The culmination of the PBA Summer Swing, the Milwaukee Open, was just the type of tournament in which Chris Barnes thrives. A grueling, unforgiving grind. Bowlers have to make shots, adjust accordingly and adapt to the rigorous physical demands put on their bodies bowling so many games in such a short period of time.
In this case, it took 30 games of qualifying and another 24 games of match play to qualify for the television show. 10 games of qualifying in each of the previous three events (Badger Open, Wolf Open, Bear Open), with the top 24 bowlers going through three more eight-game blocks of match play means it took 54 games of bowling over to get to the finals. And that’s not even counting the additional match-play games bowled by these players in the animal-pattern events.
Fingers were splitting, sweat was flowing and the bowling center was generally disgusting with everything these guys had to battle. And these top five were the best at it.
The television finals were bowled on the 52-foot Badger pattern, which top-seeded Barnes chose after making it look easy in the final round of match play. Watching Barnes in that final round makes it nearly impossible to believe he didn’t make the show in the Badger Open (he finished sixth, one spot off the show).
Milwaukee Open Finalists
Stepladder Match 1: Mike Fagan vs. Jason Sterner
Mike Fagan, along with Barnes and Andres Gomez, was one of three bowlers to make it to match play in every event at the Summer Swing, so no one can claim to have bowled more games than him (well, maybe Barnes, as he bowled in the Bear Open finals).
Jason Sterner made a strong run toward the end of match play, including a perfect game, to sneak his way into the fifth seed. In the position round, Sterner and Michael Haugen, Jr. were locked in a very important match that could’ve led to either one making the show, and Sterner stepped up in the 10th and struck when he needed it, putting him in the opening match with Fagan.
A bad start for Fagan (whiffing a 7 pin on a spare attempt) was quickly overcome by a turkey to follow. Sterner opened the match with five consecutive spares before finally striking in the sixth frame, but an open in the seventh left it open for Fagan to close out the match. Fagan made it interesting in the 10th with a rare 4-7-9-10 leave, then picking off the 7, but that would be enough (198), as Sterner could only strike out for 193, and instead left the 4-7-10 on his second attempt in the 10th.
Final scores: Fagan 198, Sterner 182
Stepladder Match 2: Norm Duke vs. Mike Fagan
Again, Fagan started with an open frame in the first, this time failing to convert the 5-7 split. While not mathematically quite true, that’s all Duke needed. Duke struck on six of his first seven shots, and viewers never really got the feeling this match would go any way other than Duke’s.
Fagan kept things clean after the first, but strikes are worth more than spares, and that’s what this match proved more than anything (and it once again proved Duke can repeat shots with anyone on the planet).
Norm Duke, seeking his 38th career PBA Tour title, would advance to take on Pete Weber, seeking his 38th title as well.
Final scores: Duke 238, Fagan 194
Stepladder Match 3: Pete Weber vs. Norm Duke
This match went exactly as you might expect a match between two Hall of Famers, both of whom hold 37 career PBA Tour titles. A battle to the end with ties and lead changes throughout. These two have been jockeying for third on the all-time titles list (Walter Ray Williams, Jr. and Earl Anthony holding the top two spots), for the last few years, with Weber tying Duke’s 37 by winning the Tournament of Champions in March.
Now, the two would bowl to determine who gets a chance against Barnes for title 38.
Their scores were nearly identical, each opening with two spares. But Duke began striking first. His turkey in the third through fifth gave him a lead over Weber, who closed the gap with a turkey of his own from the fourth through sixth. Tied after seven, it would unsurprisingly come down to the end. Duke doubled in the eighth and ninth, and Weber closed out the 10th with a 217. He could’ve shot 227, but left a solid 9 pin on his second shot. The 227 would’ve been good enough, but the 217 was not. Duke spared in the 10th and then struck on his fill ball to defeat Weber and continue in his quest for title number 38.
Final scores: Duke 225, Weber 217
Stepladder Title Match: Chris Barnes vs. Norm Duke
Barnes chose the pattern for this event, and he didn’t want to let that advantage go. Plus, coming off a loss to Jason Belmonte in the finals of the Wolf Open, Barnes was tasting a title.
Apparently, so was Duke, which is no shock based on how he’d bowled in his first two matches.
Barnes and Duke traded strikes and spares throughout the game, with the outcome always in doubt. That is, there was no real way to predict how this would end. After eight frames, Duke led by a mere one pin. Barnes struck in the ninth, then twice in the 10th before finishing with a 9 count on his fill ball.
Duke stepped up with a chance to win it. He struck on his first shot, needing another strike to grab the title, but left a 10 pin on his next shot that Barnes conceded was a bad break.
Bad break or not, Chris Barnes had the higher score and thus one of the most grueling titles in recent memory.
Final scores: Barnes 246, Duke 237
- Chris Barnes, $15,000
- Norm Duke, $8,000
- Pete Weber, $7,000
- Mike Fagan, $6,000
- Jason Sterner, $5,000