NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Dan MacLelland has done the imaginary role-playing during practice, dreaming about the day when he’ll become the first Canadian citizen to win a Professional Bowlers Association title.
The 26-year-old Windsor, Ontario, native took the first step toward converting his dream into reality by taking the first round lead in the 69th U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone-Carolier on Tuesday, averaging 238.17 for six games for a six–pin lead over journeyman Brian Kretzer of Dayton, Ohio, 1,429-1,423.
Newly-elected PBA Hall of Famer Jason Couch of Clermont, Fla., fired a 300 game to close his first round and held onto third place with 1,410 pins. Mike Fagan of Dallas was fourth with 1,403 pins and Joe Ciccone of Buffalo, N.Y., was fifth at 1,374. Defending champion Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., finished with 1,225 pins and sat in 59th place.
MacLelland, who is bowling in only his second full-time season as a PBA Tour player, has established himself as a top contender to win his first title, and he has been particularly impressive in some of the Tour’s most demanding tournaments. In late January, the three-time Collegiate Bowler of the Year finished fourth in the Alka-Seltzer Plus Liquid Gels United States Bowling Congress Masters, one of the Tour’s four major championship. During the 2010-11 season, he recorded sixth-place finishes in two other majors, the U.S. Open and the PBA Tournament of Champions.
“I like tough tournaments,” the former Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State University star said. “There’s more emphasis on making good shots. Today, you had to get the ball into the air. The front part of the lanes got pretty dry, but I made the right ball choices and decisions, and everything worked out.
“Throughout my collegiate career, we had to loft the ball on a weekly basis. We haven’t had to do that so much this year because there has been more oil on the front part of the lanes, but I was kinda scared coming into this week knowing we’d have to get the ball into the air, and I had to convince myself I could do it.”
MacLelland is aware that a Canadian has never won a PBA Tour title, and that has only fueled his drive.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” he said. “I’ve been knocking on the door. I’ve been fine-tuning my game to get me to the point where I’ll have that chance. For me, the hurdle is winning a match on TV. I think once I get past that, it’ll be a little easier.
“Last year I made TV for the U.S. Open, but I was nervous. I can’t hide it. The other times I’ve lost on TV it was a matter of getting experience, learning what ball to use, how to handle the lights. But the U.S. Open is the U.S. Open. It’s the most prestigious tournament we have. To make it to TV the first time I bowled in it gave me a sense that I belong here and good things are yet to come.”
MacLelland fired games of 209, 246, 206, 247, 255 and 266 to hold off the 45-year-old Kretzer, a 12-year PBA Tour veteran who owns one title.
Couch, a 16-time PBA titlist, was as surprised as anyone in the building by his performance Tuesday because the U.S. Open hasn’t been kind to him over the years.
“I’ve struggled in the U.S. Open. Mightily,” he said. “It’s probably because it’s the one tournament I’ve wanted to win more than any other. I finished second at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., back in 1999 (he lost in the title match to Bob Learn Jr., 231-215), and that’s one I’ll never forget.
“This tournament is so hard. You gear yourself mentally, but it just drains you, especially if you don’t have much success over a few years.”
Just a week after learning he had been elected to the PBA Hall of Fame, the usually intense Couch was uncharacteristically laid back during his opening round.
“I’m more relaxed these days. I know I’m on the downside of my career,” the 42-year-old left-hander said. “I’m not expecting or asking so much of myself. I’m more patient. Five, 10 years ago, I would have demanded a good block out of the gate for myself, but I had no high expectations coming in the door this morning.
“I think I was more shocked than anyone with that 300 game,” he grinned. “I’ve been throwing one or two bad shots every game the past few weeks, but today I just bore down and focused.”
The 69th U.S. Open concludes Sunday with a four-player stepladder final televised live on ESPN at 3 p.m. Eastern. First prize is $60,000.
The entire field of 394 will bowl two more six-game qualifying rounds Wednesday and Thursday. The top 98 players after 18 games will advance to a nine-game cashers’ round Friday morning. After a total of 27 games, the top 24 will advance to three eight-game round robin match play rounds Friday evening and Saturday to decide the four stepladder finalists.
All preliminary rounds leading up to Sunday’s ESPN finals are being webcast live on the PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, Xtra Frame. To subscribe to Xtra Frame, click on the logo on the home page of pba.com.