Pro tour payoff requires tough struggle

So, how tough is it to become a professional bowler? Not xTC very.

Not very hard to get the card from the Professional Bowlers Association, that is. To hit the pro tour trail and prosper, that's another thing.


Ask one of the top bowlers in the Baltimore/Washington area who has carried a pro card since 1983. Ask Howard Marshall.

"If you decide to go on tour you should have a two-year plan," he said. "Your sponsor, if you're lucky enough to have one, should know that because it's going to take one to two years before there's going to be a profit."


The 31-year-old Marshall began his bowling career when he picked up a duckpin ball at the old Edmondson Village lanes when he was 4 years old. At 7 he began bowling tenpins at Fair Lanes Woodlawn. He's never looked back.

He resides in Ashburton and works in Walt Cervenka's Pro Shop inside Fair Lanes Ritchie.

"Since I don't have a sponsor I've had to limit my bowling to regionals," the left-hander said. "I tried it [the national tour] for about a dozen events in 1986 but it's extremely expensive to travel the tour, about $800 to $1,000 a week. Without a sponsor it's just about impossible to make it out there."

Marshall bowls at Fair Lanes Kings Point Randallstown and Wednesday at Fair Lanes Woodlawn, and is averaging 202 at Woodlawn and 219 at Kings Point.

But you can forget the local averages. On the PBA tour they don't mean anything. On the road it's different centers and different conditions and a caliber of bowler that is awesome.

And Marshall is meeting that competition and hammering out his own place in the rankings.

In the last four regional stops he has not finished lower than fifth.

At York, Pa., it was second place. At Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he notched a fifth-place finish. At Vernon, Conn., he placed second again.


Last weekend, at Pinboys Chesapeake Lanes in Chesapeake, Va., in the Golden Corral Southern Regional, he captured first place and a check for $3,500 -- against 160 of the best bowlers in the region.

When asked about the caliber of bowler in the regionals as against the national tour, he said: "Since the national tour has lost a bunch of stops this year, more and more of the national touring players are showing up on the regional scene."

In the Virginia event it took a 216 average to qualify for the final 24 spots; top average was 230.

Last Sunday in match play, Marshall dominated the field, winning 12 of 16 head-to-head matches, throwing just one game under 200 and averaging 235. That earned him the top seed for the stepladder finals.

"That's when the tournament got hard," Marshall said. "I had to just wait until the final match."

And, of course, for the final, the lanes had changed.


"The lanes had broken down," Marshall said. "I had used just one ball all day, a Blue Rhino Pro [usually he carries four bowling balls], and I didn't want to change equipment so I decided that I would try to keep clean, make the spare shots and let the strikes come naturally. I just moved about three boards to my right and made my shots."

Marshall's 203 beat Barry Hartman's 177 for the championship.

Tournament news

Next weekend, July 1-4, the Duckpin Bowlers Tour will play host to a doubles event at Fair Lanes Middlesex sponsored by John Schap's G & S Company. First prize is $1,200.