any other long format event in which I know there will be ups and downs. Also getting my body is shape for the grind of 48 games in four days. It takes a toll on you physically and mentally.”

    What does winning this event do for a player's resume? 

    “Adding this to your resume is a great accomplishment. You have to beat a lot of proven winners and do it on one of the biggest stages in our sport. I am a student of the game and pay attention to history. This is a prestigious event and means a lot to everyone - so all come with their guns a blazing. I'm looking forward to it.”

PBA's Xtra Frame Coverage

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    Join Ashly Galante, Mike Jakubowski, Mike Flanagan and Jason Thomas for live coverage of qualifying and match play rounds on PBA’s Xtra Frame http://www.xtraframe.tv/pba/

    Wednesday        March 27          10 a.m. & 5 p.m.        Qualifying

    Thursday           March 28           10 a.m.                    Qualifying

    Thursday           March 28           5 p.m.                       Match Play

    Friday               March 29          10 a.m.                     Match Play

TV Finals on ESPN

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    There is nothing more exciting than watching the live TV step ladder finals of a pro bowling major!

    Join Randy Pedersen, Lon McEachern and the beautiful Kimberly Pressler for all the action, Sunday March 31st on ESPN at 2:30 PM EST.

    Peter Cimino is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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