LAS VEGAS - The 2021 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships will be remembered for a lot of things, including its historical significance and noteworthy performances.
The tournament was back in action after a pandemic-forced one-year hiatus, welcoming approximately 38,000 bowlers on more than 7,600 five-player teams to South Point for 79 days of competition from May 1-July 18.
Redemption was a prevailing theme, both for the event itself and for some of the newest champions, and one of the sport's breakout stars turned in a near-record performance on the final day of competition.
The 2021 edition was the 117th running of the USBC Open Championships and marked the first time in history competition was split across two venues. All team bowling was held at the 60-lane South Point Bowling Plaza, while the doubles and singles action took place at the 64-lane South Point Bowling Center.
All scores from the 2021 Open Championships are unofficial and pending verification.
Among this year's 32 expected champions is the red-hot Chris Via of Blacklick, Ohio, who bowled on the last team squad of the year July 17 and the final doubles and singles squad July 18.
The 29-year-old two-hander became the third competitor in tournament history to surpass the 2,300 mark in all-events, and he missed the all-time mark by just 23 pins.
Via, who won the 2021 U.S. Open in April, kicked off his seventh Open Championships appearance with an 825 series in team. It was the first 800 in team competition this year and the second 800 overall.
He added 710 in doubles and 768 in singles for a 2,303 total. Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, previously held the lead in Regular All-Events this year with 2,264.
The first to break 2,300 was 2009 Regular All-Events winner Ron Vokes of Racine, Wisconsin, who shot 2,321. A year later, left-hander Matt McNiel of Minneapolis claimed the first of his four Eagles with a 2,326 performance.
"This is a really, really hard tournament to win, especially when the scores are a little higher and there's a lot of strikes being thrown," said Via, a past Team USA member and two-time world champion who recently rolled two televised perfect games in Professional Bowlers Association Tour competition. "I did everything I could to stay focused and calm. I was fortunate to have a great look on both oil patterns and managed to take advantage of it. I'm incredibly proud and grateful for this experience and success."
In the team event, three bowlers who saw the winner's circle within reach in 2019 got redemption in the same venue where their Eagle hopes fell short.
The cancellation of the 2020 Open Championships due to COVID-19 may have given North Carolina's Chris Hans, Brian Locke and Kyle Troup an extra year to ponder the what-ifs surrounding their sixth-place team finish in 2019, but they were able to turn their disappointment into motivation.
In that performance, Hans didn't deliver what he felt the team deserved, so he worked hard to make sure that didn't happen in 2021.
Their return to the South Point Bowling Plaza on July 2 turned out much better, as the trio helped Before the 1st Frame 1 of Battleboro, North Carolina, to a 3,400 total and the Regular Team title on games of 1,063, 1,155 and 1,182.
Troup, an eight-time PBA Tour champion and a member of Team USA, led the 2021 surge with a 757 series and was followed by Dylan Macon (697), Hans (676), Locke (652) and Dennis Killough (618).
"I was eating dinner when I got the call that we'd held on, and I did all I could not to start crying in the restaurant," said Hans, a 47-year-old right-hander and 20-time Open Championships participant. "I trust the guys so much, and I know they trust me, even though I let them down a couple years ago. To have to wait two years for a chance to redeem myself was tough, but to have it all fall into place the way it did and end this way is amazing."
The Regular Doubles title this year will go to a pair of repeat winners, Chris Pierson of West Bend, Wisconsin, and David Labinski of Milwaukee, whose first victory together at the Open Championships came in Team All-Events in 2018.
Both Open Championships veterans closed with three clutch strikes June 7 to steal the top spot by just four pins with a 1,466 total.
Pierson, a 32-year-old right-hander making his 11th tournament appearance, led the way with games of 269, 232 and 246 for a 747 series. Labinski, a 33-year-old right-hander competing for the 15th time, started slowly with a 204 game, but he followed it with 246 and 269 for a 719 total.
"We just went out there thinking it was another day of bowling and an opportunity to do what we know we can do, but for both of us to strike out the way we did to take the lead by just a few pins is something I'll always remember," said Pierson, a past member of Junior Team USA. "We kept a close eye on the scores, especially later in the tournament, and there definitely were some close calls. It's kind of hard to explain what it means to be an Eagle winner. The event has been a big part of my family's life, and it's pretty emotional, actually."
Labinski echoed his partner's thoughts.
"To get the phone call is something special, and it feels awesome after the long wait," Labinski said. "I was the one watching the scoreboards every night, and Chris just went with the flow. To be able to win again, and do it together, makes it even more special."
The two bowlers Pierson and Labinski passed to get to the top spot were Kevin Bienko of Kenmore, New York, and Chad Mee of Hamburg, New York, but the two young standouts from the Empire State didn't go home empty-handed.
Bienko (2,226) and Mee (2,042) teamed with their BowlU teammates Andrew Herbert (2,086), Ryan Reese (1,929) and Joseph DiNardo (1,675) to claim the 2021 Team All-Events title with a 9,958 total. Reese's performance included one of the 20 perfect games rolled at this year's Open Championships.
