Chris Davis is the only member of JPLBC who attended the US Open this year.
Below are his dispatches from the tournament.
US OPEN 2008: DAYS 5 & 6 (October 17 & 18)
I’m up at 5:30 again; I’m in the habit now after 6 straight days of it. But there’s no more bowling. Damn! Well, all the better since I’ve got some ground to cover here, having eschewed the blog last night for a trip to opera! You see, I simply had to attend, dahling! One must cut one’s bowls with a bit of culture now and then, don’t you agree? OK … where was I …. and where do I begin?
It is a tale of two days, for sure. Wednesday was the first day of the pairs. It dawned grayer than the others but was still pleasant enough and I made a few extra turns on my ride south to Lake Merrit to wake up my raggedy sinews and take in a few new neighborhoods along the way. This town is so rich when it comes to houses and trees and gardens … lots of age and character, and personal touch… but I digress.
The day before, as I might have mentioned, I had, along with my 4’s buddies, been soundly thrashed in the finals and I was feeling a bit … not despondent, but flat. Flattened. That’s what I was, flattened. So the night out was the perfect thing and when I woke and gathered my things I had a little of my dimension back and was ready to get to work. It did feel a bit like another day on the job. Of course, it’s a job you love, your dream job, and you’ve just finished one project and are on to the next, one you’ve been really looking forward to. I arrived early to the greens, greeted some of the early coffee drinkers, swapped some happy banter and got in a good batch of rolls to smear over yesterday’s malfunction. I was beginning to wonder where Keith, my pairs partner was, but he showed up right on time and I was kind of reassured that he was chill with his first pairs tournament and didn’t need a bunch of ‘steenking’ warm ups. Just gimme da damn bowl! I gave it to him, along with the mat, and we started in against our first opponents, Sam Benjamin (Westwood, CA) and Peter Hession (Melbourne, AUS).
I had watched Peter play in the singles and was impressed. He’s a big tall guy, short cropped, a little grizzled, and wears fancy green and yellow ‘Australia’ warm-ups. He’s got a slightly stooped over, but extremely smooth delivery and a placid, almost ho-hum air. It was really fun to bowl next to him. Some people just put you at ease and in this case, focus your concentration as well. Peter’s been playing a long time and he’s a real student of the game; he doesn’t have to dally much on his decisions and he gives his lead clear, concise directions.
I think we got off to a 3 or 4 to nothing lead and were threatening 4 more when Peter calmly burned the end on his second bowl: just to erase, regroup, get into neutral again before something started grooving to far south. I used to think the burn was only attempted in desperation on the last bowl. But, if you’re confident you can do it (or at least shake up the head in a good way if you miss), some times it’s nice to rearrange the furniture… or even buy new stuff.
After that Peter and Sam got going and were ahead for a while before Keith and I began to really hum. We got it back to even, vied back and forth a while, and finally pulled away in the end… by 5 or 6 I think.
Our next game was against none other than my former opponent (and vanquisher) Charlie Herbert and his partner Brian Stewart. They’re both from Newport Harbor, CA and are a pretty established and accomplished pairs team. They’re big brawny guys, old friends from high school I think. Brian’s delivery isn’t exactly poetry but he gets the job done and Charlie, well, as I mentioned before he can fire like nobody’s business and his drawing ability is rock solid, if a bit overlooked because he fires so well. It’s not really fair that one can get so damn good in just a couple years like Charlie but he works really hard at it, takes it seriously, and keeps it fun. So, obviously, given our last encounter in the singles at Rossmoor, I wanted to kill him.
I think if it had been just another head to head, mano a mano deal I might have struggled more but having a partner diffuses the burden nicely, especially when they perform as well as Keith Winnard did. I sat down briefly with him before the match and mentioned that Charlie might be moving stuff around … a lot. He knew about Charlie, and he delivered, sending me a constant stream of first bowls in the back followed by a steady diet of ‘jack cozies’. I’m not sure I’ve seen Charlie fire less. Of course, that leaves him to draw more and, as I said, he can do that just fine. We were in for a scrum.
I wish I could remember the detailed progress of the match better but I think we got off to a fair lead in the first half, then really locked horns and were stuck, rattling together until the last bowl. That’s kind of overlooking the fact that I squandered a few points with some ill-advised shots down the stretch. We might have put them away soundly but I had to make things difficult. We had as much as a five point lead coming down the stretch then I hiccupped, Charlie and Brian took advantage, and we were down by three with one end left. Charlie took the hammer (DUHHH!) and Keith put his old reliables in the back but none close enough to be the shot. We were down one or two when we switched places. One by one I made the shots that needed to be made, especially the third, which skimmed just inside a front sentry and gently split two of theirs that were sitting two or three feet behind the jack. We were holding five now, two in the front and three in the back (my memory’s getting better now). Charlie… what did Charlie do? I think he just came in with draw and cut me down to three. I rolled my final bowl back into the head and we were up four again, plus we had a couple more in the back, a real basket going. I seem to remember being in this position before, holding the match against Charlie’s last bowl. He was up by 3 so all he wanted to do was get reasonably close, perhaps use my two bowls just in front to lay on and cut it to one or two.
I might mention here that it’s now pushing 4, 4:30; the sun’s been beating down all afternoon and the green is getting pretty slick. Slick like you think the bowls have gyroscopes in them, turning and turning, over and over… especially when they get on to the ‘dance floor’. That’s the area with the most wear, and compression and speed … right where the jack was sitting. We’re the last match going so there’s a nice little clutch of spectators gathered on the bank fixated on our progress. Charlie and Brian stood over the head for a while, chewing on the situation, weighing the options: basically two – fire and hope the jack either makes it through the back basket and out of the rink for a burn or, as I said, lay on the front two or even sniggle through them right onto the jack… dance with it. Slowly. Charlie stalked back up to the mat and stood a while. He finally chose the draw and we knew right away the weight was close, the line too. Very close.
It rolled and rolled, approached the front sentries… through by a hair, almost stopping now. The jack… by it by an inch. How can it still be rolling? One bowl left, sitting in the basket might stop it and keep it to two. It breathes a last breath and dies, just behind that bowl. Four for us. Holy *&%$! Am I allowed to say that on the JPLBC Web site? Well, it goes without saying, I rode my bike back up to Berkeley surrounded by little humming fairies. And they didn’t stop for a good while. Not until the next day anyway. Oh. The next day.
We’re in the championship flight: Major visions of grandeur… fairies, the works. I woke at around 4 and couldn’t get back to sleep I was so stoked. I was, of course, thrilled with the victory over Charlie but more importantly I felt like I’d made a break through with my approach… that I’d found a psychological key of sorts… something to do with concentration/ control… not over thinking, just stepping up, ala Maurice La Fond, and giving it a ride. The bowl is your friend, treat it nice, it’ll do its thing. It’s Tony! Tony the Tucann! I know from past experience that this mental stuff feels great and really works at the time but it doesn’t necessarily stick, no matter how real the moment. But I was hoping at least some of it would stick around for my next two matches. If we could somehow win our two matches we would be in the final. Good Lord, imagine that.
Imagine no longer. We played our first game on rink three, the same rink from our final debacle in the 4’s… and again we could not find it and got annihilated. It was the rink! It was the rink! Right.
The second match: We’re in the second flight now, still plenty of space for fun and redemption. It was against two Canadians, Herb Nesbitt and Hugh Branston. We started out fine. I was regaining some flow and confidence. Then I threw a series of six or seven shots that couldn’t have been more promising and close to striking gold, only to rub the wrong way or hover and die just, JUST short. We lost that match too… by a lot. But, you know, as I said somewhere before in this long six day rant: I’ve never had more fun losing. Herb and Hugh were great. Herb bowled crazy good; Hugh not so good. More to the point: we egged and exhorted, oohed and aahed, grunted and groaned (me mostly) and chortled and cheered at all the misfortunes and fortunes. What an array of things to do, and feel. What a cool game.
Thanks for listening.
US Open Day 4 (October 16)
Well the good news is that my rinks team made it to the final … THE Final! …. the other news is that, once there, we got clobbered from here to Helsinki. But, more on that later.
The first game was great -yet another nail biter; It was against a group of battle tested, veteran bowlers from southern California (Well, one has only been bowling for 3 years but … any excuse to pull out “battle tested” ) and we were all keen on doing well and making it to the final. We got off to a great start, were up 7 to 1 by the 6th end and were sitting on another 7 points when their skip, Rheiny Kramer pulled off the necessary super clutch shot and changed it to one in their favor… an eight point swing. Here’s an example of a juicy ‘strategy’ moment in bowls. What do you do? You’re piling up a lead, you’re opponents are struggling, you know their skip likes to fire…. choices: you pack in another one and make the pressure a little thicker… make him earn it – or – you try to block the path you think he will take – or – you put one way in the back in case he blows it wide open and the jack somehow squeaks through on a furlough – or – you throw a “Lou Storm Block” and just piss him off so he throws a wrong bias.
Our skip elected the first option and Rheiny, who’d been throwing crap all day, didn’t fire but threw a slightly over weight, extremely deft shot that replaced and followed the front bowl and then into the next bowl, which was shot. Crucial(!)moment. Matches are turned on these kind of moments… especially for the team that’s struggling: suddenly they get a burst of adrenalin and confidence and then, anything can happen. Well, it almost happened. They slowly, inexorably erased most of our lead and we came down the stretch, exchanging ones, my team holding on to a one shot lead. We got to the final end and they were holding three but the offending bowls were vulnerable, crouching in a “nice basket’ just behind and to the right of the jack; that makes a replacement shot – a ‘chop and lie’ – the obvious course of action. It was my turn (I’m third) and I’m thinking “Come on
baby! Who’s you’re daddy?! Come to papa! Baby’s got a brand new pair o shoes!!, It’s go time!!! Step up to the plate CQ !!!” …. you know, that kind of stuff. I missed my first try just to the right by a foot. On the second attempt I adjusted a bit and made the shot. CHA – CHIIIINNNNNGGG!$!$!$! The shot held up and we won the game and we’re going to the final!
Well that was the end of the fun. In the final match we faced arguably (next to the ‘Bucks’) the best team in the tournament: Jim Olson, Hugh Branston, Ivan Hyland, and Herb Nesbitt.: the first two from So Cal, the other two from Canada. Now these guys ARE truly battle tested: numerous triumphs among them (Jim Olson is current US singles champ, all four on their national teams). They bagged a 5 in the first end and never looked back. I think it ended up 28 to 6 or something like that. Just as we were all humming on one frequency in the previous games we were screeching unanimously in this one… the contagion got out and no one could find the antidote.
It constantly befuddles me how well I can bowl in practice and how differently in games… even in a matter of 10 minutes. Oh. this is a game of bottomless enticement and frustration. How could I possibly stop now? Tomorrow we start into pairs.
Until then. CQD
Ps. faux pas/ handy etiquette tip of the day: don’t stand in the next rink just because you want to give your lead a really wide aiming point…. it kind of gets in the way of their game. oops!
US OPEN 2008… DAY 3 (October 15)
First day of fours, or ‘rinks’ as they’re called by the hard core. I woke at around 6 in order to get down to the greens on my bike in time for donuts and coffee. I rode the quick quarter of a mile to the closest BART station and boarded the train south to Oakland and got off at the Lake Merrit Station. It was just getting light out but I had my whites on and a bright orange messenger bag over my shoulder so I felt safely conspicuous as I skimmed down the hill to the North Berkeley station.
It’s pretty easy to take bikes on BART: you just pay your fee, slide through the turnstile and roll your bike onto the train, taking your place in the car wherever it’s convenient. Lake Merrit is about the size of Green Lake and is a sweet break in the center of downtown Oakland. I rode northward along its shore for 10 minutes and arrived at the Oakland Lawn Bowling Club promptly at 7:30 … plenty of time to check in with my ‘teamies’ and roll a few warm ups.
Our first opponents were all from the east coast, two from New York, one from Mass. and one from Florida (Ron Buck, Colin Smith, Jack Lucey, and Patrick Duffy, in that order). My team was all Oaklanders and me so the scoreboard was headed EAST and WEST. We, (the WEST) were: Jerry Knott-lead (recently mentioned good egg/truck driver), Joe Pelatto – sub vice (erratic and clutch… both!), myself – vice skip, and Andre Benares (sage-like skipper). I managed to finagle myself on to this team a month back with a well timed phone call to a bowling buddy from Berkeley whom I met last year at the Open in LA. He put me in touch with Andre and said he needed a new vice skip because his former one, the one and only Houdini Ho, was suddenly indisposed. I then became the new Ho on the block… “Newdini Davis”, the ‘Faux Ho’ if you like.
