SPRING HILL — Jason Mahr may have won his second Professional Bowlers Association title Sunday, but the man who raised the trophy was not the same one who celebrated victory five years ago.
The trials and tribulations that the 30-year-old has endured are numerous.
His life seemed all laid out for him when he won the 19th annual Spring Hill Open in 2007. He was engaged and owned KMA Pro Shop at Mariner Lanes in Spring Hill. Not only that, but he was competing on the lanes on a regular basis and rapidly becoming a factor on the PBA South Region tour.
"Everything was good for me five years ago," Mahr remembers. "I had my own business, and I was engaged. I used the word 'unbelievable' to describe that win then. But in hindsight, it was more inevitable than anything else."
In an odd twist of fate, Mahr's engagement came to an end soon after that, and the poor economy did not allow him to keep the once-successful pro shop. He soon gave up the sport that had made him so happy and successful and stayed away for almost two years.
The hiatus gave Mahr some perspective. Once an ultra-competitive, volatile young man, he has mellowed. He doesn't put the same kind of pressure on himself and, as a result, has become more confident.
The 24th annual Spring Hill Open this past weekend featured 84 entries, 13 more than last year, the first time the number has increased from the previous season since 2006. Mahr was among six former champions who took part, including Walter Ray Williams Jr., the PBA's record-holder for all-time national victories (47) and nine-time tour Player of the Year.
Up until the deadline a couple of days before the tournament, Mahr was still wrestling with whether to enter. He had just recently dropped his equipment agreement with DV8 Bowling because he didn't feel like he was providing adequate representation. For the weekend, he was given some balls from fellow region bowler Lee Vanderhoef.
The Spring Hill tournament featured the PBA's Cheetah pattern, known for its dry outside portion of the lane. Because of his speed and hook, Mahr has thrived on that pattern. When he won in 2007, the Cheetah pattern — although it has been altered slightly since then — was in use.
"This pattern is conducive to the ball I throw, but I've worked hard to not just be seen on tour as the Cheetah bowler," Mahr said. "I was kind of torn about whether or not winning here would reinforce that, but anytime you face the caliber of bowlers I saw this weekend, the pattern is secondary."
Coming out of Saturday's first round, Mahr was second to Williams. He averaged 246.12 through eight qualifying games to make it to the round of 16 Sunday morning. There was no slowing him down from there as he tossed 12 more games and finished with a 255.8 average.
That number made him the second seed, still behind Williams, the PBA Hall of Famer. In the step-ladder television format that the tour now uses, Mahr would only have to win two matches to capture the title.
The third seed, Vanderhoef, defeated fourth-seed Jeremy Mooney. Vanderhoef, the same pro who helped Mahr before the weekend began by supplying him with equipment, then moved on to face his friend.
After both players missed 10-pin spares in the first frame, Mahr jumped out to a solid lead by tossing four consecutive strikes.
Although Mahr's pace slowed after that, he maintained a lead until the 10th frame, when four straight strikes from his opponent put the pressure on again. He would need a strike on the final ball of the game to move on and face Williams Jr. With a crowd of almost 100 people looking on, he did just that, edging Vanderhoef, 213-212.
While there might have been a time when Mahr would have been frustrated with missing a 10-pin or intimidated by squaring off against a legend, he didn't shy from the spotlight. He left no doubt in his final match with Williams, tossing 10 strikes, including eight in a row, to topple the PBA veteran, 259-234.
"Anytime you lose in the finals, it's disappointing," Williams said, "but Jason bowled great. I threw a couple of bad shots, but it was his day."
After throwing a strike in the ninth frame to clinch the win, the emotion of the moment hit Mahr. He smiled and held his head in his hands as he waited for Williams to finish.
"When I realized I needed a strike in the ninth to clinch, I took my time and threw the best ball I could," he said. "Once it landed, it was a totally different feeling than I've ever had before."
With a second trophy in hand, Mahr says he will continue to bowl — because he enjoys it, not because he feels obligated. He plans to attend college in the fall to prepare for an occupation to fall back on.
Mahr is no longer the same kid who competed in youth bowling and threw his first ball at Spring Hill Lanes at age 7.
He's not the same man who won the Spring Hill PBA tournament five years ago, either.
Mahr has grown into a man who knows what life has thrown at him, and he's figured out how to handle it.