Bowling Great Billy Hardwick
continues presenting Editorial articles with this feature highlighting one of my favorite all time bowlers. Billy Hardwick has passed away on November 16, 2013. As a friend for more than forty years and one who both admired and respected Billy, I wish to honor his memory by providing this article and addressing my personal insight into this great man.
Billy's passing came as an unexpected occurrence to his family and friends. The shock waves of his passing will definitely reverberate throughout the bowling industry. Billy was a larger than life figure who celebrated more than fifty years involvement in the industry as a player, a spokesperson, an ambassador, and as a bowling center proprietor in Memphis, Tenn.
There are several players I have long admired for a variety of reasons other than pure talent. Billy stands out because he is one bowler who moved the spotlight in the 1960's away from Dick Weber and Don Carter and brought new talent, energy, and excitement to the game.
With Billy being a long time friend and a bowler whom I have long admired for his tenacity and work ethic in overcoming physical challenges, it is important to note that Billy accomplished more than most Hall of Fame players while enduring debilitating arthritis where any lesser person would likely have simply retired from the game.
Regarding his bowling accomplishments, Billy was the first bowler to be chosen to appear in a national TV commercial in 1969 for the Miller Brewing company. An 18-time Tour Champion, Hardwick was named the PBA Player of the Year in 1963 and 1969. He is one of nine men to have won the award more than once. He captured his first tournament in 1963 and won the inaugural Tournament of Champions in 1965.
In 1969 when he took six titles, Hardwick also won the BPAA All-Star (the prelude naming the event the U.S. Open Championship) and was the PBA's leading money winner that year.
Billy ended his storied bowling career with a win in Toledo, Ohio on the PBA Winter Tour in 1976 followed by leading the tournament the following week at the Firestone Tournament of Champions only to finish in second place.
The real story about Billy, however and as previous stated, was his private battle with a serious case of arthritis he suffered from since childhood. At 12 years of age, Billy was told by doctors he likely would not be able to walk by the time of his 21st birthday.
Not being one to give up or give in, Billy battled his ailments and became a prolific bowler during his teen years. And to further amplify Billy’s tenacity, he failed to earn a cash spot in his first 17 tournaments he bowled on the national PBA Tour. Most bowlers would have thrown in the towel after failing to cash in 17 consecutive tournaments thinking that maybe they just did not have the “right stuff.” Not Billy.
In his 18th tournament, Billy made the top 16 finals field and won the event after the match play rounds; earning his first of 18 career titles. Billy stayed the course by believing in himself despite all odds against success.
As a former roommate of Billy’s during my early years as a player, I recall Billy struggling to get out of his bed in the morning because of the pain he suffered from with arthritis. He had to take medication so he could simply move around and eventually get himself ready to face the day. It was not uncommon to see Billy arise hours before he needed to leave his hotel room just to get himself prepared to walk, let alone bowl tournaments.
Billy never complained was was always the first one in the room to offer his sincere smile. But the real mark of this man was his unending love for his family, particularly his children. Billy was so very proud of anything his children accomplished and he made certain he spent as much time as he needed so his kids knew how much he loved them.
As a proprietor of Billy Hardwick's All Star Lanes in Memphis, Tenn., Billy would spend time with his customers every day making sure they knew they were the backbone of his successful business and he never forgot to thank them and be sincere in doing so.
Because he was one of the "regular guys" on tour, Billy always had a kind word for anyone who engaged him. Billy would spend endless time with new players trying to encourage them by offering advice about life on the road and about the mental aspects of being a successful player on Tour, yours truly included.
What we can all learn from Billy Hardwick is that the will to win and the desire to overcome personal challenges goes a long way toward gaining successes in our chosen fields. Billy wanted to see everyone get the most from their skills and talents, bowling or otherwise, and he never wanted to see someone give up nor get discouraged at the first sign of difficulties.
As a personal footnote, I would like to salute the career of a great Champion and an even better person, my dear friend Billy Hardwick. Everyone at bowlingball.com
sends our deepest condolences to the family of Billy Hardwick and we promise to keep his memory alive in perpetuity.
Rest In Peace, Billy!