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Bowling Goes Globe-Trotting in 2009

It is only October, but 2009 could already go down as the year that the sport of bowling took on more of an international face than ever before. With Korea snagging more medals than the USA at the Women's World Championships, three PBA exempt players winning titles in Asia in as many weeks, and Team Europe's landslide victory at the Weber Cup last weekend, bowling has clearly gone globe trotting and found that the balance of power between American and international talent is about as even as it has ever been.

Gone are the days when the Japan Cup offered Asia its only real opportunity to glimpse PBA talent, when the only occasion during which you might catch a European-born bowler on the PBA Tour was at a major such as the U.S. Open, when the formerly 32-week-long PBA schedule allowed pro bowlers far less opportunity to pursue international competition than they now enjoy.

"Bowling's popularity overseas has grown," explains 2008 QubicaAMF World Champion Derek Eoff. "It's interesting to see how many more Americans are pursuing tournaments overseas. It's great for bowling around the world because European and Asian players can learn from American stars and pick their brains to improve their games."

"Bowling is not only becoming more global, but the talent level of the sport is being raised by great athletes competing against each other more often around the world," adds World Bowling Writers Hall of Famer and nine-time Team USA member Bill Hoffman.

In just a three-week span from September 18th through October 3rd this year, three PBA exempt players won titles in Asia. Few were likely surprised to see the man whom described as "globe-trotting American Storm staffer" Tim Mack win the Samho Korea Cup for a grand prize of $24,850 on September 18th. But when 2009 USBC Masters Champion John Nolen turned up in Hong Kong last week and seized the Hong Kong International Open title just a week after fellow PBA Tour star Doug Kent claimed a first Asian title of his own at the Euro-Med Storm International Masters, the trend became clear: There are as many opportunities to claim large purses around the world as there are on tour back home, and American stars will go wherever that hunt may lead them.

If Mack, Kent and Nolen found fortune across the Pacific, though, just as many other PBA stars learned that winning Asian Bowling Federation titles is no given. Neither reigning PBA Player of the Year Wes Malott nor 2007 USBC Masters Champion Sean Rash could find a way to oust Korea's Kim Yoon Ho before he finally fell to Tim Mack in the title match by just 5 pins. And if anything suggests that the bowling world is catching up to American talent, it's that Doug Kent looked across the ball return at his opponent in the title match of the Euro-Med and found 15-year-old Michael Mak of Hong Kong who, just a match before, fired a 296 to defeat third-seeded Cha Mi Jung. Cha, a female entrant in the event, had defeated John Nolen to reach Mak in the semifinals.

But Malott and Rash are not the only American pros to find that victory on the Asian circuit can often be no more automatic than a title on tour back home. Former PBA Rookie of the Year Rhino Page finished in 8th at the event that Kent won, while PBA exempt player Lonnie Waliczek lost to Thailand's Yannaphon Larpaharat in the semifinal match of the Hong Kong International Open.

"The message is that the rest of the world is catching up," says PBA Hall of Famer Del Ballard Jr., "and our guys and girls better be aware of it."

*By Gianmarc Manzione
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