BATON ROUGE, La. - In three previous trips to the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, Andrew Kleutgen of Wild Rose, Wis., excelled in the team event, averaging more than 17 pins higher than doubles and singles.
His 2012 USBC Open Championships campaign didn't get off to the best start, however, as he shot 541 in team Monday. Things then got much worse before they got better during doubles and singles at the Baton Rouge River Center on Tuesday night, but the trip ended on a happy note as Kleutgen slid into the Regular Singles lead with a 785 series.
The 22-year-old right-hander struggled with his footing throughout doubles, fouled twice and even fell on the lane at one point. His struggles resulted in a 483 series, the lowest of his short tournament career, and left him on pace for a career-low all-events total, too.
But, a new heel and a pep talk from his longtime friend and doubles partner, Mike Cole, helped him rebound with games of 219, 276 and 290. Ryan Whitney of Lewisville, Texas, previously held the Regular Singles lead with 773.
"It's unreal," said Kleutgen, who made his fourth Open Championships appearance. "I had no idea I was bowling that good. It's really great and just an awesome feeling. At first, I told myself the tournament was over, and I had wasted my money. But Mike told me to forget about it and get lined up for singles, so I pulled out another ball and got lined up. He really calmed me down."
Kleutgen had problems with the heel of his bowling shoe, and unfortunately, his bowling equipment.
"Doubles was rough," said Kleutgen, who bowls league at Plainfield Bowl in Plainfield, Wis. "I was bowling well to begin the set, and then my heel fell off. I tried to put it back on, and it just wouldn't stay. I fell twice, and I fouled twice. After that, I wasn't comfortable at all. And, to top it all off, my thumb sleeve came out."
Once singles began, Kleutgen was able to stay in the moment but had no idea he had a chance to take the lead heading into the final frames.
"I looked at it as a whole new tournament," Kleutgen said. "Once doubles was over, it was a new tournament. I made the switch to an older heel from another pair of shoes. I was able to put it past me and start fresh. I really had no idea I was close. I was actually a little upset with myself because I knew I could have shot 800. I just can't describe the feeling right now. It's great."
Heading into this year's event, Kleutgen was averaging 217.9 in team, 200.7 in singles and 200.1 in doubles for a composite average of 206.2. His stellar singles effort this year helped him to a 1,809 all-events total.
As an 11-year-old, Kleutgen was a spectator at the 2003 Open Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., and witnessed his father and another bowler start a game with 10 consecutive strikes. Although neither competitor rolled a perfect game, that image stood out in his mind. Since that moment, he has wanted to win an eagle.
"I know I'm young, but it's a goal of mine," Kleutgen said. "This is what I've wanted since I was 11 years old. I watched my dad and another bowler have the front 10 at the same time, and that's when I knew I wanted this."
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.