Volume 2, Issue 45, The 97th Edition
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
It was the talk of morning during Southern California junior leagues Saturday morning. Did you hear who made the show? While SoCal has its share of bowling icons, to get two of our youngest and brightest stars competing for the men's and women's US Open was amazing. Matchplay results didn't get posted until after 11:30 Friday night so a) driving back to Phoenix to watch in person was impossible, and b) there were a lot of folks who wouldn't know unless someone told them.
So there were a lot of coahces and parents telling each other that Tennelle Grijalva and Robert Smith were competing for their first professional titles that afternoon. The fact that the US Open is considered a "major," was a huge plus. It brings out all the pride and quasi-parental feelings you can imagine. Tennelle is a rookie on the PWBA tour, but she's done her time on Team USA, and locally, even competing in the boys' division of a local scratch tournament club when she was a junior. Robert has been on the PBA tour a couple of years, with a similar stint on Team USA and has been quite a force in the region. Folks might remember his 1994 bid to win the ACDelco as an amateur.
League dispersed quickly, and many of us rushed home to watch our televisions. And Tennis came on. The horror! Thirty minutes went by, as I tried to convince myself the unthinkable was not going to happen. If they cut into the program, I might miss the chance to see either one. I tried to guess which side would go first, and I just had a feeling it would be the women. If Tennelle lost her first match, I'd miss her completely. I checked TV schedules. I fired off emails. Basically, I panicked. Thankfully, Fox Sports Net did the right by their bowling audience, and the show aired in its entirety.
The women indeed bowled first, and there was Tennelle as fourth seed. She is a great bowler, but had to face Carol Gianotti-Block and Liz Johnson--not exactly a walk in the park. By sheer perseverance and a few misplaced errors by her opponents, Tennelle was advancing. I was able to breathe a little better through the commercial break.
The next match was one of those matches that I was able to relish, but still wished didn't happen the way it did. Tennelle faced Kelly Kulick for the title, and while Tennelle looked more relaxed with each shot, Kelly didn't find her line until the fill ball of the tenth frame. I had to ask my son to stop bouncing so hard in my lap because he was killing me. We were celebrating Tennelle's win, but I hated to see anyone struggle. At the end, Tennelle was crying on TV, and that's about all it took to get me to well up, too.
Southern California had something to cheer about, but our rooting was far from over. In the opening match of the men's competition, Norm Duke reminded me why I always cringe when he bowls against one of my favorite bowlers. He defeated Jeff Lizzi and Paul Fleming with a 279 game. When he's on, he's unstoppable. Saturday he was definitely on, and now he was facing Robert.
Robert and Duke went back and forth, and I now know what it's like to have my heart jumping out of my chest. Just when Robert could have locked up the match, he missed a ten pin. Robert punched out in the tenth to force Duke to get just a strike in the tenth for the win. I didn't like the odds. I think I had my eyes closed because the next thing I remember is that Duke's shot left pins--that's with an "s" on the end. And Robert was the winner--earning his first PBA title and completing the SoCal sweep of the US Open.
His win Saturday took me back to my first encounter with Robert, probably 12
years ago. A group of us had driven 30 minutes to a 24-hour center to practice. I can remember seeing a young, blonde kid down on the lanes wearing a shirt that said, "Robert Smith for Valley Bowl" on the back of it. At the time we snickered. What kind of kid bowls FOR a particular center. The kind that go on to win the US Open. If I could go back, I'd smack myself.
Most of Southern California may have celebrated when the Lakers won, but when two of your own bring home one of the crown jewels for their respective tours, as a bowler I can't help but be proud.