Bob Belmont recalls boyhood days in White Plains, N.Y., when, as a bold 12-year-old left-hander with a power game, he hustled lunch money from guys averaging 200.
"I started bowling when I was 5 years old, and before I was a teenager I was beating guys who talked a big game but couldn't win when the money was down," Belmont recalled at his Rainbow Lanes pro shop the other day. "It was nickel and dime stuff at first, but I graduated to some big-money matches as I got older and better."
Name any pro on the tour today and he probably did the same thing as an up-and-coming bowler. Mark Roth said hustling pick-up games in New York City was how he made a boyhood living instead of "holding down a legitimate job."
"Getting better" drove Belmont, 33 and single, onto the pro tour in 1981. In the past five years, he has hit five pro stops, finishing fifth at Windsor Locks. He has won two PBA Southern Regionals, finished second five times, and third six times.
"If I had it to do all over again, I would have gone on tour earlier," he said. "I fooled around for a few years trying to decide whether I had the game and the attitude to compete out there and, before I knew it, I was an old man."
Five years ago, Belmont's career nearly came to an end because of a serious wrist injury. "I just wore it out, the doctor said, but I was lucky. He did a good job and it swells up only now and then."
Belmont was on the disabled list more than a year and was forced to change his entire game. "I loved the fast ball, but I can't be a power bowler any more," he said. "I used some smarts and went for accuracy and consistency, and I'm a better bowler now."
Belmont has a sponsor 95 percent committed to backing him for the PBA winter tour beginning next month. With more than 20 perfect games, a career high 818 series, and a thirst for big-money competition, he said he is ready for the tour full-time.
"It's difficult to hustle big money in this area," he said. "South Florida offers the best chance for free-lancers. Vegas has outlawed PBA card-holders, so the Super Hoinke (in Cincinnati) is the biggest money tournament open to all. Steve's (Lavoie) Style Master 300 now has a scratch division offering fairly good money, but there's not much else around here.
"My goals as a kid were to win a national and a regional title. Well, I've won two regionals, so a national is next. Oh, yes, another goal? I'm looking for younger activity, so I may move out West."
Champs advance: In-house qualifying for the Merit tournament ends Sunday at three Pinellas centers and the winners advance to the state tournament Nov. 12-13 at Tampa's Crown Lanes. Sunrise, Ten Pin and Tropicana lanes will send their champs to the state finals. State champions in men's and women's divisions advance to the national finals in Reno Dec. 8-9, where winners each earn $10,000.
The Merit Mixed Doubles takes place after the amateurs compete. The top 24 PBA point-winners will be paired with the top LPBT points women Dec. 10-11 for the $20,000 payoff. Tarpon Springs pro Steve Hoskins is sixth on the points list and will compete. Ann Marie Duggan of Edmond, Okla., leads the women's points standings and Palmetto's Lisa Wagner is 23rd. The women's field will be chosen in late November.
Miller on again: The Miller Brewing Company has renewed its contract with the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA) to stage the $250,000 Miller Genuine Draft Doubles Challenge for the next three years.
Qualifying begins Nov. 14 at local participating centers and continues through Jan. 2. Winners advance to the state finals at a site to be determined. State winners advance to the nationals next March in Reno, with the winning duo earning $20,000. Check with your local center to see if it has qualifying.
Hallenbeck beats challenge: St. Petersburg's LauraLee Hallenbeck defeated Nassau's Christopher Gaitor 238-205 to win the Style Master 300 tournament's Battle of the Sexes and $1,200 Sunday at Seminole Lanes. Gaitor collected $600.
Hallenbeck lost her first match, but entered the rolloffs on a wild card and defeated four women before the championship match. Her victory gave the women a 4-1 lead in the series.
Christina Taylor and Erik Curtis of St. Petersburg, Paula Murray of Clearwater, Connie Riske of Gulfport, Don Daugherty of Safety Harbor, and Rick Langton of Seminole all made it into the rolloffs.
Bixler wins NABI: Largo's Mike Bixler, the top qualifier, defeated Tampa's Rich Hansen 182-178 to win the NABI tournament and $1,000 at Largo Lanes Sunday. Hansen barely survived a 195-194 match against Seminole's Len Schroeder to gain the finals.
NABI is at Rainbow Lanes Nov. 5-6 with a $35 entry fee.
Around the lanes: Paul Denton rolled a 297-811 at Largo Lanes last week. Joe Bereczki fired a 300-703, Dan Shirley recorded a 299-701, and Mike Borgorno scored a 299-720 at Crossroads Kenneth City Bowl. Scott Burns nailed a 299-737 and Danny Jones fired a 298-788 at Countryside Lanes. Dennis Miller of Durham, N.C., won the SABT tournament and $500 Sunday at AMF Clearwater Lanes.