AJ Johnson leads high-scoring day at 2020 U.S. Open

Round 1 results

The high-scoring opening day of the 2020 U.S. Open featured four perfect games and concluded with opening-squad leader AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, remaining at the top of the 108-player standings.

Johnson averaged nearly 236 over eight games on Tuesday's 39-foot oil pattern at Sun Valley Lanes for a 1,885 pinfall total.

The 27-year-old right-hander was followed by recent Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions winner Kristopher Prather of Plainfield, Illinois (1,878), two-time PBA Tour major winner Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas (1,875), defending U.S. Open champion Francois Lavoie of Canada (1,862) and Brad Miller of Raytown, Missouri (1,861).

Simonsen, Prather and Miller each rolled perfect games Tuesday, and Anthony Lavery-Spahr, also from Little Elm, tossed the fourth. He finished the day in 16th place with a 1,798 total.

"I knew in practice this one was going to be a little more getable than what we've seen in the past, so I wanted to make sure my arsenal was set, and I was ready for how I was going to have to move through the balls as the lanes changed," Johnson said. "I expected some big scores out there, and that's what happened. I'm just glad I was one of those guys and was able to start the long week so strong."

Johnson, a six-time member of Team USA, has a handful of runner-up finishes in PBA Tour competition, both as a PBA member and as a non-member, but still is searching for his first official PBA Tour title.

He proved late last year that he's more than just a threat when he defeated Chris Barnes to win the 2019 Korea Professional Bowlers Association DSD Samho Cup, and even though it did not count as a PBA Tour title, it offered a huge boost for his confidence.

Johnson got closer to another win in November 2019 at the non-PBA Tour title invitation-only PBA China Tiger Cup Invitational, where he fell to Sean Rash in the championship match.

Parlaying that momentum into 2020, Johnson again earned a spot on Team USA, but the weeks since have been a bit of a roller coaster.

"The first couple tournaments this year were a little rough, and I didn't know if I was seeing things right or matching up like I should be," Johnson said. "I talked it out with the guys and put in some work, and it paid off quickly. Making the show in Jonesboro (PBA Jonesboro Open) was huge for my confidence, especially with that tournament leading into February and three of this year's majors."

The next challenge for the U.S. Open competitors will be a 44-foot oil pattern. Competition will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m. Eastern with the first of three squads.

Each round of the 2020 U.S. Open, leading up to the championship round, will be broadcast live at BowlTV.com and simulcast on FloBowling.

FOX will have live coverage of the stepladder finals on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home the coveted green jacket and a $30,000 top prize.

Johnson knows there's still a lot of bowling left in the week, and he's not going to think too far ahead. Instead, he'll focus on the steps he's been taking to get his game back on track and be aware of when he's doing the things that led to any previous struggles.

"I've gotten into match play recently, but I haven't finished where I wanted to," Johnson said. "My goal this week was to get off to a good start, continue doing the things I've been doing well and make sure to carry that forward throughout the entire event by staying focused until the end."

The majority of the competitors this week earned direct entry into the event based on their on-lane performances throughout 2019, while 20 bowlers advanced through this week's pre-tournament qualifier.

Everyone will bowl 24 games of qualifying over three days, eight games each day, before the field is cut to the top 36 for an eight-game cashers' round on a fourth oil pattern.

Total pinfall for 32 games will determine the 24 players for the round-robin portion of the event, and their 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decide the five players for the championship stepladder.

Lavoie is a two-time U.S. Open champion, also winning the 2016 event for his first PBA Tour title. He is one of 12 bowlers in history to win the U.S. Open on multiple occasions.

Only four bowlers - Andy Varipapa, Don Carter, Dick Weber and Dave Husted have successfully defended their U.S. Open titles. Husted was the last to accomplish the feat, doing so in 1996.