NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Ryan Shafer of Horseheads, N.Y., rolled a 234 final game Thursday night to retain the lead in the 69th U.S. Open at Brunswick Zone-Carolier, but it was 14-year-old Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, Tenn., who stole the show, earning a spot in Friday’s cashers round and becoming the youngest player ever to cash in a Professional Bowlers Association Tour event.
Not only did he cash, but the 5-foot-5, 105-pound eighth grader picked the most difficult tournament in the sport for his record-setting performance.
Doyle, who cashed in a PBA South Regional event in Canton, Ga., two years ago at age 12 (a record for non-national tour events) when he finished 30th, averaged 202 for his 18 qualifying games in the U.S. Open and advanced to Friday’s cashers round in 54th place out of a field of 394 amateur and professional bowlers from 12 countries.
Doyle will be among the top 98 players who will bowl eight more game Friday to determine the top 24 who will advance to match play rounds Friday evening and Saturday. The top four after 24 round robin match games will bowl in the live ESPN-televised stepladder finals Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern. At stake is a $60,000 first prize, a PBA major title and an automatic berth in the Round of 36 for the end-of-season PBA Tournament of Champions.
Doyle, who turned 14 on Jan. 13, bowled all three qualifying rounds on the same pair of lanes with PBA Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia of Jackson, N.J., a 14-time PBA Tour champion and one of only six players to ever complete the PBA Triple Crown. Petraglia, who turns 65 on March 3, beat Doyle by seven pins, but he had to out-score the teenager, 219-184, in the final game to do it.
“(Kamron) dumped the last game out of respect,” Petraglia laughed.
“I wasn’t thinking about beating him,” Doyle said matter-of-factly. “I was just trying to beat myself.”
“I have never had a pairing anything like this one, except the other way around,” Petraglia said. “When I bowled my first PBA event in Detroit in 1965, I got to cross with Ray Bluth (a hall of fame and member of the legendary Budweisers team), so this was a nice reversal. I remember in my first tournament, in the first frame, I left the bucket (3-5-6-9). I was so naïve. I knew Bluth, Don Carter and the whole Budweiser team were watching and I figured if I missed that spare, they’d all think I stink. But I made the spare.
“I think (Kamron) is going to be terrific,” Petraglia added. “I remember bowling with (35-time PBA Tour titlist and fellow Triple Crown winner) Pete Weber in a pro-am in St. Louis when he was maybe 15, and I see the same kind of swing, the same fiery attitude, the same attributes Pete had when he was a teenager.
“About the only physical criticism I can make, because he has such a nice natural game, is that Kamron doesn’t look down to see where he’s at when he steps onto the approach. It’s kind of a feel thing with him, but when you’re in an event this difficult, where you stand is magnified so much. He’ll fix that soon. His horizon is high.”
When Doyle was asked if he knew who he was paired with for qualifying, he immediately answered, “Yah, I know who he is. I know all of these guys.”
Doyle said he has been bowling ever since he experienced the game at a birthday party when he was 7. He immediately wanted his own ball and shoes, and said he has practiced an average of 50-60 games a week ever since. “Honest,” he said. “I kinda taught myself. I watched the pros on TV a lot. I got real serious about it when I was about 10.”
Surprisingly, he doesn’t come from a bowling family. His father, Sean Doyle, is a Nashville area orthodontist. Dad may not be a bowler, but Kamron isn’t lacking for mentors.
“Tommy Jones, Bill O’Neill, Chris Barnes, Mika Koivuniemi, Mike Fagan, they impress me the most,” the young Doyle said. “I’ve become good friends with all of them. Tommy Jones actually stayed at our house. He taught me a lot: take your time when you’re bowling bad, he helped with last two steps of my approach, how to stay down and get through the shot, all of that stuff.”
Mentally, he approaches the game like a polished veteran.
“People tell me I have a pretty good mental attitude which keeps me in the game,” he said. “That’s probably why I’m still in the cut. It’s kind of grown with me. I was real bad when I was young. But that’s something people have to learn. If you get mad and frustrated and miss a spare, that costs you 20 pins.”
The right mental approach is especially important in a tournament like the U.S. Open, which is notorious for its difficult scoring conditions.
“This is my first U.S. Open,” Doyle said. “I’ve been wanting to bowl it the last three years. I heard how tough it was from my ball driller, but I didn’t believe him. I do now. You have no idea how tough it is until you do it. It’s brutal. I found out in practice you couldn’t miss by a centimeter. The heads burn up. The ball hooks at your feet. The lanes are snot-tight in back. But the biggest lesson is you have to make your spares.”
After starting the tournament with a 150 game, Doyle has been in plus-200-average territory ever since. While his odds of moving up enough to make the match play finals are remote, he hasn’t thrown in the towel.
“Making the 24 cut would be pretty amazing,” he said. “I’ll have to go huge tomorrow. I’ll have to go 180 over (average more than 220 for eight games), but I can do it if I put my mind to it.”
Whatever money Doyle makes in bowling is deposited into his United States Bowling Congress SMART scholarship account. It was the advent of the SMART scholarship management program by the sport’s National Governing Body seven years ago that allowed bowlers under the age of 18 to compete in professional events without losing their amateur status. To date, Doyle said he has deposited about $22,000 in his SMART account, but he isn’t sure what college he’ll eventually attend, or exactly what he’ll study when the time comes.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet,” he said. “My dad’s an orthodontist, so maybe I’ll follow him. But if I’m good enough I may want to be a professional bowler.”
Shafer, a 25-year PBA Tour veteran who is hoping to end his record streak of 13 television finals in major championships without a title, averaged 233.89 for his 18 games, finishing with 4,030 pins to retain the lead by 10 pins over veteran PBA Regional competitor P.J. Sonday of Luzerne, Pa.
Sonday, whose national tour experience includes five previous U.S. Opens, had 4,020 pins. Sonday has cashed in four U.S. Opens, but has never made it into the match play field. In PBA Regional competition, he won his only title three years ago.
Mike Fagan of Dallas is in third place with 3,923 pins followed by a pair of amateurs - Ron Nelson Jr. of Bridgeview, Ill., at 3,919 and John Janawicz of Winter Haven, Fla., at 3,893. Defending U.S. Open champion Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., made a big move up the leader board Thursday, finishing 11th with 3,818 pins.
Friday morning’s cashers round and the final three rounds of match play Friday night and Saturday will be 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.