128 lawn bowlers assemble before the Men's Fours competition at Laguna Hills
JPLBC club members Richard Krueger, Doug Bradley, Chris Davis and Willie Weir participated in the US Open lawn bowls tournament held in Orange County, CA from October 13-18. You can read Willie's dispatches below.
Friday, October 19, 7am
Never Give Up
Doug Bradley and I had three scheduled games after advancing to the 6th Flight Pairs. Unlike the day before, we both had a good feel of the green. Our first match was against a couple of Aussie’s. It didn’t start well. They carried the jack back on the second and third ends, scoring a three and a two. Down 5-1 after three ends (16 end match), it is easy to think, “Here we go again.” But after 5 days of competing, the one thing I’ve learned is how fast a game can completely turn around. And this one did. Doug kept putting his first two bowls near the jack and then one in back to cover. Our opponents scored just four more points and we won 22-9.
Next up was a team from Santa Barbara. We continued where we had left off the match before and won 22-13.
Our final match was a team from New Brunswick. They had battled hard to win their 2nd game, burning a couple of ends to avoid defeat and winning the game on a masterful shot.
We switched to the other green for this match. Not a problem …except this green was running faster than the one we’d played on all day (about 14 seconds). When you are used to playing on our greens at Jefferson Park (which run about 12 seconds on a good day), a faster green can really mess with you. There is no muscle memory for the weight you need to be playing. So a shot that you’d swear you rolled the same as the last one ends up going eight feet further down the rink.
A faster green also means a wider swing in the bias. Our opponents were playing with very narrow bias bowls, so they had less of an adjustment to make.
After 5 ends, we were tied 3-3. The sixth end proved painful. They scored a six. I had several opportunities to cut down the score, but my bowls sailed on by the head. We struggled for the next hour and found ourselves down by the score of 6-17 with only four more ends to play.
This match was all but over.
Doug showed no signs of giving up and I glanced to the back were Chris Davis, Richard Board and his wife Sally were rooting us on. Then I looked over to the sidelines and there was Richard Krueger, his signature pith helmet, slightly dented and placed UPSIDE DOWN on his head … a rally cap.
Doug put three of his bowls near the jack and their lead was either too short or two long. I added a couple to the scoring block and their skip (who had been “on” all game) missed every opportunity to come into the head. We had scored a five.
The next end saw the same scenario, with Doug near the jack. Their lead began to show signs of stress in his delivery. The smooth delivery was gone. But it was a fairly short jack and the odds that their skip would continue to miss coming into the head were slight. But he was down to his last shot. I decided to put up a Lew Storm block. I’ve been told that Lew is famous for his short blocking shots and I rolled my bowl halfway between the mat and the head in the approximate path of their skip's line. His last bowl squarely hit my block and we counted up the head. We had scored another 5.
The score was now 16-17 with two ends to play.
Doug was a master again and we held a point less than an inch directly behind the jack. On his last bowl, their skip managed to roll the perfect shot and land his bowl a half an inch in front of the jack for the point. I missed the tricky shot to come in and nudge the jack forward and we were down 16-18.
The last end didn’t go our way. Their lead managed to come in for a point and there were enough bowls in front that burning the end was next to impossible. I’m sure a seasoned skip would have found a way, but my bowls missed their marks. We lost the match. But, WOW, how fun it was to come back from the depths of bowling despair.
I learned a lot about this game in six intense days of competition.
Never give up.
Never underestimate your opponent.
Always cover the back.
Don’t get greedy, but don’t be too timid either.
Anyone who enjoys this game owes it to themselves to at least once enter the US Open. Six days of bowling against some of the best bowlers you’ll find. I was worried that the intense competition would take most of the fun out of the game. But I have to say that I enjoyed every game and every bowler I bowled against.
What a trip!
Wednesday, October 17, 11pm
Chris Davis and Richard Krueger lost their first match, won their second and then lost their third match, which put them out of the pairs competition.
Willie Weir and Doug Bradley lost their first two matches but hung on to win their third match and advance to the six flight finals tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 16, 11pm
Team Jefferson Park won both of our games today and won the 5th Flight which should bring us tens of dollars in prize money.
