Former Team USA member helps secure doubles lead at 2018 USBC Open Championships

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By Matt Cannizzaro and Christine Nichols
USBC Communications

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -
AJ Chapman, now hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota, is a collegiate champion, international gold medalist and the 2017 Professional Bowlers Association Midwest Region Rookie of the Year, which means he has found success on some of the sport's biggest stages.

The 24-year-old right-hander now is in position to add Eagle winner to the growing list after throwing two of the biggest shots of his adult bowling career Monday to secure the top spot in Regular Doubles at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships with a 1,457 total.

The three-time Team USA member stepped onto the approach at the Oncenter Convention Center needing a double and seven pins in his final frame to lift him and Rich Eighme of Waterloo, Iowa, past USBC Hall of Famer Steve Kloempken of Pleasant View, Utah, and former Team USA member David Haynes of Las Vegas, who previously held the lead with 1,453.

Chapman delivered three clutch strikes to complete the effort and cap off a 737 series, which included games of 257, 245 and 235. Eighme, who started doubles with a 296 game, added 190 and 234 for a 720 set. Eighme left the 2-4-8-10 in his bid for the sixth perfect game of the 2018 USBC Open Championships.

"I always like to know the number I need because I think it helps me stay focused," said Chapman, who made his fifth tournament appearance. "I knew what we needed to take the lead after Rich left the 4-7, but he had no idea what we needed or that we still had a chance. Stu (Williams) and I were talking about it back in the eighth frame."

Eighme was the first to finish, after both players registered strikes in the ninth frame of their final game. The 50-year-old right-hander delivered in his own must-strike situation to start the 10th frame, before leaving the 4-7 combination on his next offering. But, it was enough to give Chapman a chance.

"AJ and I bounced a lot of ideas off one another, which was beneficial to me, because it's like bowling with someone with 14-15 years of experience bowling in this tournament, even though he's only 24 years old," Eighme said. "We also did a great job burning a line, with a ball I drilled just a few hours before hitting the road to come here. Funny, I put out a pattern at my bowling center similar to what I thought it would be, and I simply hated the ball reaction."

Chapman's talent led him from the small town of Manchester, Iowa, to Wichita, Kansas, where he enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Wichita State University, including a win at the 2015 Intercollegiate Team Championships.

A three-year stint on Team USA was highlighted by a pair of gold medals at the 2016 Pan American Bowling Confederation Adult Championships in Cali, Colombia, and he then went on to find quick success on the PBA Tour, where he made his official debut in 2017.

While not knocking down pins, Chapman is part of Minnesota's On Track Pro Shop family, operating the pro shop at Concord Lanes in South St. Paul. The group also includes fellow former Team USA members Carl Fietek and Scott Pohl.

Pohl is a three-time titlist at the Open Championships and will be in Syracuse later this week as a defending champion in Regular Team and Team All-Events with Team NABR of Fairport, New York.

Chapman's 2018 Open Championships campaign ended with a run at the top spot in Regular All-Events, but he came up just short, settling into third place with a 2,147 total. He had 735 in singles and 675 in team.

He still had a chance at the lead with two frames to go, before a 2-4-5-8 leave in the ninth frame of his final game of singles left him unable to catch Kurt Pilon of Warren, Michigan, who leads with 2,186.

As a late addition to the seven-team Iowa group, Chapman found himself in a position similar to his 2014 tournament debut, where he joined a team as a late fill-in and nearly came away with a pair of Eagles. That year, he helped Thanks Ronnie of Orlando, Florida, to a fifth-place team finish on the way to a seventh-place all-events effort with a 2,194 total.

"I would really like the doubles number to hold up," Chapman said. "People bowl their entire lifetimes and never get an Eagle. To do it at the age of 24, and this only being my fifth tournament, would be right up there with any of my other accomplishments."

Eighme also has had a memorable career at the Open Championships, which includes 33 tournament appearances, staring in 1985 - eight years before Chapman was born.

The Eighme family has built its own legacy in the bowling center and pro shop arenas in Iowa, and competing on the championship lanes has been an annual tradition since 1965.

That year, Fran Eighme and his brother, Richard, made their Open Championships debuts in St. Paul. The two competed together regularly until 2000, joined along the way by Fran's son, Rich, and Richard's son, Ryan, in 1994.

Fran Eighme celebrated his 53rd tournament appearance this week in Syracuse, and his career includes a few Eagle runs, too. He finished third in Regular Singles in 1978 and eighth in Regular Team in 1972.

"Winning an Eagle has been one of my goals since I was 15 years old," said Rich Eighme, who had matching 605 sets in team and singles this year for a 1,930 all-events total. "I have guys back home always looking at the leaderboard, so they will keep me posted as to whether our score stands or not. This is a little different because we are in first place, but I won't be on the internet always watching. I will keep an eye on it, though."

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