Since he arrived in Baltimore earlier this week for the $150,000 PBA Fair Lanes Open, Bob Learn Jr. has gotten the same message from his 3-year-old daughter, Brittany, on each of his nightly phone calls home.
"My daughter's been telling me the last couple of days to come home," Learn said. "She really misses me when I'm gone."
Those strong ties keep Learn, 29, a full-time family man and part-time bowler. But the Erie, Pa., native makes a good living bowling, and was the top qualifier in the tournament at Fair Lanes Woodlawn after last night's match-play round, which will conclude today.
Through 18 qualifying games that ended yesterday afternoon, Learn averaged 230.39, and had a 22-pin lead over Dundalk's Danny Wiseman. After last night's first round of match play, Learn maintained his lead, increasing it to 35 pins over Wiseman. Match play will continue this morning and tonight and will determine the five stepladder finalists for tomorrow's TV finals on ABC.
"It feels good to have the lead, but I haven't made the show yet," Learn said. "I've always bowled well in Baltimore. When I was down here in 1987 I was leading after Thursday night."
Learn's part-time status is by his own choice. He has people willing to sponsor him full time on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, but Learn, who toured full time from 1981-83, has opted to put his family first.
"Being on tour before, I know what the life can do with a family," Learn said. "Sure, there are many times when I'm close to saying, 'Let's go for it.' But I chose to have a family, and that's what I want to be -- a family man."
So, for the most part, Learn makes the tour stops that don't take him too far away from Erie. That ranges from 10 to 13 PBA tournaments a year, which is enough to keep him satisfied.
"When you're part time, you don't have to face that do-or-die situation every week," said Learn, who is making his third tour stop this year. "Plus I don't know if I can handle all the travel. When I come out, I'm fresh, and I'm not stressed. I'm able to just go out and have a good time."
By limiting his tournaments, Learn stays eligible for smaller tournaments near his home.
"If I bowl under 15 tournaments a year, I'm not considered touring, so I'm pretty much considered an amateur," Learn said. "I can bowl in other tournaments. I bowl for a living, and I make a real good living doing that."
His career earnings on the tour are $201,971, a far cry from the top full-time tour bowlers, who can make more than $100,000 annually. While not a top money-maker, Learn is known as the "King of the 300 Games." He is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the bowler with the most sanctioned 300 games (62) and the most sanctioned 800 series (21).
"I don't feel like I have the record," Learn said, almost embarrassed to mention the honor. "It would seem that someone out there would have to have more than that."
Learn would like to add to that record, especially if it helps him to the $31,000 top prize. That's a nice chunk of money for a family man, especially one who will be taking the wife and kids to Disney World after the tournament.
"My wife and kids are coming down [today], so that will be nice," Learn said. "The lanes here are really nice, and the scores are high. I feel I can maintain my position, but there's a lot of work to do."
Facts and figures
What: $150,000 PBA Fair Lanes Open
Where: Fair Lanes Woodlawn
When: Today--11 a.m. (second eight games of match play); 6:15 (final eight games of match play determining five stepladder finalists). Tomorrow--TV show 3 to 4:30 p.m.
TV: Tomorrow, channels 13, 7
Top bowlers: Defending champion Pete Weber, defending runner-up Del Ballard Jr., Dundalk's Danny Wiseman
Tickets: Can be purchased at the door for today's session. Tomorrow's session is sold out. Tickets are $8 for today's eight-game match play from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $12 for tonight's eight-game match play from 6:15 to 10:15.
At stake: $31,000 for first place, $16,000 for second.
Stop on PBA Tour: Seventh of 16 tournaments.