Canadian bowlers make mark on PBA Tour, up for rookie of the year honours

Canadian bowlers up for PBA top rookie award

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As a professional bowler, Francois Lavoie doesn’t travel light.

When it comes to bowling balls, the modern bowler is like a pro golfer — there are lot of tools in his bag, he explains. But unlike golf there is no equipment limit on the PBA Tour so Lavoie typically takes 10 to 12 15-pound balls to an event  

The heavy lifting is working out just fine for the 23-year-old from Quebec City.

With two tournament wins including the marquee U.S. Open, Lavoie has enjoyed a historic season on tour. Graham Fach, a 25-year-old from Guelph, Ont., started the Canadian haul in February when he claimed the Barbasol Players Championship, becoming the first Canadian to win since the PBA Tour began in 1959. 

They are joined on tour by 33-year-old Patrick Girard of Jonquiere, Que., who has 116 events under his belt.

Lavoie and Fach are leading contenders for the tour’s rookie of the year honours slated to be announced Sunday. No Canadian has ever won the award.

The only Canadian to win a PBA national award was George Lambert IV, winner of the Steve Nagy Sportsmanship Award in 2010.

After a distinguished collegiate career at Wichita State — as Alabama is to football, the 20-time national champion Shockers are to bowling — Lavoie made his mark on tour by winning the U.S. Open in November.  

He defeated top-seeded Marshall Kent 228-194 to capture his first PBA Tour title and join Finland’s Mika Koivuniemi (2001) as the only foreign-born players to win the event. And Lavoie did it in style, becoming the first bowler in U.S. Open history to roll a perfect game during the tournament stepladder finals.

Lavoie is the first international player and only the 26th player to bowl a televised perfect game.

One of bowling’s majors, the U.S. Open is considered one of the toughest tournaments to win. The oil pattern used on the lanes there is among the most challenging, with little margin for error.

“In bowling we always talk about oil as the invisible opponent,” said Lavoie. “Every time we bowl, every tournament we bowl, the oil is laid out on the lane in a different manner. That dictates where you should play on the lane.”

It was also the first time he had bowled on live television.

In December, he beat veteran Walter Ray Williams Jr. to win the PBA Shark Championship. 

Lavoie has made US$86,645 this season, picking up $30,000 — and a green jacket — for the U.S. Open win and another $10,000 for the perfect game. The December title was worth $20,000.

Fach (whose name rhymes with raw) claimed his major in Columbus, Ohio, in just his second event on tour. The left-hander, who bowled collegiately for Urbana University (Ohio), was 171st in his debut at the United States Bowling Congress Masters in Indianapolis.

Fach has earned $52,550, including $40,000 for his tournament win. 

Lavoie took up bowling early and says he started getting competitive at 10 or 11, with his dad always in tow. He bowled in provincial and then national tournaments, qualifying for Team Canada at 16.

“A lot of the decisions I’ve made in my life, including going to Wichita State, have been made with the ultimate goal in mind to eventually one day be a professional bowler,” he said.

He played in two events on the PBA Tour as an amateur in 2015, finishing sixth and 19th as high amateur both times, before joining the tour in 2016 after graduating in December 2015.

“It probably took a few events to get over that feeling of being starstruck,” he said.

The PBA Tour is divided into swings, with tournaments grouped together. Lavoie is headed to Columbus, Shawnee, Okla., and Las Vegas this month. Fach will defend his title at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl next week.

For those wondering, there are special bags to transport bowling balls with the wheeled three-ball bag coming in just under the normal 50-pound (23-kilogram) airline maximum for a piece of luggage.

“Usually it’s right at around 48, 49 pounds,” he said. 

Bowlers are limited to six balls in international events, with Lavoie saying choosing just six is “a challenge.”

His next international event with Canada is the World Games in July in Poland where bowling is one of 30-plus sports. The world bowling championships are slated for December in Kuwait, although he is not sure at this stage if he will be able to attend because of his tour commitments.

Lavoie makes his home in Wichita these days but Quebec City remains close to his heart, which like many was broken by news of the recent mosque attack in the Quebec capital that left six dead and 19 wounded.

Lavoie attended CEGEP (junior college) just down the street from the mosque.

 

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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