What happens when the world's ninth-ranked bowler walks into your house, during your league and challenges you to a one-shot match? What do you do? That's the situation Steven Pautler, of Edmonds, Wash., faced when Bryon Smith showed up at Spin Alley on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Prior to that, it was like any other night. Pautler, 16, was bowling his high school league at the Shoreline, Wash., bowling center. The Edmonds-Woodway varsity team had begun its season only a few weeks earlier. Still trying to shake off the rust, the anchor-man had mustered a modest 150 average in merely 12 games.
Smith, unofficially the Pacific Northwest's best bowler, showed up practically unannounced on a two-day junket in the Seattle area promoting the PBA Earl Anthony Memorial Classic. But, it didn't take long for electricity to fill the air among the sea of teenagers.
"I know him. I've bowled with him in a pro-am," said one bowler about a regional tournament earlier this year in Seattle. Chatter all over the lanes quickly turned into sharp focus on Smith. "Did you hear? The ninth-ranked bowler in the world is here tonight," said most, carefully not to leave any unaware.
Smith, an eight-year pro, distributed free raffle tickets, lane-to-lane, to each of the bowlers. The rules were explained by an official over the loudspeaker and it was 'game-on.' In an instant, 'Beat the Pro' had been revived.
While Smith began warming-up in the middle of the house, the first ticket was drawn from a golden, bingo-like raffle drum. A hand clutching a red ticket, barely visible among the crowd, shot-up from the high-end of the house. Distant laughter and joking surrounded the bowler as friends discovered which of their cronies had been picked as the pro's first challenger. With bowling-ball-in-hand, the competitor managed to fight the crowd to Smith's pair. With the look of fear in his eyes, everyone knew the predominant question was scrawled by the expression on his face. 'How should I expect to beat a pro?'
With one shot. That's how.
The varsity bowler chose to throw the first shot. It barely skidded half-way down lane before squirting into the gutter. Smith consoled the mostly relieved bowler and proceeded to roll a seven-count for the win. Not bad.
A different number is drawn, but more of the same heckling pervades as a young girl clears a path front-and-center. Again, the amateur chooses to place all pressure on Smith by rolling first. She topples a respectable nine pins. Smith leaves a solid 10-pin on his shot and proves that even a pro gets tapped now-and-again. Smith thinks, "Maybe this isn't going to be quite so easy," after he learns he's bowling versus a key player from one of the best girl's varsity teams in the area.
But on the next shot, she opens the door with a weak six-count. Smith answers with 10-in-the-pit and sends a strong message that the pro is quickly getting dialed-in. More of the same happens as challengers three, four, five and six make quick exits.
Is anyone going to 'Beat the Pro'?
How about Pautler, remember him? He's the guy carrying the 150 average. Pautler? -- The guy in the white T-shirt?
Feeling confident Pautler rolled first… he turned around with a wry smile. When he and his white T-shirt stepped aside, both revealed only one pin was left standing.
Smith got out of his chair, plucked his ball from the rack, and wiped his shoe with a licked hand. Everyone knows he always wipes his shoe before a big shot. He must be feeling this one.
As the ball hurtled down-lane, everyone waited for it to hit the breakpoint and snap hard into the pocket, smashing the pins like the last six shots. But, it never hooked. It never snapped. In fact, it sailed. Right through the oil, it hit the pocket light and left four pins on the deck.
Pautler threw his hands in the air, turned around and high-fived a friend. "I just beat the ninth-best bowler in the world," he exclaimed.
Later he told of his confidence prior to the shot. "I said to myself, 'I'm gonna win,' and that's just what happened. Before my ticket was chosen, I was having a great day already. My high series this year is only 463. But I'm gonna beat that today."
For his effort, Smith presented Pautler with a certificate for one free bowling ball, compliments of the PBA. He also shook his hand, just like he does after a match with his fellow professionals.
"They put some pressure on me early," Smith kidded about the group of high school bowlers. "The guys that got nine, that proved to be the score to beat."
Other raffle prizes included a Pro-Am entry into the PBA Earl Anthony Memorial Classic and several PBA hats and T-shirts.
But, Smith's night wasn't finished. He drove half-an-hour to Everett, Wash., and paid a visit to Evergreen Lanes, owned by PBA Senior Member Darrell Storkson.
Smith bowled three games, on three different pairs of lanes with the league bowlers and shot an impressive 793-series. He also played 'Beat the Pro' after league. Chad Smith, 36, of Everett, used the high and hard strategy and beat Bryon 10-9. Bryon left a solid 9-pin on a perfect shot.
Smith's excursion in the Seattle area also included stops at Kenmore Lanes, where he shot 744, and Tech City Bowl, home of the inaugural PBA Earl Anthony Memorial Classic.
"It's nice to be a part of the first tournament in honor of Earl," added Smith. "I never bowled with Earl, but I met him a few times. He's one of the best bowlers who ever lived. He's just such a legend."
Smith and other Northwest Region bowlers will fight to keep the Anthony title at 'home' as the tournament runs Wednesday through Sunday, in Kirkland, Wash. ESPN will televise the finals live on Sunday, Jan. 6, from 1-2:30 p.m. (ET).