"It's amazing, honestly," said Bienko, a 25-year-old right-hander and five-time tournament participant who finished third in Regular All-Events. "For my teammates and I, we don't bowl a lot of stuff nationally, and like everyone, we have the goal of winning an Eagle when we head out there. To win one is a dream come true. It's definitely surreal, and I don't think it has sunk in yet. Far and away, it's the No. 1 bowling accomplishment we've had."
The 2021 Regular Singles front-runner, Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, had the longest wait of all the Regular Division leaders.
The 26-year-old right-hander and seven-time Open Championships participant filled his final frame May 25 to lock up the first 800 series of the tournament, and then the long wait began to see if his 802 series was enough for his second win on the tournament lanes. He had games of 269, 277 and 256.
Anderson's first victory didn't come at the Open Championships, though. It was at the 2018 USBC Masters, which shared the Open Championships stage that year for the first time since 2011.
Between wins, Anderson still managed to find the spotlight at The Big Show, rolling a perfect game in singles at the 2019 Open Championships. He's now one of 37 bowlers in tournament history with a 300 game and 800 series on the championship lanes.
"I watched Kurt Pilon and Ronnie Sparks go through this process in the last few years, waiting and watching to see if they were going to win Eagles, but when you're looking at the scores for yourself, and you're wondering if the guy's ever going to miss, it's pretty stressful," said Anderson, who also left Las Vegas with the lead in Regular All-Events (2,203) but finished in fourth place. "There's so many times in the last couple months I wondered if that hit in the last frame would be the reason I didn't win an Eagle, and thankfully, that wasn't the case."
In the Standard Division, which debuted at the South Point Bowling Plaza in 2017, it was a year for record performances, as new marks were reached in a handful of categories.
Proformance Team 2 of Clermont, Florida, moved into the lead in Standard Team on July 6 with a performance that included games of 950 and 1,026, before a then-record 1,110 finale helped the team to the highest total in four years of Standard competition (3,086).
The effort was led by Billy Standridge, who finished with a 713 series on the strength of a 278 final game. He was joined by Charles Piker (687), Duane Podgorski (618), Sal Trevino (569) and Deanne Walsh (499).
The Standard Doubles standings are topped by William Matovina of Clearwater, Florida, and Christopher Davis of Winter Haven, Florida, with a 1,266 total.
Matovina, 46, led the effort June 6 with a 635 series, while Davis, also 46, added a 631 set.
Mark Wojtusiak, a 55-year-old right-hander from Chandler, Arizona, set the pace in Standard Singles with a 711 series June 15. He rolled games of 219, 216 and 276 for the best singles series of his 17 years at the Open Championships.
Charles Adler of Madison, Indiana, a 57-year-old right-hander, got out to a fast start and led the Standard All-Events race with sets of 729 in team, 678 in doubles and 628 in singles for a 2,035 total. It was the best of his five Open Championships appearances by nearly 300 pins.
The Standard Division includes bowlers with entering tournament averages of 156-175, doubles pairs with combined entering averages of 311-350 and teams with combined averages of 776-875.
The top spot in Classified Team was claimed May 15, as Denver's Mile Hy Rollers, which used a clean final frame, including three strikes from anchor John Martinac, to sneak to the top of the standings with a 2,702 total.
The experienced group put together games of 900, 884 and 918, led by Brian Stwalley with a 578 series. He was followed by Norman Roderick (544), Albert Flis (538), Kevin Fullmer (525) and Martinac (517).
In Classified Doubles, the husband-and-wife duo of Thomas and Sonia Holguin of Northlake, Texas, posted a 1,211 total June 2 at the South Point Bowling Center and dedicated their performance to Thomas' mother, who died in August 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
Their inspired performance included a 667 series from Thomas, the best set of his six appearances at the Open Championships, while Sonia added a 544 set.
Barry Mortimeyer of Roseville, California, made his run up the Classified Singles standings May 10, just a few days into the event.
The 69-year-old right-hander rolled games of 213, 231 and 230 to claim the lead with a 674 total.
Michael Martinez of Cicero, Illinois, had a much shorter wait, and the 1,800 total he posted June 23 never was beaten.
The 32-year-old right hander posted sets of 646 in team, 610 in singles and 544 in doubles, and a late-falling 9 pin on his final shot netted him the first 1,800 total in the Classified Division since 2014.
The Classified Division includes bowlers with entering tournament averages of 155 and below, doubles pairs with combined entering averages of 310 and below and teams with combined averages of 775 or below.
During the run of the 2021 Open Championships, there were 20 perfect games, 12 299s and five 298s, while 25 additional bowlers rolled 11 consecutive strikes.
Additional highlights included 22 bowlers entering the event's 50-Year Club and two new members of the 60-Year Club, while USBC Hall of Famer Bob Hart Sr. of Suwanee, Georgia, became the 15th bowler in history to compete 65 times.
Just a few days before Hart's milestone appearance, Jamie Brooks of McKinney, became the 24th member of the 100,000-Pin Club.
In 2022, the Open Championships will return to South Point, and all competition again will be held at the South Point Bowling Plaza. It will be the tournament's sixth trip to Las Vegas and fourth visit to South Point. It will be the third time in history the event has been held in the same host city in back-to-back years.
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