By Jim Goodwin on Aug 12, 2019 8:09:58 AM
This week's BowlTV Vault release is the 2000 U.S. Open, with both the men's and women's championships together. The format is really unique for the arena finals with three players on the lanes for the semifinal match, and the winner of that match going against the No. 1 seed for the title . . . non- stop action, and never a dull moment for the fans or the announcers.
How cool is it to see two bowlers who grew up in the same youth program win the U.S. Open at the same time? Tennelle Grijalva and Robert Smith were two on a long list of very good young bowlers coming out of California, and they are still in the news today . . . Tennelle (now Milligan) is the Operations and Tournament Director for the new Professional Women's Bowling Association, and Robert, who won six titles and might have been the most powerful bowler ever on tour, is getting noticed today for trying the two-handed style. He is in the pro shop business now and enjoying life, family and friends.
In 2000, Milligan was a rookie on the PWBA tour, and the U.S. Open that year was her first title. She defeated another player who is well known these days, but that day, Kelly Kulick was on TV for the first time as the No. 1 seed, and her inexperience got the best of her. Milligan won the match easily, 239-155. Appearing cool and calm in the semifinal game, she defeated favorites Carol Gianotti and Liz Johnson to get to the championship match. Milligan added the PWBA Players Championship later in 2000.
"It was an amazing and wonderful day for me," said Milligan. "I was just a young rookie and I guess I just didn't know enough to know I was not supposed to win. I was taught to bowl with confidence . . . fake it until you make it, and there we were bowling side-by-side with the men and then for the same money in this larger-than-life arena. It was just great, and when Robert won, it was a good day for California."
When the men hit the lanes, strikes were plentiful, and Norm Duke looked like he was cruising to his 20th title when he defeated Paul Fleming and Jeff Lizzi in the semifinal with a near flawless 279 game.
The title match, however, was a nail biter, and Smith held on for a one-pin victory. Using a new 'Sarge Easter' grip recommended by his friend Barry Asher, Smith led the qualifying and match play rounds by several hundred pins. Smith's powerful style earned him six tour titles, but it also led to some physical problems, which made his career shorter than he would have liked.
"Norm and I have talked about that game and described it as the best worst match ever," said Smith. "I had a 35-pin lead after the fifth frame, but it is never enough against Norm. In the end, he got a bad break, and I think I won because I bowled the best tenth frame of my life. I whiffed a 10 pin in the ninth, and I was steaming the rest of the way."
Smith is now 45 and was about to give up competitive bowling when he decided to try throwing the ball with two hands. "It was amazing . . . all of the pain I was having disappeared because the style limits your back swing and uses completely different muscles. I describe the learning process as a beautiful struggle."
Who knows . . . we may see a completely different Robert Smith in some PBA50 events in a few years.