SHAWNEE, Okla. – Mitch Beasley, who didn’t begin chasing his Professional Bowlers Association dreams seriously until after a 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, rolled into the first round lead in the 52nd FireLake PBA Tournament of Champions at FireLake Bowling Center Wednesday, averaging 243 to take an early nine-pin lead over 18-time PBA Tour titlist Tommy Jones of Simpsonville, S.C.
Beasley, who came within a game of winning the Tournament of Champions a year ago, rolled games of 215, 222, 278, 279, 260, 260, 213, 211 and 268 for a 1,946 pinfall total, taking the lead with a strike in the 10th frame of his final game.
“I like it here. I’m always comfortable here,” the 48-year-old Clarksville, Tenn., resident said. “I have a lot of friends around, and I got lucky today. I started with a couple small games and then I switched to the ball I used last year and shot back to back 270 games. I’m a little slow sometimes.”
Last year, Beasley came into the Tournament of Champions with a résumé of 18 PBA Regional titles over two decades of bowling part-time while in the military, and he dominated at FireLake Bowling Center, racing away to the top berth for the stepladder finals only to lose to Sweden’s 20-year-old Jesper Svensson in the title match, 226-177.
Beasley finally won his first PBA Tour title in the Chameleon Championship presented by HotelPlanner.com during the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VIII in Reno in December, but he hasn’t forgotten the 2016 TOC finale, held on a special pair of lanes installed in FireLake Arena, that was watched by a live ESPN audience of one million viewers.
“I definitely have some unfinished business here,” he said. “I just hope to make the show. It wasn’t fun watching the train wreck last year. I think guys who bowled before me threw a total of one strike in three games on left lane. I just couldn’t figure out what to do. To have that kind of performance last year after setting the TOC match play record, it was tough.
“It’s not like it’s only happened to me,” he added. “That kind of thing has happened to a lot of guys over the years. I Just hope to shore up a couple of the bad shots I made early today and if I can improve just a bit each day, I’ll have a chance to make the TV finals and take care of unfinished business.”
Jones sat in second place with 1,937 pins, 17 ahead of Jason Sterner of Rockledge, Fla. PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III of Jackson, N.J., was fourth with 1,894 pins and Sean Lavery-Spahr of Pasadena, Texas, was fifth, 10 pins behind Bohn.
The entire field of PBA tournament winners will bowl its second eight-game qualifying round Thursday. After a seven-game qualifying round early Friday, the top 24 after 23 games will advance to a fourth eight-game qualifying round Friday night, with the top 16 then bowling their final eight qualifying games Saturday morning to determine the top five for Sunday’s live ESPN finals at 1 p.m. ET