The EAST-WEST game was closely contested all the way. I really pulled my weight through the early stages but was a little erratic after that. It was one of those games where both teams seemed to be trying to give the match away but we (WEST) finally strung together a few good ends and pulled away, winning by 5 or 6.
Our second game was WEST against WORLD as our opponents were a randomly thrown together lot and represented Hong Kong, Australia, and Newport Harbor. It wasn’t much of a contest and we won by nearly 20. YES!!!!
So once again I get to go to the second day and this time, if we get something going, we might even be in the championship flight. We’ll be up against yet a better team but I think we have plenty more in the tank. Go for broke I say! Whatever happens tomorrow we’ll get to play at least two games, so I look forward to more juicy tidbits of bowling wisdom along the way. One thing I ran into today that I hadn’t seen before was a very cool way to ‘pre-measure’ closely contending bowls when the end is still unfinished… as in: ” geez, these are sure close (!) and it sure would be nice to know who’s (!) got shot before going ahead with my next bowl!” I’d try to describe it here but it’s much better in person. Let’s just say it sort of looks like your witching water with your hands … and it’s even more accurate than the ‘triangle method’.
After our second match closed I watched a HUM DINGER of a match between last year’s champs (the new wave of young bucks from LA) against a hodge-podge team of codgers featuring the inimitable Maurice Lefond from Rhode Island. He’s a big, bounteously proportioned guy with an ever ready grin and an uncanny ability to just step up and bowl like nobody’s bidness: no routine, no nothing… just a step, a swing… and nails. The match was a wildly up and down affair with the bucks down big then, after a 6 and a 3, up big. But in the end Mssr. Lefond just kept coming up huge (fittingly), making at least three ‘down to the last bowl’ match saving shots. The crucial turn really came in the 14th end when Michael Sidall, the skip for the Bucks, who had been playing a splendid game thus far, watched Maurice whiz a firing shot just wide and then poured his own next shot into the head, increasing his count to 3 or 4 but failing to cover the 4 bowls Maurice had waiting quietly near the ditch. Well, he paid dearly for that oversight and the lead went from 6 to 1 in one stroke when Lefond carried the jack smack into the back of the ditch, thank you very much. In the 16th and final end the Bucks were up by one and had the shot again and Lefond was down to his one last bowl. He threw a heavy probe and it rattled around to squirm by with the point and extend it to overtime. In overtime… well, he did pretty much the same thing again. Time after time I see matches go for a couple hours and come down to a final bowl. I love that… and hope to pull a Le Fond or two of my own some time soon.
Out for now. CD
US OPEN UPDATE: DAY 2 (October 14)
I had a good day at Rossmoor.
Their greens (three of em) are totally different than the ones I played on yesterday at Golden Gate Park. Much faster, much truer. Very fun and challenging to play on. Not only do you have to have a tender touch but you need to take much more grass as well (like, aim at the NEXT yellow marker!). Towards the end of the day, under the hot sun, the greens were running around 14 to 15 seconds (that is: how long it takes to go 27 meters- our greens top out around 12)
I arrived early and warmed up with Big Steve Bezanson, the sports writer from Halifax. Likes to yell “Big Dog!!” when he makes a great shot. He must have made his share today because he won the championship flight. I didn’t get to see any of his matches though; I was on my own mission.
I was in the 5th flight, for those of us who lost their first game and won the next two yesterday. Some very good players I’d seen from the year before.It was a ‘knock-out’ set up for this, the second day so you had to win or you were done. My first match was with Gordy Fall from Vancouver Island. He’s got the deepest voice I’ve ever heard, smokes like a chimney, has a well worn mug which doesn’t stop yacking for long, and he’s quite a good bowler too (two time South Central Open champ). I surprised myself and got going nicely against him and never looked back. Won 18 to 7.
My second match was against Conrad Melton, a grrreat big fellow from… Florida? I’m not sure of that but I am familiar with his face: it appears in each Bowls Magazine above his running column: BETTER BOWLS. Suffice to say he knows his way around a green. Again, I got off to a good start, was ahead 9 to zip , half way home, when the wheels started to come off and Conrad started ‘finding it’. He stormed back and took the lead at 13 to 11 or so… back and forth we went until I prevailed 18 to 16 (the battle is the thing). Whew… I was b-u-s-h-e-d(!!!) But I now had one more match to go: the FINALS of my flight! Yikes!
