The script was nearly perfect. Keven Williams, the hometown kid and Glendale High School graduate who grew up bowling at Enterprise Park Lanes, was a few strikes away from winning his second Professional Bowlers Association title on his home lanes.
Williams wowed the local fans for three days at the inaugural Springfield Classic, keeping the world’s best bowlers at arm’s length while securing the No. 1 seed for the finals. About 500 people — significant inside a bowling center — cheered his every move.
But a storybook ending was not to be. Australian Sam Cooley edged Williams 223-216 in the finale on Saturday night to earn $25,000 and his second PBA Tour victory. Williams, a 30-year-old lefty, didn’t have a bad consolation prize with $16,000.
Springfield bowling community turned out in big numbers
Perhaps more than the cash, Williams took away a lot of pride in how the Springfield bowling community turned out for the first bowling event of its kind locally. Williams averaged 230 for 36 qualifying games to earn a shot at the title.
With a set of portable bleachers filled and fans filling chairs and standing areas within eyesight of lanes used for the stepladder finals, Williams smiled at the scene prior to the final match.
“Amazing,” Williams said. “I was really curious to see how the engagement was going to be with the pro-am earlier in the week and the spectating through the week. They blew me out of the water with my expectations.
“I think they all loved it and we can’t wait to be here for years two and three and so forth.”
PBA Tour hopes to be back
Enterprise Park Lanes owner Steve Wiemer, who took on the majority of the expenses when a chance to play host to the event came available on short notice, said he’s hopeful that it will return next year. The PBA seemed pleased as well.
“Things ran really smoothly and we hope to be back,” said tournament director John Weber of the PBA Tour.
The 2024 schedule won’t be announced until later this year, but securing a title sponsor would be an important part of ensuring a second Springfield Classic.
“I think it was a great thing for the community and hopefully we can help them next year in getting the tournament back, maybe with (national) television involved,” said Lance Kettering, executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission.
Williams, the only Springfield bowler to ever win a national PBA Tour event (last year’s Shark Classic in Milwaukee), joked in the days leading into the tourney that the pressure of bowling at home would be too much for him to overcome. He handled it well — and then some — as some big names, including Jason Belmonte, failed to threaten the finals and U.S. Open champ E.J. Tackett didn’t make the cut.
“I really told everyone I didn’t really think I was going to make the cut,” Williams said. “Obviously, in my head, I really wanted to make the title match. Yeah, I handled it well and I can’t be mad about finishing second.”
Cooley overcomes underdog status
Williams fell behind Cooley midway through the championship game and his open frame in the eighth frame eventually was the difference. He rallied with four strikes in succession to finish, forcing Cooley to spare in the final frame for the win.
Cooley — from Mount Warrigal, New South Wales — said it was a challenge to clearly be the underdog. Applause was polite when he threw a strike, unlike the roars when Williams did so.
“When you have the crowd against you, it does make it tough,” Cooley said. “I’ve been on that side a few times in the past, not just in the U.S., but internationally as well. It’s difficult when you do what we do when you might get a handful of claps and when they strike, the crowd goes crazy.
“It’s tough, but you only get here a handful of times, so let’s make it worth it.”
Williams looks to build on strong performance
Williams, Cooley and the rest of the tour is bowling this week in Shawnee, Okla., for stop three of the season. Williams said he’s optimistic that the Springfield experience will be a springboard to a big season for him.
“As much as I’d like to have had title No. 2 at home, making the title match is hard to do out here. It’s early and doing that in the second stop … we have a long way to go. This is a lot to build on. I just thank the Springfield community for all their love.”