Perhaps if he were not foreign-born and bowled with the conventional style rather than the two-handed method, Jason Belmonte would have the popularity of others who have reigned over the Professional Bowlers Association Tour since its founding in 1959. He could be the equal of Earl Anthony, Walter Ray Williams, Mark Roth, Marshall Holman, Dick and Pete Weber and Don Carter.
"Belmo," who is from Australia, is dominating the American pro bowling scene.
His 22 career titles are tied for 11th in Tour history and are not close to Walter Ray's 47, but this is a different era. Consider, though, that he has won record 11 career majors so half his career titles have come in majors — the USBC Masters (4), the Tournament of Champions (3), World Championship (2), PBA Players Championship. He's never won the fifth major, the U.S. Open.
He has only seven standard tournament titles, a low total mainly because there are so few standard events on the Tour these days. Belmonte bowled only twice in PBA events here. He finished 60th in the Cheetah Championship at Thruway Lanes in December of 2008, but had much more success the next time he was in town. Belmonte was sixth, missing the finals of the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship by two players the first week in March of 2011. Finishing just ahead of him was Buffalo pro and former Erie Community College bowler Joe Ciccone. Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga was second in what turned out to be the final Tour event here.
Belmonte was the only four-time winner on the Tour in 2019 so it was no surprise that he was an overwhelming choice as the 2019 Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the year. Belmonte won the Schenkel Award for the fifth time. Williams won it seven times and Anthony six times.
Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Ariz., was a distant second in the voting by the media and PBA members.
Belmonte's wins included a record-tying third Tournament of Champions and a World Championship. He was the first to reach the championship finals of four majors for a second time. He was second in the Players Championship and fourth in the U.S. Open.
Few players have dominated the Tour the way Belmonte has since his rookie season (2008-09). Williams won 23 titles between 1993 and '98; Roth won eight times in 1978 and Anthony (1975) and Williams (1993) had seven-win seasons.
In addition, Mykel Holliman of Collierville, Tenn., was recognized as 2019 Harry Golden PBA Rookie of the Year; Bowl 4 Life founder Chuck Gardner of Charlotte, N.C., was named recipient of the 2019 Tony Reyes PBA Community Service Award; and Sweden’s Martin Larsen became the first international player selected twice by his peers as winner of the Steve Nagy Sportsmanship Award.
The Rookie of the Year awards also was decided by a poll of by veteran members of the bowling news media along with the PBA membership. The Reyes Award recipient is selected by a panel of PBA executives. The Nagy Award is voted upon by PBA Tour players who have bowled in at least 50 percent of the current year’s tournaments.
Left-hander Holliman, 27, reached the championship round in two events, including the USBC Masters where he lost in the title match to Butturff.
Gardner, 60, was a 36-year PBA member who continues to serve in a number of other industry-related activities. He was selected as Tony Reyes PBA Community Service Award recipient, however, because he founded the Chuck Gardner Bowl4Life Foundation in 2013 to assist youth bowlers with scholarship funding.
Larsen, 40, has yet to win a PBA Tour title in his 10 years, but has seven championship-round appearances, including a pair of runner-up finishes. Larsen was first selected as the Nagy Award recipient in 2011-12. His 2019 schedule was limited after he was struck by a car and seriously injured before the start of the PBA Harry O’Neale Chesapeake Open in Virginia Beach, Va., in mid-August.
The four award winners will be recognized during the PBA Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 18, as part of the PBA Hall of Fame Classic tournament weekend.
• The 22nd annual Western New York Queens Tournament will be hosted by the Niagara Falls USBC Association at the Rapids Bowling Center on Jan. 26 at 10 a.m. Entry forms are available at bowling centers or can be downloaded from www.tonusbc.com, www.gbusbc.com and www.nfusbc.com.
There will be bowling in three divisions: Division I (200 and over average), Division II (180-199 average) and Division III (179 and under average), and two youth classifications: Division I (176 and over average) and Division II (175 and under).
* The Greater Buffalo USBC Youth Team Championship is this weekend at AMF Lancaster Lanes in Depew. The two-day event wraps up Sunday with competition in three divisions. The Scratch Division is guaranteed a new winner because age has broken up the powerful team of Michael Weber, Josh Large, Dominic Germano and Ryan Reese. That team won the Tonawandas Youth Team title last January. The 2020 Tonawandas Team tournament will be at Classic Lanes on Jan. 19.
* The GBUSBC Bumpers and Youth Singles tournaments will be held Feb.8-9 at Lancaster, and the Youth Doubles Tournament on March 1 and 7-8 at Broadway Sports Center.