I turned in my score card from the match with Conrad and was handed some stickers for my bowls… My first bowl stickers!!! They say “2008 US NATIONAL FINALIST” on them and you stick em on your bowls when you get to the final rounds of tournaments. COOL!
So now it’s off to the center green to play in front of 60 OR 70 people (sure, they’re watching 5 or 6 matches but I was one of them) My opponent was Charlie Herbert from Newport Harbor, CA. Charlie is another beaut from central casting (he’s definitely in “the movie” I’m always joking about). He is, simply put, a stud. He’s a big bronzed, California dude who’s only been bowling a few years and is already quite formidable… packs his iPod when he’s bowling, is very intense, jogs/stalks after many of his bowls, and above all LOVES TO FIRE. And boy can he fire. He’s notorious for practicing his firing daily (or nearly) with an inflatable mattress he stashes in a shed at his club. (He doesn’t want to wear out the boards along the ditch, not to mention his bowls)
So …. Maybe I was a little intimidated, or couldn’t find the pace of the green, or my turkey sandwich was still working on me, but this time I was the one off to a slow start… DOWN 12 to nothing. I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to score a single point when finally I snatch a three away from Charlie after one of his fire bombs just misses the jack and slams into the ditch and springs back onto the green. Fortunately the marker was nimble enough and snatched the bowl before it messed up the head. Slowly I inched my way back until we were tied (TIED!!!) at 15 and now … we’ve been out there a long time and we’re one of two remaining matches still going so we’re getting some attention from the gallery (Yes, I do love it). I score a three to go up 19 to 16. I’m starting to salivate. He gets one on the next end after I slither in with my last to take away two. The next end I’m holding two and he’s down to his last bowl… match bowl. He fires a lazar that launches the jack with such ferocity that it tears the lane marker off the ditch board! Burned end. Well, all good matches must end some how, some time. The next end I screwed up by rolling the jack in the ditch, he moved the mat way up, put in 4 close ones, I couldn’t find it, and he got a four and that was that. But what a great way to go!!! I’ve never had such a good time losing!!!
Tomorrow : Rinks
Until then…. CD
1st day: (October 13)
Woke at 630 this morning and rode my borrowed bike down quiet streets through San Francisco ... milk crate strapped on the back with my twenty some pounds of round cargo in it. Down from Diamond Heights, through the Castro and the Haight-Ashbury and out to Golden Gate Park, where my branch of the men's singles was meeting. A healthy nip in the air ... greetings, donuts, coffee, the Pledge of Allegiance, rink assignments ... and we had at it. All matches played to 18 points. My first was against Jerry Knott, a retired trucker from the Bay Area, the friendliest guy you'll ever meet. We had a knockdown, drag-out in which I had two shots in the head for the match and he got to them with his final bowl and went on to eke me out 18 to 17. OW!!!! I'm learning that against certain people, the match isn't really on until you've got them on the mat and they HAVE to respond. Jerry responded. (By the by, Jerry went on to win another close match before running into reigning US champ, Jim Olson, from San Diego). My next match was on another green, 20% faster than the first green I played on ... Good! My arm's getting tired! I needed to win in order to play on. It was against another extremely friendly guy, Mike, from my hometown, Cleveland, OHIO. He wasn't of Jerry's caliber and I won 18 to 4. After lunch I took on a guy I remember from last year at the Open in LA; we met as skips of our fours teams. John Garbett is his name; he's a Brit now living in Florida, retired but works part time as a ride operator at Disney World. We were neck and neck for a while, then I started working short jacks and got out to a 14 to 4 lead. I made a booboo that resulted in a 5-point swing (I had two shots, rolled my bowl, he had three!) but I righted the ship quickly and won 18 to 7. I live to bowl another day! Tomorrow the singles will wrap up in Rossmoor, a retirement community (a mother of a retirement community - population of 20,0000) in the East Bay. Rossmoor drew some attention earlier this year when its president issued a memo/edict to bowlers bound for the Open that drew some sharp parameters regarding the dress code. There will be inspectors. I didn't see anything in the memo about leisure suits, so I'm going for it ... a chiffon number I found at Goodwill ... I'm kidding. Hopefully my bowling will stand out instead. For now, CD