When Norm Duke won the Cleveland Open in 1983 at age 18, he became the youngest person to win a PBA Tour event.
Eight years later, his career victory total remained at one.
During that time, he watched as his friend and contemporary Del Ballard Jr. piled up victories while Duke was left to question whether he was good enough to compete with the best.
"Del experienced a tremendous amount of success in the time I was struggling the most," Duke said. "I looked up to the way he handled himself in winning major championships and building a Hall of Fame career."
Something must have registered with Duke because when the PBA Hall of Fame holds its induction ceremony next month in Las Vegas, Ballard won't be the only one giving an acceptance speech.
Duke, who captured the PBA World Championship in October to become the only bowler to win three consecutive majors, not only caught up to Ballard, but also blew right past him on the way to carving out his own place among the sport's all-time greats. His 30 career titles are 17 more than Ballard has, and he leads his old friend in majors 6-4.
As he prepared to depart Florida for the Lumber Liquidators Shark Championship, which begins today at AMF Country Club Lanes and runs through Sunday's ESPN-televised finals, the 26-year veteran reflected on how far he has come after such an inauspicious beginning.
"It hasn't been easy," Duke said. "I felt a tremendous amount of pain at times. I think it takes that sort of performance to appreciate when you get it turned around."
The 44-year-old's journey from teenage sensation to member of the sport's royalty was filled with disappointment early on. The eight-year drought between victories led Duke to engage in some serious soul-searching about his chosen career path.
After making a few adjustments to his game based on things he learned from Ballard and others, he made his breakthrough in 1991, when he won his second career tournament. He won twice in 1993 and then five times in 1994, including his second major, earning Player of the Year honors along the way. He has been on a roll since and added a second Player of the Year award in 2000.
After Baltimore, there's a one-month break before Duke will attempt the PBA's version of the "Tiger Slam" when he tries to add the Tournament of Champions trophy to his mantel and make it four majors in a row.
Though he's not looking past this week's challenge, he's already preparing for the increased attention the Tournament of Champions will have because of what's at stake.
"I hope it carries a lot of pressure," Duke said. "It's not a remarkable feat without it."
What: 2008 Lumber Liquidators Shark Championship
When: Today through Sunday
Where: AMF Country Club Lanes, 9020 Pulaski Highway, Baltimore
2007 winner: Patrick Allen (def. Wes Malott, 247-217)
Notable: Hall of Famer Mark Roth, 57, received a commissioner's exemption into the main draw as part of the tour's 50th anniversary. Baltimore native Danny Wiseman will be trying for his 13th career PBA title.
TV: Sunday's finals are on ESPN at 1 p.m.