Fours is a hard game to play. Each player gets two bowls instead of four. It is a lot of waiting and agonizing (or celebrating) the shots of your team players, followed by a very short time of actual playing. It is harder to stay focused. It is harder to get into a groove. It is hard on your feet.
But I like it. It is the most social of the competitions and you really have to work as a team. Visually it is quite stunning. 32 teams ... 128 bowlers all packed onto two greens.
We bowled much better today than we did yesterday. Doug led and often put a bowl on the jack and one in the back. Richard followed with a couple more in the head if we had the point. As the vice it was my job to do whatever is needed, from a shot with some weight to move some bowls around to a dead draw. As the skip, Chris sees the most pressure, especially when the team is down a point or two or three.
We vaulted into a 9-0 lead in our first match this morning and led the entire game. In fact we led by 8 points going into the final end. Scoring a four is great. Scoring a 5 or 6 is rare. A seven is getting into the unheard of category and an 8 is nigh near impossible. We began the 16th end up 21-13.
Doug set the jack and Chris commented to me that he should have had Doug bring up the mat and set a jack at the two-meter mark. This way any bowl from the other team landing in the ditch could not count against us. I reassured him that we had a commanding lead. All would be well.
Doug put his first bowl two meters in front of the jack and his second two meters behind. Our opponents lead put two bowls near the jack. Richards bowls were also a long way from the elusive white orb and by the time there second was finished we were down 4 points.
No worries. I had two chances to put a bowl in the head. Anywhere. My first bowl slipped past the head. It was an easy shot. But the pressure was now building and the fast twitch muscles were coming into play when they shouldn’t have. “No problem” I thought. “Make an adjustment. Breathe deeply. Narrow your aiming point. Less backswing. Smooth.” I let the bowl go and the instant it left my hand I knew that I had passed on this horrible burden to Chris.
This wasn’t just a loss that would knock us out of the 5th flight. If this team scored an eight we would be on the wrong end of a legendary comeback. A story told time and time again on lawn bowling greens across the world.
But the bowling gods were with us and their vice threw one bowl just a tad long. I’m talking inches here. By the time Chris managed to also throw a bowl passed the head and one too short, it was simply impossible for their skip to pull off an 8. He did, however, pull off a seven … and a game that should have been won by almost ten points ended up being a one-point cliffhanger.
We all sighed in relief and got ready for the final match.
We pulled ahead early in this game as well, but managed to keep the lead and not fall apart on the last end. The team lead by skip Marty Schans conceded with the score 20-10 and one end to go.
The whole tournament has been a blast, but I must confess that it is a lot more exhausting than I thought it would be. We’ve bowled 5-8 hours a day for four days. Up at 6am. Leave for the greens by seven. Arrive and roll some practice bowls until 8am and then the competition begins. The bowlers at this level are good enough that you can’t let your guard down. Loose your concentration for one end and your can find yourself down four points awfully fast.
Tomorrow Doug and I report to the greens at Newport Beach and Chris and Richard will bowl at Long Beach. Hopefully at the end of the day we will share stories of hard won victories.
Tuesday, October 16, 8pm
Team Jefferson Park won both of their games and won the 5th Flight Pairs today at Laguna Hills!!
Monday, October 15, 11pm
Team Jefferson Park is still hanging on in the "Fours" competition. We lost our first two games, but managed to eek out a nail-biter to advance to the 5th flight and more bowling tomorrow.
Sunday, October 14, 8:30pm
Saturday, October 13, 11pm
My first end of my first game in national competition went well. My opponent was Jamie from Southern England … a gracious, polite 18 year-old. I scored a point and sighed in relief. At least I’d broken the ice in this new venue.
I must have been mentally celebrating my point rather than concentrating on the match because three short ends later … Jamie was ahead 9-1. Three three point ends I’d give up.
I battled back, but Jamie put me away 18-10.
It was on to game two.
