John Nolen was one cool dude Friday night at Cashman Center, and not because of the diamond earrings that adorn each earlobe.
He seemed to be bowling in a hometown jackpot instead of the U.S. Bowling Congress Masters that began Tuesday with 452 of the world’s best bowlers — amateurs and professionals.
Nolen dominated the event run in conjunction with the Professional Bowlers Association, which lists it as one of four annual majors.
He gained the top seed Friday for the nationally televised four-man finals Sunday morning at Cashman Center.
He led 15 games of qualifying and went 6-0 in three-game, match-play rounds.
“The job isn’t done yet,” he said after beating Steve Harman of Camby, Ind., 755-632 to claim the top seed.
Nolen averaged 232 in match play and 228 in 15 games of qualifying.
He is the first Masters qualifying leader to gain the top seed for the stepladder finals since Mike Scroggins in 2005.
He won’t be a full-time PBA player until the 2009-10 season but isn’t awed of bowling in his first televised finals.
“I’m not competing out here just to make the TV shows,” Nolen said. “I want to win.”
Danny Wiseman of Baltimore will meet Tommy Jones of Simpsonville, S.C., in the opening match. The winner faces Harman, and Nolen awaits in the championship game.
Less than a year ago, Nolen was managing a bowling pro shop in Waterford, Mich., and competing locally.
“Times are tough in Michigan,” he said. “I decided it was time to go full bore. I felt like I could compete with these guys.”
He won the 2008 PBA Regional Players Invitational that provided a PBA Tour exemption for the next season and a spot in last month’s Tournament of Champions at Red Rock Station, where he placed 23rd but had a 5-19 match-play record.
He credits his recent success to girlfriend Lindsay Baker, a four-time All-America bowler for the University of Nebraska.
“She’s my eyes,” Nolen said. “She knows my game. We made a couple of changes to my arm swing after the Tournament of Champions.”
It helped him place eighth in last weekend’s Dick Weber Open.
They hope it also pays dividends with a $60,000 champion’s check Sunday.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. For more on the Masters, go to lvrj.com/bowling.