BATON ROUGE, La. - Experienced bowlers know to expect a certain amount of pressure and nerves when they march down Center Aisle to take their one shot at United States Bowling Congress Open Championships glory each year.
Ryan Whitney of Lewisville, Texas, is no exception, but he was able to look past the bright lights, high ceilings and energetic crowd as he rolled the first perfect game of the 2012 USBC Open Championships and stormed into the lead in three events at the Baton Rouge River Center on Friday.
The 29-year-old right-hander, who does not put his thumb in the ball, struck early and often on the way to games of 279, 265 and 222 for a 766 doubles series. He teamed with Chris Hans of Rocky Mount, N.C. (654), to grab the top spot in Regular Doubles with a 1,420 total. Danny Smith of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Darin Belsito of Oakwood, Ga., previously held the lead with 1,343.
Although Whitney wasn't sure what to expect when he changed lanes for singles, the pins continued to fall. He opened with 256 and 217 before connecting on 12 consecutive shots to claim his spot in the tournament record book with a 300 game on bowling's biggest stage.
His 773 singles set helped him to a career-best, 2,170, all-events total and the lead in Regular Singles and Regular All-Events. Michael Daniels of Slidell, La., previously held the singles lead with 734, while Ed Seliga of Kenosha, Wis., topped all-events with 1,969.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of feeling," said Whitney, who bowls league at Plano Super Bowl. "It's exciting. This is what everybody comes out here to do. If I win great, if not, I can at least say I performed to my very best and did something I always wanted to do."
Even though this year marked his fifth consecutive appearance at the Open Championships, Whitney acknowledged still being affected by the one-of-a-kind championship atmosphere. The difference this time was that with help from Hans, he was able to stay calm and relaxed like never before.
"Chris has been really good with me since we met back in 2005," said Whitney, whose highest all-events total prior to Friday was 1,881 at the 2009 tournament in Las Vegas. "We bowled a lot of leagues and tournaments together, and he's the one who drilled all the balls for the guys we bowled with this year. When we get out here, he helps me make any surface changes or moves. He's the man that runs the show."
Despite living many miles apart, Whitney and Hans talk regularly and arrived in Baton Rouge with a solid game plan and high expectations. This year was their first opportunity to bowl doubles together at the Open Championships.
"We bowled together in team for the last four or five years, and the pairings in singles and doubles were always a little bit different," said Hans, a 37-year-old right-hander, who made his 12th Open Championships appearance. "I told Ryan this year I was going to put us together, and I texted him last week to tell him I thought we were going to have a chance to bowl really well. I felt like the pattern matched our skill sets, abilities and styles."
While Whitney and Hans were doing work on one end of the 48-lane venue, Vayle Floria of Cerritos, Calif., and his teammates were at the other end leaving their marks on the 2012 Open Championships.
Floria helped Legend of Dung Ho into the Regular Team lead with a 3,088 total Thursday and continued that momentum at the River Center on Friday. The group averaged more than 219 in doubles and singles to cruise into the top spot in Team All-Events with 9,666. Seliga's Pro Shop of Kenosha, Wis., previously held the lead with 9,020.
Michael Tucker, the 1992 Regular All-Events champion, led the way for Legend of Dung Ho with a 2,078 all-events total, which is second overall. He was followed by Floria (2,034), John Mongillo (1,950), Scott Poddig (1,835) and Douglas Svela (1,769). Tucker and Mongillo are second in Regular Doubles with 1,345, and Floria is second in Regular Singles with 755.
"This is such a festive environment, and if we bowl well, that makes it even better, but it's really about the friendship and the experiences for us," said Floria, who made his 16th tournament appearance. "It's feels good overall to post a nice number, especially when everyone back home gets to see it. For us, it's memorable because we've never taken the lead."
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.