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It isn’t the case in every sport where weekend warriors and aspiring up-and-comers have the chance to compete against a legend.
Yet that’s exactly what took place Saturday at Westview Lanes as the venerable bowling alley served as an alternate venue for the 12th annual King Pin Scratch Open.
Indeed, the name of Walter Ray Williams Jr. is one that even a casual sports fan may recognize. At 57 years of age, Williams stands as the all-time leading money winner on the Professional Bowlers Association tour and was the first player to win 100 PBA-sanctioned tournament championships.
He’s been the focal point of ESPN bowling commercials, has an appearance on a “This Is Sportscenter” spot and has been named the PBA’s Player of the Year on seven occasions.
However, Williams, through his own admission, is not independently wealthy.
So when a gap exists between major PBA events, Williams is liable to use the time to enter smaller tournaments and conduct bowling clinics for supplemental income. It’s a way of life that isn’t exclusive to the PBA Hall of Famer, to which he was inducted in 1995.
“You’ll have to ask them what they think about me bowling,” Williams said of the local players. “I know there’s a few people that don’t care for me bowling tournaments that they’ve got to compete against me. But I think a lot of them like the fact that I’m here and that they’re going heads up against me and have a chance to beat me. And a lot of the times, they do.”
Williams held clinics in both Wilson and Rocky Mount on Friday before taking part in Saturday’s tournament. He’s familiar with Westview Lanes co-owner Leon Lamm, who offered the venue for use after tournament director Clark Hill sought options for moving it from Goldsboro.
Other PBA professionals in attendance included Kip Roberts, Kyle Troup and Chris Collins. Two six-game qualifying segments of roughly 40 bowlers each produced a cut to 16, where the format transitioned to one-on-one match play. Williams defeated Roberts in the championship match.
Even though Williams readily conceded that he’s not the same bowler who once ruled the PBA tour, he’s still capable of conjuring up moments of magic. Last month, Williams made it to the finals of the PBA Shark Championship in Reno, Nevada, but was felled by Francois Lavoie.
A victory would have made Williams the oldest player to win a PBA event on the regular tour
“I’m not in the prime of my game,” he said. “I don’t bowl as well as I used to, but I still bowl pretty decent. I enjoy the competition, and in a lot of these little tournaments, there’s a lot of good local players. I know I can get beat at any time.”
Williams, who describes himself as “stubborn,” sees himself transitioning to more clinics as the years progress. But he’s not quite ready to step off the national tour just yet.
“Back when I was 20, 30 years old I thought I’d be retired when I was 40!” he said. “And I’m still bowling on tour and I’m 57. I never expected to be doing this at this age.”
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