Michigan bowler caps wire-to-wire win

Top youth bowlers and their parents dream of a Sunday like the one John Nolen and his family shared.

Competing in junior leagues and traveling to tournaments costs money and time.

But countless weekends in bowling centers paid off Sunday morning when Nolen, 29, won $60,000 at Cashman Center, the prestigious U.S. Bowling Congress Masters title and a two-year exemption on the primary tour of the Professional Bowlers Association, which ranks the Masters as one of its four major titles.

"We believed," said Nolen's mother, Debra Nolen.

His father, another John Nolen, said his oldest son "was in a bowling alley in a car seat while we bowled.

"He's given it his all. Sometimes he was discouraged but never gave up."

Nolen, of Waterford, Mich., defeated 2004 Masters winner and PBA Tour veteran Danny Wiseman 202-193 in the championship game.

Wiseman advanced to the final game by defeating South Carolina's Tommy Jones 257-216 and No. 2 seed Steve Harman of Indiana, 223-188.

Nolen became a full-time pro late last year after winning the PBA Regional Players Invitational that paid $7,500 and provided a one-year tour exemption.

He proved this week he can compete with the best.

Nolen became the first Masters player to lead qualifying, earn the top seed for the nationally televised stepladder finals and win the title.

And his first PBA victory came in a major tournament.

"This means everything," he said. "I want to win a lot of majors."

Nolen admitted to having "some sea legs" in his first frame on national television. He rolled his Ebonite ball high and left the 4-pin, which he covered and followed with a strike. Wiseman, winner of 12 tour titles, started with three strikes in a row to take a 12-pin lead.

But in the seventh frame, Wiseman left the 7-10 split on a pocket hit.

"In my head, I said 'ballgame,' " Nolen said.

Nolen spared in the seventh to take his first lead in the game, but in the next frame he went high, leaving the 4-6-10 split, and covered two of the remaining pins.

Wiseman, however, came up light on the headpin and left the 2-8-10 split that he didn't convert. Nolen completed his game, and Wiseman needed to strike on his first two rolls in the 10th to win but left a 10-pin on his first throw.

Wiseman said ball speed was critical for him and said he slowed up too much, resulting in his split leaves

"I needed more pop. Just a bad guess," Wiseman said of his strategy.

"John will be out here a long time, and I'm not going to be out here much longer," he said of possibly cutting back to competing only in major tournaments.

Nolen, one of four right-handers in the finals, still might be managing a bowling pro shop in his hometown were it not for Michigan's sagging economy.

"The pro shop was struggling so much. It wasn't making money," he said. "If it hadn't been in such dire straits, I'd be home drilling balls today.

"I came into this week wanting to get a win, and if this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, I have to think that way. I feel I can beat anybody."

Wiseman, 40, added, "If he didn't feel that way, he wouldn't be where he is today."

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.