NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Ryan Shafer, the ultimate bridesmaid in professional bowling, is once again working his way through the crowd in search of the title he covets.
Shafer, a 45-year-old, 25-year veteran of Professional Bowlers Association competition, is back in position to reach the finals of the 69th U.S. Open after averaging 225.17 through the first 12 qualifying games and taking the early second round lead at Brunswick Zone-Carolier Wednesday.
In taking the early lead, he not only made up a 140-pin deficit on first-round leader Dan MacLelland, but moved 51 pins past the Canadian player.
Bowling in the finals of a major championship isn’t unique territory for Shafer. In fact, he has made the television finals in majors 13 times during his career (including a fourth-place finish in last year’s U.S. Open and a second-place finish in the PBA World Championship earlier this season), and he has finished among the top five in three additional majors – when fewer than five players advance to TV. In the U.S. Open alone, he has six top five finishes.
He also has made at least one television appearance for 15 consecutive years, and he has won four standard PBA Tour titles. But he has never won a major.
No one wants to end his record non-victory streak more than the Horseheads, N.Y., resident. But Shafer realizes the answer is to continue putting himself into position to win.
“This tournament is too long. You can’t think ahead,” Shafer said. “Ahead” is Sunday’s four-player stepladder finals which will air live on ESPN at 3 p.m. Eastern. There are still 15 qualifying games and another 24 games of match play on the most demanding bowling conditions the game has to offer before he can worry about what might eventually happen.
But Shafer is the ultimate gamer.
“I love this tournament,” he said. “It can be frustrating at time, but house knowledge helps a lot. We’ve bowled a lot of tournaments here (at Brunswick Zone-Carolier) and I remember characteristics of the center that help. There are certain sections of the house where I can’t use the same ball on both lanes. You’re taking a chance when you do that, but I know I’ll shoot 160 if I don’t do it.”
Shafer finished Tuesday’s opening round in 21st place, 140 pins behind MacLelland who also bowled on “B squad.” There are three squads that bowl six games each day during qualifying: So-called A squad bowls first on a freshly-oiled condition. B squad then bowls on the same lanes without fresh oil; it’s a condition players call “the burn” because oil has been moved around, depleted in certain areas and carried down the lane. Frequently, the “burn” condition makes for higher scoring. C squad – the final squad of the game – again bowls on a freshly-oiled condition.
“We bowled pretty good on B squad yesterday,” Shafer said. “The scores were pretty high and I was kind of meandering along, so I tried some things I shouldn’t have.”
Sitting in 21st among 394 bowlers wasn’t bad, but like most players, Shafer wasn’t expecting what happened Wednesday morning.
“You don’t expect to bowl that well on the fresh condition,” he said. “But I got a good night’s sleep, came in feeling good, and I like the guys I’m crossing with (Keith DeCambra, Princeton, Mass.; Mike Dole, Chicago, and Steve Maruffi, Brooklyn). That helps too.”
On the fresh condition, Shafer rolled games of 236, 188, 250, 255, 255 and 229 to finish with a 12-game total of 2,702 pins and a 37-pin cushion over co-runnersup Mike Fagan of Dallas and Brian Kretzer of Dayton, Ohio. Amateur Ron Nelson Jr. of Bridgeview, Ill., was fourth after the first squad with 2,654 pins and MacLelland dropped to fifth place with a 2,651 total.
“I had one bad game,” Shafer said. “I made the wrong move, but for the most part, everything went as planned and I carried the pocket. That was the big thing. There were other guys hitting the pocket who couldn’t carry, so I’m happy.”