Experience and age is said to be the best teacher. Except, perhaps, when it comes to the George A. Obenauer Masters bowling tournament, which will run this week at AMF Lancaster Lanes.
The last two champions of one of the Greater Buffalo USBC Association's three signature events have been 21-year-olds who had just graduated from the University at Buffalo.
Kevin Bienko had turned 21 just five weeks before when he won the Obie in 2017. Dana Voytovich also was 21 when he won last year, one day after graduating from UB.
Both defeated seasoned bowlers who had won on the PBA Tour and were former Masters champions in the title round. Bienko won against Brad Angelo of Lockport and Voytovich defeated Jack Jurek twice in three matches against him over a span of about four hours.
The Obenauer is more than a test of talent and nerve. It can be physically grinding, especially if you have to fight your way back through the elimination bracket. On top of that, the opposition is formidable, featuring most of the best bowlers in the region.
Voytovich, a former Erie Community College NJCAA All-Events champion, defeated Jurek in the final of the winners bracket. Jurek then eliminated Joe Burgio and defeated Voytovich, necessitating another three-game total pinfall match to decide the championship.
Bienko and Voytovich are among the eight former Obenauer champions who will bowl this week in the 57th annual edition of the tournament. Other champions among the 128 bowlers in the sold-out field are: Tony Verdi (1972), Mike Hanes (1979, 1985, 2005), Pat Brick 2004, Mike Zarcone (2014) and Tony Dolan (2015).
The youngest Obenauer winner of all time? Bienko seems the most likely from available information. Mike Neumann also was 21 when he won the first of his four Obenauer titles in 1988.
PBA50 Tour veteran Tom Baker was regarded as a teenage phenom in the 1970s, but his only Obenauer came in 1980 at the ripe age of 26.
Hanes (24), Angelo (24), Ryan Ciminelli (24) and Joe Ciccone (25) were all 25 years or younger when they won their first Masters.
Neumann and Ciminelli, of course, are the only champions to repeat the next year. Neumann did it twice (1988 and 1989 and 1995 and 1996). Neumann and Angelo are the only four-time champions.
Ciminelli won in 2010 and 2011 before adding the 2016 title to his resume. The lefty from Clarence is the only Obenauer champion to win it as the top qualifier in the same year.
Top qualifier each year takes home the Pete Parisi Award. Last year's No. 1 qualifier was Mike Faliero Jr., who is not entered this year. He also won the Parisi in 1996.
Jurek and Ciccone are the only bowlers to lead the qualifying four times. Of course, once you clinch the top seed, all bets are off.
Eight games of qualifying for each bowler starts at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The field will bowl in two squads. The last squad Tuesday will be the early squad Wednesday. The field will then be cut to 32 bowlers for double-elimination match play, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
After Saturday night's matches, the field will be down to a final four for Sunday. The finals in each bracket will be at 1 p.m. Then the semifinal will be at 2 p.m. to decide who will bowl against the undefeated winners bracket bowler for the championship at 3 p.m. A second final match will follow if necessary.
The City Open Championship and Women's Championships, the other GBUSBCA major events wrapped up their three-week run at AMF Airport Lanes.
Kaiser wins Senior Masters
High qualifier Phil Kaiser of Rochester defeated Ray Textor of Jamestown, 195-163, in the final match to win the 27th Western New York Senior Masters last weekend at Kenmore Lanes.
Ninety bowlers, the largest field ever for the event, participated in the two-day tournament organized by Greater Buffalo USBC Hall of Famer Ray Bellet. The tournament had a $3,000 prize fund.
Textor had to win three matches in the stepladder to get to the final. First, he defeated Dan Eberl, 201-180, then Ken Ball, 256-178 and then another Jamestown bowler, Jamie Willey, 195-163.
Qualifying was held in three age divisions. The cut was at 564 for the 50 and over division, 561 for the 60 and over division and 539 for the 70 and over. Then 23 qualifiers bowled three more games to determine the stepladder finalists.