My next opponent was Art Allen from Tucson—a soft-spoken man (an ex-vicor I’m told) who gently disposed of me by the familiar score of 18-10. After I had given up a “4” in one of the last ends, he put his arm around me and said, “I know how much that hurts.
I’ve been there before.”
I have to say that after two matches I was charmed by this event. I expected a bunch of hyper-competitive guys who cared for nothing else but winning—guys would snarl and fix their “game glare” at you after pounding you into the game.
But what I experienced were guys who were just delighted to be out on the greens on a partly cloudy day in California. From my observations, must of the group are hooked on good hearted competition … not just winning.
The misty, partly cloudy day gave way to a sunny afternoon and better results for me. My third (must win) game was with Royston from Australia, just north of Sydney in the wine country. Of all the people I met on the green, Royston embodied the “just happy to be here” vibe. A small man with a big heart, Royston was the first to laugh at a bad shot he’d made and the first to congratulate you on a good shot of yours. I won 18-7.
By the time I began my fourth game it was 3pm and I was wiped--the combination of the sun, the competition and a cold I’d been battling. How do people 20-40 years older than I do it???
My last game of the day was against Ron. He had been this sport for a long time. He now uses a cane to brace himself when up on the mat. I wondered if he could even get the bowl to the ditch, let alone wheel off a drive shot. Well … I’d be happy to have a drive shot of his caliber after having seen several successful ones against me.
I jumped out to an early lead, scoring on the first 6 ends to lead 7-0. After ten ends I led 9-5. After 16 ends, 16-9. I only needed two more points. But Ron had a lot of fight left in him and he clawed his way back. Three end later it was 16-14. In one of those ends I held two points (enough to win the game). Ron hobbled up to the head, took a look, slowly walked back to the mat and proceeded to fire a perfect shot that sent both of my bowls flying. He got the point.
Finally, in the 22nd end I got my eighteenth point and the win.
I’d bowled four games with for delightful individuals with the sound of the surf of Laguna Beach as a sound track.
I now advance to the 7th flight finals tomorrow.
This brings up the complexities of a “flight-based” competition. Both Doug Bradley and Chris Davis bowled better than I did today. Yet they are out of the competition. Doug won both of his first two games and then lost his third. Chris lost his first game, won his second in one of the most exciting games of the day (tied 17 all, Chris had the point and his opponent burned the end. Chris prevailed on the next end.) But Chris lost his third game so he’s out.
The lesson of the day … don’t lose your third game.
Tomorrow is a must win situation. One more loss and I’m out as well.
Saturday, October 13, 6:30pm
Quick update after day one of the singles:
Richard Krueger won all three of his games (also had a "bye") and advances to the Championship Flight finals.
Richard Broad advances to the 4th flight finals.
Willie Weir advances to the 7th flight finals.
More later ...
Friday, October 12, 10pm
Here at tournament central (Holiday Inn) not only is there information and the schedule available, but also brand new equipment for sale. Laid out on the tables are brand new sets of Henselite bowls. I must admit. I lusted over a set or two.
As our team was getting ready to leave, Doug Bradley and Richard Krueger told me they wanted to introduce me to someone. They walked me to the back to the bowls display and asked me which set I’d buy. Then to my shock … they bought me a brand new set of number 3, Henselite Tiger Bowls. They said they needed to keep the Greens Chairman happy.
What a gift!!! The Henselite Classics that I currently bowl with have too much bias for the speedy greens of Southern California. I noticed it yesterday while practicing, but figured I’d have to try and adjust.
Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club
What a view!
Laguna Beach and Laguna Hills
We spent the day practicing at two of the clubs where we will be bowling. There are few clubs that can rival the views from Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club, but Laguna Beach is one of them. WOW! This club is the Pebble Beach of lawn bowling, perched on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean. The greens are fast by our northwest standards and the Bermuda type grass survives with less water. The greens may look browner, but roll pretty true.
It was obvious to Chris Davis and I that there just aren’t any bad bowlers at this event and we have our work cut out for us.
Red Carpet treatment at Laguna Hills
We spent the afternoon bowling at Laguna Hills--Another club with a beautiful view of the pine-covered hills and beyond and a golf course below the greens.
