Keven Williams and the trophy he’s long coveted, for winning a PBA National Tour event. The Springfieldian won the Guaranteed Rate PBA World Series of Bowling XIII Shark Championship in Milwaukee. (Photo by PBA Tour)

One week has passed since Keven Williams became Springfield’s newest professional sports champion and the magnitude of his accomplishment finally has sunk in.

Williams secured his first Professional Bowlers Association championship on the national tour last week in Milwaukee, defeating AJ Chapman 225-223 at the Guaranteed Rate PBA World Series of Bowling XIII Shark Championship.

“It definitely took a few days for it to sink in,” Williams said earlier this week after returning to Springfield. The 29-year-old left-hander, a 2011 Glendale High School graduate, practices at Enterprise Park Lanes.

Williams earned $20,000 for the victory and did so in storybook fashion. He calmly rolled three strikes in the 10th frame to beat Chapman as a national television audience on Fox Sports 1 looked on. 

Williams became the first Springfield bowler to win a PBA National Tour championship. The late Sean Swanson was runner-up in the 1998 Oregon Open and Williams finished third in the 2018 Go Bowling PBA 60th Anniversary Classic.

“As a competitor, everyone wants that game-winning shot, to throw all three in the 10th to win, to hit that buzzer-beater,” Williams said. “Everybody has pictured winning like that in their brain. It’s happened to me a million times.

“It was amazing to be able to step up in that moment.”

Keven Williams, of Springfield, defeated AJ Chapman 225-223 for the Guaranteed Rate PBA World Series of Bowling XIII Shark Championship. (Photo by PBA Tour)

Williams got his start in Springfield

Back in Springfield, a full house of league bowlers and assorted fans were watching at Enterprise Park Lanes and erupted in cheers after the final strike. Among those were Casey Murphy, Williams’ friend, mentor and in — ways — a father figure.

Williams credits Murphy, a nationally renowned amateur bowler, for taking him in at a teen and guiding him as he was separated from his biological family.  

“When I was 18, I had no plan in life,” Williams said. “I had no money, no guidance. I didn’t have any real family. He got a hold of me and said, ‘Hey, we haven’t really met but I want to get to know you and help you get your feet wet in the bowling industry. He took me under his wing.

“He was a father figure when I didn’t really have that. I have gotten closer to my father now, but then I wasn’t. Casey made sure that I was gonna figure out some way to be OK in this world. He was and is a great mentor and role model.

“Honest to God, I never would have been a bowler if not for him.”

Murphy wound up paying for Williams’ professional tournament entry fees and expenses with the duo splitting any prize money earned. The two also bowled together in doubles tournaments around the region and won more often than not.

‘…he just had this swagger…”

But the relationship began before that as Murphy saw potential in a scrawny high-school kid.

“He was about 17 and really short, maybe 5-foot-6 or so,” Murphy said. “He threw the ball well on a Glendale team that went on a run and won a state championship. I got to see him compete a couple of times and could just tell he had something.

“He came to bowling late and he was maybe not the most-talented kid, but was extremely coordinated at everything. Golf, basketball. He could dunk — and probably can still dunk — a basketball. But he just had this swagger and confidence in his ability under pressure.”

Murphy said it was a trait that he saw Williams exhibit many times in pressure bowling situations.

“Keven is well-known in bowling circles across the country, especially in the Texas region where they do a lot of high-level bowling,” Murphy said. “We call it ‘going legend’ and I’ve seen him go legend many times. He went legend that night (in Milwaukee). In the 10th frame, I knew it was over.”

As for his role in helping Williams off the lanes, Murphy attempted to downplay that.

“He credits me with some of that guidance, and I do appreciate that,” Murphy said. “I do give him advice. He hasn’t always listened. But it’s his determination to succeed. It’s him. I didn’t have to push a whole lot.”

Williams said he and Murphy talk every day, about bowling and life. He also credits Steve Wiemer, owner of Enterprise Park Lanes, for allowing him to practice out of the center and give lessons there when he’s back home.

Keven Williams, a 2011 Glendale High School graduate, recently won his first PBA National Tour title, worth $20,000. (Photo by PBA Tour)

Grinding on the PBA Tour

Life on the PBA Tour is not easy. It’s a grind financially to make ends meet and friends will share hotel rooms or Air BNBs to stretch their dollars and give each other emotional support.

“About eight of us have a Youtube channel called ‘The House Bowling’ where we vlog everything. It kind of sheds light on the mental rollercoaster and the ups and downs of a pro bowler,” Williams said. 

“We’re not basketball players who get paid $20 million. We can make decent money, but not compared to other professional sports. Sometimes, you might feel like you’re bowling well and you might not earn a dime for a month straight.”

Williams said his tour roommates, such as fellow lefty Packy Hanraham, do their best to lift each other — while competing against each other.

“It’s a tight-knit group in the bowling community,” Williams said. “We bowl against each other for paychecks, but at the end of the day we want to see each other succeed.”

Next up on the PBA Tour for Williams is the season’s final major, the USBC Masters in Las Vegas, beginning on Monday. The finals will be televised at noon April 3 on Fox.

Meanwhile, Williams also has good things happening in his other passion of music. The hip-hop artist has a full catalog of songs and videos on his Youtube channel, along with the usual streaming music services. His new single, titled “Ride This Wave,” drops on Monday.

“I recently started working with a manager, Eric Nicks out of New Jersey,” Williams said. “He’s a bowler also. We’re formulating plans to hopefully pursue more music. 

“We’re releasing ‘Ride This Wave’ while I’m relevant and before people forget about my little win,” Williams added, with a laugh. “It’s music with a good message.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton