BATON ROUGE, La. - Matt Weggen of Muscatine, Iowa, accomplished something no one else has done in 109 years of United States Bowling Congress Open Championships competition when he rolled back-to-back 800 series on the tournament lanes, and he was back in the spotlight this week hoping to make history again.
The 32-year-old right-hander entered the Baton Rouge River Center on Monday as the defending Regular Singles and Regular All-Events champion and had his sights set on becoming the first bowler in tournament history to successfully defend an individual title.
Despite the extra attention and added pressure after last year's record performance at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., Weggen turned in a respectable effort at this year's event, which included a 619 singles series and 1,764 all-events total. Henry Teetz III of West Allis, Wis., and Ryan Whitney of Lewisville, Texas, lead with 800 and 2,170, respectively.
Although he won't repeat as a champion on bowling's biggest stage, he still is proud of his place in the record books, yet humble about being one of the sport's most recognizable faces in 2011.
"It's all been a little overwhelming with a lot of interviews and congratulations and attention I'm really not used to," said Weggen, who recently was named Bowling Writers Association of America Amateur Bowler of the Year after becoming the first bowler since Team USA member John Janawicz (2004) to claim both the singles and all-events crowns in the same year. "Coming back was a little bit tough because people have expectations now, and I wanted to do well. I was able to focus more on bowling than I thought I'd be able to, although my scores didn't reflect that. I'm definitely not going home with my head down."
Weggen's 2012 Open Championships campaign started with an escorted march down Center Aisle, where he was presented with his championship watches and then saw the orange eagle next to his name on the scoreboard for the first time.
Thousands of viewers tuned in to USBC's YouTube channel (youtube.com/bowltv) to check out his unique style and see if he could again find the magic that earned him a pair of titles in 2011. He started his team event with a 162 game but added 214 and 216 for a 592 series.
Last year, Weggen struggled with carry in team and posted a 636 series before averaging 272 in doubles and singles on the way to sets of 806 and 826 for a 2,268 all-events total, so the uphill climb to try and catch Whitney was not unfamiliar territory.
"The first couple of balls yesterday felt like they weighed 100 pounds, but after that, I was able to settle in and throw some good shots," said Weggen, who made his 11th Open Championships appearance. "I felt like we broke them down OK, and I think everyone was satisfied with the reaction we created. Today, I didn't feel as good coming in as I did last year, and I started two arrows deeper than I did in Reno. Also, my slower ball speed was a challenge on this year's condition, but when I threw it well, I struck."
Only two other bowlers - John Socha of Oak Creek, Wis., and Matt McNiel of Chanhassen, Minn. - have rolled multiple 800s in their careers at the Open Championships. Weggen was the first to roll two in the same year.
Weggen was joined in Baton Rouge by his aunt, Lois, who taught him how to bowl as a youngster, and his wife, Lee-Ann, who accompanied him to the tournament for the first time since its inaugural visit to Baton Rouge in 2005.
Regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard in 2012, the past year has been an unforgettable whirlwind for Weggen, and it's still hard to put all of the feelings into words.
"This whole experience was really exciting," Weggen said. "Obviously, I had expectations about how everything was going to be, but it all blew me away. I wish bowling would've gone better, but that doesn't make it mean any less to come back as the defending champion. All I can do is take the confidence from last year moving forward and realize this was just a down year. I'll always take pride in seeing the eagle next to my name on the scoreboard, and I know I'll be back every year to try again."
Weggen was the first of the 2011 Regular Division champions to take the lanes this year.
The defending doubles champions, Brandon Tarabek and Chad Reiffer, will be in Baton Rouge to put their title on the line May 16-17, while Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1 of Madison, Wis., will look to retain the team crown on May 18. Reigning Team All-Events champion, K&K Bowling Services 5 of Las Vegas, led by USBC President Andrew Cain, will be in town May 28-29.
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.