You try and focus on your practice session, while still stealing glances at your possible opponents playing on the other rinks.
But the practice sessions are over and everything counts from here on out.
There isn’t enough time to fill you in on many of the details of the day, including such distractions as a lost set of rental car keys … it’s time to get some sleep.
Friday, October 12, 7am
I’m writing from the room that Chris Davis and I are sharing at the Holiday Inn near I-405. The constant whir of the fan of the air conditioner/heater drones on because our windows can’t open.
Many folks confuse the US Open with the US Championships. The US Championships are what the playdowns are all about. The winners of the playdowns of each division meet for a round robin tournament each year. You must qualify for this tournament by winning the playdowns in doubles or singles.
The US Open is just that … open. You sign up. You pay your money. You bowl.
Looking over my glossy souvenir program, I see that there are 155 men signed up for this tournament. In our ranks are 21 Canadians, 14 Austalians, 6 Scotsman, 2 Englishman and 1 Irishman. The rest are from the US. There are only 5 here from the Northwest Division—our team and Richard Broad, who is teamed up with a Canadian for the doubles.
There are 105 women signed up including a team from the Phillipines.
Of course all of these bowlers can’t play at one club. The tournament is being held at five clubs: Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Newport Harbor, Long Beach, Santa Ana and a place called “The Groves.”
We will bowl in three events over six days. Today is practice and the chance to try and get used to the faster greens here in southern California.
Saturday and Sunday will be the singles event. Monday and Tuesday will be the “Fours” or “Rinks” (4 bowlers per team, each bowling with two bowls). And Wednesday and Thursday will be the pairs. The women are on a different schedule (Fours then Pairs then Singles) to maximize the greens space.
Chris Davis and I are surrounded by tournament-tested bowlers. Take our partners for example. Richard Krueger has played in five or six US Championships and five US Opens. Doug Bradley has played in seven US Championships and five US Opens. Chris and I have the combined experience of exactly “zero” national events. We are the eager, clumsy puppies of this event. We are not the youngest participants however. That distinction would go to Jonathan and Joshua Burnoski, two teenage brothers who have been competing with their father since they were 8 and 10 I’m told.
It is quite possible that I am going to be schooled by a bowler who is 30 plus years younger than me. Come to think of it, I could just as easily get schooled by a bowler who is 30 plus years older than me!! That's what is both great and horriying about this game.
Thursday, October 11, 8am--Willie Weir
Pack’em or Carry’em?
Heading off to my first national tournament, I had lots of questions. But the first I’d have to deal with is … flying with a set of bowls … check them in or carry them on? I called Richard Krueger before leaving for the airport and asked his advice. He told me that he checked his bowls. Normally, I’d follow the veteran bowler’s wisdom. But I’ve never had the airlines lose my luggage. Which, according to statistics and anecdotes from friends who travel more than I do, means that my time has come.
I opted to cram all of my clothing, shoes, toiletries, etc. into my suitcase and carry my bowls and my laptop on the plane. I figured it would be easier to buy a new wardrobe in LA than buy a new set of lawn bowls.
If you decide to fly and carry on a set of lawn bowls … get ready for some raised eyebrows when that bag goes through the X-ray.
“BAG CHECK!” the TSA employee shouted with a hint of a chuckle in his voice at Sea-Tac airport. Then he added, “What on earth do you have in that bag?”
“Lawn Bowls.” I replied.
There where several responses that entered my mind in rapid succession, all of which would have earned me a trip to a little room and a long, close encounter with a TSA employee and a missed flight.
I paused. I sighed.
“No. Lawn Bowls.”
The women who physically inspected my bag was the friendliest TSA employee I’ve encountered (not that she has lots of competition).
She asked me about the sport while swapping my bowls for explosive residue. Like most folks, she had heard of bocce, but not of the superior English version of the ancient sport.
After my bowls had passed inspection, she shook my hand with her disposable gloved hand and said with a smile, “Good luck with the tournament.”
I was taken aback. It has been SO long since I’ve flown the “truly friendly skies.”