The United States Open is arguably the biggest tournament on the PBA schedule. Its demanding oil pattern, and number of participants makes winning a real task.
Finland's Mika Koivuniemi needed a spare in the final frame to capture the title, $80,000 first place money, and undoubtedly Bowler of the Year honors for the season.
When Mika's GEICO spare ball dumped into the right gutter, he committed perhaps the biggest choke in the history of the PBA.
Over the last two decades or so, we bowling fans have seen our share of chokes (both personally and on TV). This may not be my best article, but I hope you PBA fans enjoy; I always encourage feedback and comments!
Here's my top five chokes in the last 20 years...
2008 H&R Block Tournament of Champions
Now before this countdown goes any further let me clarify this; there is a massive difference between a "choke" and a "bad break".
Needing a strike to win and leaving an 8-pin isn't a choke (although it may be bad karma). But while most chokes occur in one frame, some can be multiple frames; such as this.
Barnes was sitting in the driver's seat on cruise control, up as many as 52 late in match against Richard Belzer lookalike, Michael Haugen Jr.
Entering the ninth frame Barnes left and subsequently missed a 10 pin, cutting his lead from 41 to 19 instantly.
Haugen tossed the first two in the 10th and then a nine count to turn the tables and put pressure on Barnes. Instead of tossing the first two and a count would win the tournament, Barnes left a 2-pin to now force himself to strike for the tie.
Barnes went a touch high on his final shot, leaving a 4-pin, and losing 215-214.
Barnes fell to the floor in defeat while Haugen Jr. got up and celebrated a much deserved victory.
While Barnes is a notorious yacker when the lights are on, this is easily his biggest failure.
2009 H&R Block Tournament of Champions
Team USA representatives, Rhino Page and Patrick Allen meet in the championship of one of the PBA's four majors. Showing their stuff, both lefties are tossing exceptional games—putting up numbers in the 250's.
P.A. finishes first in the 10th with a final score of 257, which will force Rhino to throw at least the first strike.
Now Rhino just needs a 9-count and a spare to win. He approaches the lane and almost instantly you see he misses it at the bottom of his swing. The ball goes out, but doesn't come back as he whiffs the head-pin for a 4-count.
In shock, P.A. is out of his seat, and Rhino is in shock.
2008 Exempt Doubles Classic
The match: Patchogue, N.Y. native Michael Fagan and Danny Wiseman against Ronnie Russell and Buffalo, N.Y. native, Joe Ciccone.
Russell/Ciccone appear to be in good shape after Fagan leaves a 2-pin in the 10th frame, failing to lock his opponents out. Fagan covers the spare and strikes on the fill ball, forcing Ciccone to strike on his first ball in the 10th.
Ciccone crushes the hole and packs all 10 in the pit while Fagan/Wiseman sit shaking their heads in disappointment.
On Ciccone's second shot he gets it out just a little further than he bargained for, and leaves the 2-5 on deck.
Ciccone laughs to himself knowing that he needs to cover the spare to tie, and that this is also not a gimme spare - even for a pro.
In a shocking turn of events, Ciccone misses the spare. Not like a chop, but a full blown miss.
Fagan/Wiseman cannot believe what they just witnessed, as Ciccone covers his face with his hands in disbelief, and defeat.
What a way for Fagan to win his first PBA title...
1991 Fair Lanes Open
If you're even reading this, the odds are that you bowl. And if you bowl, odds are you already know the basics.
Ballard Jr. vs. a very young Pete Weber, needed just seven pins on his final ball to win the Fair Lanes Open. Ballard walks up to the lane and proceeds to toss it in the gutter just about halfway down the lane.
99 out of 100 people might say that this has to be #1, but here's what you have to realize; getting seven pins, while very easy, is not a gimme.
Most pros would just heave it down the middle of the lane if they needed anything from 1-5, maybe even 6 pins, but 7 is that taboo number. You can very easily get less than seven by just tossing it.
Mika's shot (SPOILER ALERT) had so much more riding on it than Ballard. Not to mention, Ballard needed seven, Mika needed one.
2011 U.S. Open
Many people would argue that Norm Duke should have won this tournament to begin with. But there was enough drama in the final frames to boost this tournament into PBA infamy.
As both a Duke and a Mika fan, this was tough to watch; but I guess I'm glad I didn't see Bill O'Neill's chokefest against Ryan Shafer or else I'd be really pissed.
Both bowlers had great games going, despite the tough pattern. And the set stage couldn't be better:
Norm Duke, a PBA legend and one of the toughest match-play bowlers ever, against the "Big Finn" Mika Koivuniemi, the hottest player on tour since the change of the new year.
Each player got a horrendous break during the match, unfortunately for Mika, his came at the worst possible moment.
Duke was down just four to Mika in the 7th when he blasted an 8-pin. But being the professional that he is, Duke didn't stop and stare at the pin, yell, or make any sarcastic mannerisms - he just walked back to convert the spare.
Mika packed his next two shots in the 8th and 9th for a four-timer; giving him a 24-pin lead going into the final frame.
Duke tossed all four in the 9th and 10th; forcing Mika to fill 16 pins in the 10th to win.
The rest is history, Mika yelled "CARRY!" in Finnish as his ball went down, leaving the inevitable 10-pin. Randy Pedersen's kiss of death, "He's a good spare shooter, but he must convert this" was pretty much all that was needed.
Following the open, Mika was on the floor, and Duke closed his eyes in disbelief. The win showed not only what a true professional Norm Duke is, but what an incredible sportsman he is as well.
He didn't jump and yell, or even move. He just sat there, to let Mika let out his frustration. During his trophy ceremony Duke, in tears, gave his condolences to Mika.
"I feel for Mika, I really do," he said. Duke added, "My heart is with Mika."
As I stated before, this is #1 because of the stakes. You can argue making a 10-pin is harder than getting 7 on a shot, but you can't argue the stakes.
This would've been Mika's 10th title overall, fourth major, an $80,000 payday, and an all but locked up Player of the Year award. I believe after this tournament that he still has a very good shot to win the Player of the Year, seeing as how O'Neill failed to make the TV finals, but losing was a definite setback.