Evergreen State bowler leads Standard Singles at 2019 USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Don Erickson of Renton, Washington, has endured some physical challenges in recent years that have made his bowling future questionable, but they did not slow his climb up the leaderboards Saturday at the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

The 61-year-old right-hander entered this year's event at the South Point Bowling Plaza focused on having a good time with his friends and teammates and continuing his march toward 30 years of tournament participation.

Just being able to participate was a small victory, so there was no additional pressure to perform. What resulted was a career-best series of 680, which landed Erickson at the top of the Standard Singles standings.

He didn't look at the leaderboards prior to taking the lanes, so he was surprised to find out his set, which included games of 269, 232 and 179, was enough to sneak past Andrew Leppen of Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, who held the lead since March 28 with 679.

"I wasn't keeping track, and I had no idea I had taken the lead," Erickson said. "After such a good start, I just wanted to finish it out. My goal at that point was to shoot 700. I'm in shock right now, knowing I'm the new leader. It just came out of the blue, like a 300 game. You never know when something like that is going to happen."

After his hot start, Erickson might've been the only one not wondering where he'd land on the leaderboard, but he kept with his game plan to stay slow and focused on each shot and just enjoy the experience of his 28th USBC Open Championships.

Erickson entered his final frame of singles on a strike and needed to fill 19 pins to secure the top spot. He left a 9 pin on his first offering, spared it, and got nine on his fill ball, leaving just the 4 pin standing.

"This definitely makes me a little emotional, especially since I didn't expect it," Erickson said. "I get to bowl with a good group of guys, and we're all here to support each other, which is nice. I didn't look at the scores beforehand. I just came to bowl and have a good time. I honestly thought the scores were higher."

About four weeks ago, Erickson pulled a ligament in his hip. The weeks that followed were spent resting or visiting doctors for a formal diagnosis. He did squeeze in a few games to make sure he would be able to compete this week in Las Vegas, but the trip really was more about relaxing and having a good time as he works his way toward 30 tournament appearances.

His Open Championships career began when he was invited to the 1984 event in Reno, Nevada. Though he made a few more appearances after his debut, real life and having a family changed his priorities a little bit. He then bowled from 1990 until 2004, before missing another four years.

Erickson re-emerged again in 2009 and started another participation streak, but he missed the 2014 edition, also in Reno, after dropping a tree across his leg and breaking it in multiple places. There's a pin in his leg now, and he said the ongoing physical troubles definitely have affected his scores.

"It would be so neat to see my name on one of the championship banners next year," said Erickson, a field manager for the Union Hill Water Association who does his league bowling at Kent Bowl in Kent, Washington. "I always thought a 300 game was a good accomplishment, and an 800 was better, but this is pretty special. My ultimate goal has been to reach 30 years at this tournament, which has been challenging at times. I honestly never could've expected this."

In his previous 27 years at the Open Championships, Erickson was consistent across the three events - team, doubles and singles - averaging 190.3, 191.2 and 192.5, respectively. His best performance since returning from his broken leg was a 1,734 effort in 2015.

This week at the South Point Bowling Plaza, he opened with sets of 625 in team and 560 in doubles, before his 28 clean frames in singles launched him into the lead. His 1,865 nine-game total left him just short of the lead in Standard All-Events, which is owned by Vicente Ada of Bellmawr, New Jersey (1,873).

Bowling is something that started as a fluke for Erickson, whose brother wanted to find something he finally could beat him at, and, regardless of how that turned out, it sparked a passion in Erickson. He has been a competitive bowler ever since.

"Around the house, we played a lot of other sports, and even though my brother was 6-foot-7 at age 13, I still was able to beat him at basketball, despite being 5 feet 8 inches tall when I graduated from high school. That's why he wanted to do something else. I ended up really enjoying the game of bowling, and I haven't stopped since we started in 1970. I love that it's both an individual and a team sport at the same time, and it's something I really enjoy doing."

The 2019 Open Championships recently reached the halfway point of its 122-day run, and Erickson must wait until July 8 to see if his performance was enough to bring a coveted Eagle trophy back to the Evergreen State. The tournament began March 9.

By the time the event concludes, nearly 10,500 five-player teams (more than 52,000 competitors) will have competed.

The Standard Division includes bowlers with entering tournament averages of 156-175.

"I'll just wait, as I know there's nothing more I can do," Erickson concluded. "I did the best I could, and if someone beats it, they did their best that day, too, and that's what it is. I had a good tournament, and I am happy about that. It has been a long time since that has happened."

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