Chris Barnes: “If they want to think I’m a choker, they can think I’m a choker.”
  • Chris Barnes: “If they want to think I’m a choker, they can think I’m a choker.”
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I realize many of you were mindlessly following the sports fashion of the moment, watching the Packers and Falcons grind through another ho-hum NFL playoff game. Well, that’s too bad, especially since you could have experienced the authentic chest-crushing excitement of world championship professional bowling. Live. On ESPN2.

Pretty smart counter programming on the part of Disney/ABC/ESPN/Pixar/Touchstone/Marvel Comics and 100 other conglomerate underlings, by the way. But, let’s get back to the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour, specifically, to the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour World Series of Bowling World Championship (WSOB).

The WSOB calls Las Vegas’ fabulous South Point Hotel/Casino/Spa and its 64-lane bowling center home. And you want to watch a football game? Incredible.

Despite the invention of the typewriter — pardon me, invention of the personal computer, the PBA holds tight to its 1958 polyester roots, best exemplified by the legendary U.S. Grant Hotel bus boy saffron shirt. But, we’re not here to talk about bowling fashion (as much fun as that is), we’re here for the walloping thrill of championship bowling.

While the Falcons are rolling over on their bellies, here, in Bowling World, Chris Barnes is battling his nemesis, Michael Haugen Jr., on live television. The stakes are astronomical: the winner of this match earns the right to play a foreigner, Osku Palermaa, for the right to play the number 2 qualifier, Sean Rash, for the right to play the number 1 qualifier, Bill O’Neill, for the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour World Series of Bowling World Championship dinky trophy and a $50,000 check.

Which is about all you need to know. A lousy $50,000 for winning a PBA major.

Saying that, things have changed in Bowling World. According to industry leader White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group (stay with me), the 1960s was high water for bowling. Twelve thousand-plus centers supported by blue-collar bowling leagues. Blue-collar jobs aren’t what they used to be and neither are bowling leagues, which in days gone by provided 70 percent of bowling-center income. Flash forward to 38 percent and 5000 bowling centers.

Pretty much everything is down except...50 million people bowl at least once during the year, and the demographics have changed. According to a survey taken in 2007, 42 percent of bowlers had household incomes of $75,000 or more; 25 percent had incomes of $100,000 or more. I, personally, have never seen these people, but I have no reason to doubt the numbers.

The money still sucks. The WSOB winner gets $50,000, second place $25,000, third $14,000, fourth $12,000. PBA pays to produce its own broadcasts, which is nice for ESPN. Double nice, since bowling gets good ratings during the NFL season, better than any other show ESPN trotted out.

Enough shop talk. Stepping up to the lane now is the no. 6 qualifier, Michael Haugen Jr., from Carefree, Arizona. He’s matched against Chris Barnes from Double Oak, Texas. Barnes, 40, is ranked no. 4 in the world and has a reputation of choking whenever he appears on TV.

Airhead bowling TV commentator asks Barnes about this. Barnes answers, “One of the things that’s great about sports is that you’re allowed to have an opinion, you’re allowed to be critical and, so, if they want to think I’m a choker, they can think I’m a choker. If they want to find out if I’m for real, they can come bowl me. You know, the guys on tour do...and I don’t think these guys are spotting me the ninth and tenth frame of every game.” Barnes smirks.

In 2008, Barnes lost the Tournament of Champions by one pin to this same Michael Haugen Jr. after having a 52-pin lead. In 2010 — you better take a seat for this — Barnes, the Tournament of Champions favorite, lost that tournament, and lost big, 265-195, to a woman. To a woman. The only male who has ever lost a title to a woman in PBA history.

How do you come back from that?

You man up, that’s how. I should tell you that Barnes went on to win the WSOB tournament and with it the last leg of PBA’s Triple Crown. He’s only the sixth player to do so. On the other hand, he lost the 2010 TOC to a woman. Can he live with that contradiction?

See for yourself. You’re invited to watch the man who lost a major bowling tournament to a woman. After 14 years, the PBA has made its way back to network television. ABC will broadcast the Tournament of Champions — from Las Vegas, of course. The TOC will offer the biggest first prize in PBA history, $250,000. Second place is lunch at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s live, starts at 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

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