Provided Courtesy of Professional Bowlers Association, Read More.
By Matt Cannizzaro, USBC Communications
LAS VEGAS - Two months ago, Dick Baker of Henderson, Nevada, didn't know if he'd ever bowl again, let alone competitively, and now, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, he's the player to beat at the premier event for United States Bowling Congress members age 60 and older.
The 76-year-old left-hander averaged more than 250 through six games Thursday at the Sam's Town Bowling Center to lead the 184-player field at the 2018 Super Senior Classic with a 1,505 total.
The emotional performance included games of 236, 248, 279, 217, 279 and 246 and left Baker 66 pins ahead of USBC Gold coach Mike Dias of Lafayette, Colorado, and Skip Pavone of San Jose, California, who are tied for second place with a 1,439.
Christopher Keane of Cape Coral, Florida, finished the day fourth with 1,430 and was followed by Jeff Suma of Auburn Hills, Michigan (1,411). Defending champion Ron Mohr of North Las Vegas, Nevada, had three games over 240 and finished the opening round in seventh place with a 1,379 total.
"My goal was to get out of the gate strong and maybe get to 200 over, but I hit two pairs that gave me a great look and great carry, which was the basis of the block," Baker said. "The fact that I stayed clean for six games was the key. Then, every time I got a double, I was able to add to my number. On this pattern, the spares are just as tough as the strikes, but if you get the right ball in your hand, you really can knock some pins down."
Competition at the 2018 Super Senior Classic continues Friday at noon Eastern, as the B Squad bowlers get their first look at the fresh 41-foot oil pattern. Baker and the rest of the A Squad competitors will compete on the "burn" at 5 p.m. Eastern.
After Friday's second six-game round at Sam's Town, 12-game pinfall totals will determine the 46 competitors advancing to Saturday's six-game Cashers' Round. Greg McMahan of Dandridge, Tennessee, is 46th after the first day with a 1,247 total, a 207.83 average.
Cashers' Round competition will begin Saturday at noon Eastern, also marking the start of the event's live coverage on BowlTV.
All cashers will bowl six additional games, and the top 12 will advance to round-round match play based on their 18-game pinfall totals. Advancers will be split into two groups for match play - odd qualifiers in one group and evens in the other - and match play will consist of six games, including a position round.
At the end of match play, the top qualifier in each group will earn an automatic spot into Sunday's stepladder finals, with seeding (No. 1 and No. 2) being determined by total pins.
The second, third and fourth qualifiers in each group will advance to a pair of group stepladders, scheduled for Sunday at noon Eastern. The winner of each group stepladder also will advance to the championship round and meet in the opening match. The stepladder finals of the Super Senior Classic will begin at 2 p.m. Eastern.
Like Mohr, a two-time Professional Bowlers Association 50 Tour Player of the Year who won his 10th PBA50 title Wednesday night in Brentwood, California, Baker's professional bowling career didn't really get going until he was ready for PBA50 action.
He compared his start on the Senior Tour to a fantasy baseball camp because he got to compete alongside the hall of famers he'd been watching all his life. He and his wife were able to hit all the stops, and he had enough success to pay for the whole thing, making it like a paid vacation.
Prior to his PBA50 debut, Baker was a career businessman, first in the restaurant industry and then in steel erecting and miscellaneous contracting.
An early retirement at age 50 due to a hereditary hearing condition gave him more time to bowl, and with his nephew successfully running the contracting business, which now is doing some renovations on the famed Wrigley Field in Chicago, Baker confidently can focus on the things he enjoys, like traveling and bowling.
In fact, it was during a recent cruise to Iceland and Ireland that Baker realized he finally was feeling the benefits of recent stem cell injections, something he'd already accepted might not happen.
"Through the years, I've had to deal with an arthritic condition in my knee and later some issues with my foot that got to a point where my toes would crimp up, and it was like walking around with marbles in the bottom of my shoe," Baker said. "In January, I had the injections in my foot and knee, but as of April, there was no improvement. Even bowling three games was a painful challenge."
Baker began reflecting on a great career and was ready to accept that it simply was over. But, he kept doing recommended exercises and trusting the process, and one day during the cruise, he felt pain-fee and ready to try bowling again.
A week ago Monday, he bowled six games. He then bowled six more Tuesday and another six Wednesday. His return to the lanes was emotional and extra special, since the last event he competed in was the 2017 Super Senior Classic, also at Sam's Town, where he advanced to the group stepladder portion of the event and finished in the top eight.
"I love to bowl, and it has been such a big part of my life," Baker said. "I'm just tickled to death to be able to come out and bowl with these guys again. I just can't tell you how grateful I am to be here."
Mohr also has enjoyed continued success at the Super Senior Classic, where he was the runner-up in to Japan's Junichi Yajima in 2016 and then earned redemption in a rematch with Yajima in 2017.
Thursday's qualifying round purely was about adrenaline for Mohr, who arrived in Las Vegas at 4 a.m. after defeating defending USBC Senior Masters champion Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Oxford, Florida, to win the PBA50 Northern California Classic presented by MOTIV on Wednesday night.
Mohr said he really started to feel mentally and physically drained around Game 4 at Sam's Town on Thursday, but he was able to power through and finish the day with a 258 game.
"I really noticed it starting about the middle of Game 4, didn't finish that game very well and then shot 170," Mohr said. "I just wanted to get the ball of my hand the last game, and I somehow shot 250. Right now, I'm completely physically and emotionally done, but I'm excited to be here, and I'm looking forward to bowling again tomorrow. I think I'm in good position, and if I can find a little something tomorrow, I should be fine. I just hope I didn't give away too much as I ran out of gas today."