Forget that Baltimore had never been a favorite stop on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour for George Branham III.
Forget that this was supposed to be the tournament he skipped to catch a break.
Branham is back in Baltimore this week against all odds, doing better in the Fair Lanes Open than he could have imagined.
"This is the place I've always struggled," Branham said yesterday at Fair Lanes Woodlawn after he led a 24-man field into match play with a blistering final round of qualifications. "The best I ever did here was [win] cash. I never made the finals."
After averaging 258 for his final six games of qualifying, Branham is in the money again. When you're hot, you don't stop. That explains why he showed up here for a tournament he was going to skip.
"I wasn't entered in this tournament [originally]," Branham said. "I was going to take the week off and have a break after four or five tournaments in a row. But then I kind of got on a roll."
With a little advice from his roommate, Randy Pedersen, Branham fought his way out of a slump last week. He finished third at Erie. Just like that, he was revising his travel plans.
"Randy saw something that's been hurting my carry," Branham said. "We practiced for two hours one day last week to correct it, and it's definitely changed my whole game.
"My shoulders were opening up," he said. "My body was going one way, my arm the other. I just squared up my shoulders to make everything go together."
Branham, 30, has won two titles in nine years on the PBA tour. He ranked 40th among money-winners a year ago with $45,985. In 1991, he made his personal high of $60,190 and ranked 26th. Still, he is more proud of his 1992 season.
"My consistency last year was the best it's been," he said. "I cashed in 21 of 27 tournaments, made two [Saturday] telecasts. I didn't win any big tournaments, but I made money everywhere. The year before, I wasn't as consistent. But I finished second in an ABC Masters tournament and made $30,000 there."
Branham, who was born in Detroit, Mich., grew up in Los Angeles and lives in his wife Jackie's hometown of Indianapolis, Ind., started bowling at age 6. His father, George Jr., provided those early lessons.
Branham won PBA titles at Chicago in 1986 and Union City in 1987. A third title, in Baltimore in 1993, would have a touch of irony, given his past difficulties here.
"My game is coming together," he said. "I'm confident. I've paid my dues. It's time to start bowling well.
"The key is to stay aggressive, stay focused. A lot of guys are striking here, and there's a tendency to look at them. I have to play my own game."
And his game of late has been pretty good.
1, George Branham III, Indianapolis, 5-3, 6,206. 2, Dennis Jacques, Monmouth Junction, N.J., 6-2, 6,175. 3, Steve Jaros, Bolingbrook, Ill., 7-1, 6,090. 4, Gary J. Schluchter, Fremont, Ohio, 6-2, 6,080. 5, Bob Learn Jr., Erie, Pa., 4-4, 6,025. 6, Danny Wiseman, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 6-2, 5,982.
7, Bob Spaulding, Harrisburg, Pa., 4-4, 5,975. 8, Dave Wodka, Milwaukee, Wisc., 6-2, 5,974. 9, Dennis Rakauskas, Altamonte Springs, Fla., 5-3, 5,971. 10, Tommy Delutz Jr., Jamaica, N.Y., 2-6, 5,945. 11, Brian Voss, Boca Raton, Fla., 4-4, 5,931. 12, Scott Alexander, Seattle, 4-4, 5,907.
13, Doug Kent, Canandaigua, N.Y., 4-3-1, 5,903. 14, Michael Azcarate, Pembroke Pines, Fla., 3-5, 5,884. 15, Randy Pedersen, Hollywood, Fla., 3-5, 5,877. 16, David Traber, Woodstock, Ill., 4-4, 5,872. 17, Amleto Monacelli, Venezuela, 3-5, 5,869. 18, Bobby Fleetwood, Naugatuck, Conn., 3-4-1, 5,847.
19, Robert Lawrence, Austin, Texas, 3-5, 5,797. 20, Dave D'Entremont, Middleburg Heights, Ohio, 2-5-1, 5,792. 21, Magic Gray, Washington, 3-3-2, 5,769. 22, Mo Hestand, Moore, Okla., 3-5, 5,758. 23, Nicholas Serino, Bethesda, Md., 2-6, 5,713. 24, Jeff Lizzi, Sandusky, Ohio, 1-6-1, 5,618.
25, Billy Yinger, Arlington, Texas, 3,980, $1,250. 26 (tie), Kelly Coffman, Topeka, Kan. and Kenneth W. Hall, Albany, N.Y., 3,972, $1,195. 28, Jimmy Johnson, Columbus, Ohio, 3,960, $1,150. 29, Martin Letscher, Bel Air, Md., 3,959, $1,120. 30, Dave Arnold, Gilbert, Ariz., 3,948, $1,100.
31, Harry Sullins, Detroit, 3,947, $1,090. 32, Tim Criss, Bel Air, Md., 3,946, $1,080. 33, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., 3,942, $1,070. 34, Tom Crites, Tampa, Fla., 3,941, $1,060. 35, Dave Ferraro, Kingston, N.Y., 3,938, $1,050. 36, Joe Kominek, Portage, Ohio, 3,930, $1,040.
37 (tie), Joe Baca, Dublin, Calif.; Glen Shipe, Owings Mills, Md. and S. Darryl Todd, Wilmington, Del., 3,915, $1,020. 40, Mike Scroggins, Amarillo, Texas, 3,907, $1,000. 41, Ed Richardson, Corpus Christi, Texas, 3,905, $990.
42, Joel Eiler, Berlin, Md. and John Tragert, Gaithersburg, Md., 3,903, $975. 44, Marc McDowell, Madison, Wis., 3,897, $960. 45, Andrew Neuer, Milton, Pa., 3,896, $950. 46, Don Moser, Peoria, Ill., 3,889, $940.
47 (tie), Dick Dodge, Woodbridge, Va.; Dale Eagle, Evansville, Ind. and Bill Swanson, Palatine, Ill., 3 ,888, $920. 50, Warren Nelson, Fresno, Calif., 3,882, $900.
51, Derek Williams, Groves, Texas, 3,877, $890. 52 (tie), Jeff D. Morin, Rockaway, N.J. and Mike Rose Jr., Honeoye Falls, N.Y., 3,874, $875.
What: Fair Lanes Open
Where: Fair Lanes Woodlawn, 6410 Security Blvd.
When: Through tomorrow. Today: Match play, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 6:15-10:15 p.m.; Tomorrow: Finals (chs. 13, 7), 3-4:30 p.m.
E9 Tickets: $4-$15. Call (410) 944-6000 for information.