The Bowler of the '80s, washed up in the '90s.
That's what Lisa Wagner, the American Bowling Congress Women's Bowler of the Decade for the 1980s, began to hear after an article in Bowlers Journal two years ago suggested she had reached her peak.
The fact that Wagner -- who had won at least two tournaments every year since 1983 -- did not win a title in 1991 or '92 seemed to validate the talk of her eroding skills.
Even Wagner began to question her desire for the game.
"1991 and '92 were so stressful that I just didn't want to do it anymore," said Wagner, who is competing in the Hammer Eastern Open at Baltimore's Country Club Lanes this week. "It got to the point where I either had to do something mentally and physically with my game or I was just going to quit."
She rededicated herself to the sport, and earned the 1993 Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour Player of the Year award.
Wagner, bowling's career leader in earnings ($567,767), pro titles (28) and average (209.41), won two titles last year, qualified for match play in 16 of 17 events and made the televised stepladder finals in five tournaments.
She finished third in earnings ($51,663) and second in competition points (8,515).
"I never felt like I was washed up. I'm not very old," said Wagner, 33. "But it was kind of an awakening.
"My goal last year was just to rebuild. Getting Bowler of the Year was a real bonus."
Although it was the mental aspect of her game that she said needed the most honing, Wagner also put in more practice hours than ever preparing for her "comeback."
However, Wagner has been unable to duplicate last year's success.
She is seeking her first '94 tournament title, although she has qualified for the stepladder finals three times, finishing fifth twice and fourth once.
"After last year, I was tired," said Wagner, who has a 203 average this year and is 23rd in earnings with $24,490. "I worked in a bowling center between seasons, so I never got a break from bowling.
"I'm disappointed, but not too much, because I didn't work as hard as I should have before the start of this year."
The Hammer Eastern Open is one of the few titles that has eluded Wagner, who finished fifth last year.
After yesterday's qualifying rounds and eight-game match play, Wagner was ninth with 5,767 total pins in 26 games. Carol Gianotti was the leader with 6,028. Two eight-game blocks of match play will be contested today.
Wagner, a 15-year tour veteran, said her enthusiasm for the game has waned recently. She has begun to think about life after bowling.
"All the fun stuff with the traveling and all that, I've kind of gotten over," said Wagner, who is taking correspondence courses in the veterinary field in the hope of starting a pet kennel. "I've definitely thought about slowing down. I haven't said I'd quit completely, but I wouldn't mind starting to cut back a little.
"I have pretty good enthusiasm at the moment because the prize funds are good. If they weren't as good, I'd seriously consider staying home."