Just moments after he rolled his final ball in the PBA Senior U.S. Open on Friday, Norm Duke had a difficult time remembering what had happened.
All he knew was that he was tired and happy. And more than a little proud.
Duke grinded his way through difficult lane conditions on the championship pair to defeat longtime friend and rival Pete Weber 214-174 in the title match at Suncoast Bowling Center.
“Right now I don’t have much recollection of what happened,” said Duke, a 37-time winner on the Professional Bowlers Association tour and the first bowler to win the U.S. Open and the Senior U.S. Open. “It’s over. I’ll do a lot of thinking on the plane on the way home. I’m proud of myself. I really am.”
He had reason to be.
Duke, who was tied for 52nd after the first round of qualifying, battled his way to the No. 1 seed for the four-man stepladder finals. He threw just two strikes in his first seven frames of the title match, but converted spares and finally started a string of three straight strikes in the eighth to put the match away and collect a $12,000 check.
“That’s like every U.S. Open in any sport; you’ve got to fight,” said Duke, in his rookie season on the seniors tour. “When it looks the grimmest, that’s when you’ve got to reach down and grab even more than you think you’re capable of. You do that over and over and over, and that’s what is so mentally tiring. Every shot you throw could be open, open, open, open and you’re done. Pete struggled, and I could have struggled just as easily.”
With the lanes rapidly drying, Duke stayed away from using a hook. He shifted to the right side of the lane and threw a straighter ball, leaving himself with routine spares.
“I was trying to go as straight as humanly possible,” Duke said. “I was just trying not to get my ball to hook at all. I knew that if you tried to get it to hook, you were susceptible to splits. I said 9, spare is really good and you have a shot at striking. The other guys were trying to give the pocket away and hook it in there, and you saw how that worked out.
“I figured the advantage was going straight.”
Weber, who overcame three splits in the first four frames of his semifinal match to beat Brian Voss 193-158, couldn’t get comfortable in the final.
He left a 4-6-7-9-10 split in the second frame of the title match and appeared to be fighting his way back, but left a 3-10 baby split in the eighth and couldn’t pick up the spare.
“The five count in the second, I thought I threw it really good,” Weber said. “Then I went high, and then I just got really confused. I was just afraid to throw the ball to the right because I didn’t know if it would hook.”
Weber could have taken the lead with a strike in the eighth frame. The missed baby split, followed by two strikes by Duke, ended Weber’s chance at victory.
“I knew if I got up and threw a double in the eighth and ninth, that would put a lot of pressure on Norm,” said Weber, who won $6,500. “I didn’t throw a good shot. It was just bad. The lanes were not reacting very nicely for me.”
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at email@example.com or 702-387-5230.