BY MIKE PANOZZO
Following a dismal 952 block in the morning squad on the final day of qualifying at the USBC Masters, which was punctuated by a gut-punch 2-10 on his first ball of the 10th in his final game, Australia’s Jason Belmonte is in danger of failing to advance to the double-elimination playoff portion of an event he has won a record four times.
“Today was one of those days where every decision I made just wasn’t right,” he said. “I made a lot of bad shots through the games, and the good shots I threw didn’t even seem to strike. The frustration was to give myself a shot with one frame to go and then the 2-10.”
Indeed, Belmonte could have punched out in the 10th for a much needed 279 at the end of a block during which he previously had not bowled a game above 190.
“The shot itself wasn’t all that bad,” he said. “It was maybe a touch too quick. It kind of shot to the right a little bit. Halfway down the lane I actually thought it was going to be light, but it kept on rolling and I had the 2-10.”
Belmonte whiffed on a conversion attempt, angrily kicking his foot after his ball sailed past the 2.
A berth into the 2021 USBC Masters bracket is not the only thing at stake for Belmonte at this point in a subpar season for him. Failure to make the Masters cut also would further damage the six-time PBA Player of the Year’s chances qualifying for the PBA Playoffs.
Yet don’t expect Belmonte to be sitting by his computer, anxiously watching the final squad bowl Thursday evening at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno as his Masters fate hangs in the balance.
“Nah, I’m not going to watch,” Belmo said from the house on the outskirts of Reno he’s rented with fellow pros Bill O’Neill and PJ Haggerty, both of whom have already qualified for bracket play. “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys that. Watching a block like a hawk isn’t good for your health. You usually get a headache or lose all your fingernails. I’m quite happy to check in later tonight and see if I have to wake up early tomorrow or if I get to sleep in.”
Instead, the housemates will play cards, watch other professional sports on television and kibitz about life in general.
“As much as I want to bowl, I can’t control it now,” Belmo said, philosophically. “The destiny was in my hands earlier today and I didn’t get the job done.”
In fact, Belmonte saved a bigger bombshell for his thoughts on his PBA Playoffs chances.
“Oh, I’ll make the PBA Playoffs, because I’m going to bowl well at the U.S. Open,” he said. “But whether I qualify for the playoffs or not, I’m still going home after the U.S. Open.”
Belmonte insists that the mental grind of being in the States for four months because of Australia’s rigid COVID-19 policy has taken a toll.
“It’s been fourth months since I’ve been home,” Belmonte said. “My grandparents are getting old and not doing too well. My wife Kimberly is pregnant with our fourth child. We’re building a new house. The kids have been busy. I’ve pretty much left everything to my heavily pregnant wife who also works as a registered nurse. I’ve really, really missed home.
“If I stay for the playoffs and do well,” he rationalized, “it’s another month, followed by two weeks’ isolation in Australia. I would miss the birth of my child. And I’m not going to turn up just for a paycheck and, if I bowl well, leave before the final four and give someone a bye. The event deserves 100 percent commitment and effort.
“In the end, there is no amount of money that would convince me to miss the birth of my child. I want to be home and see Kimberly and my kids, who I’ve missed terribly.”
Belmonte admitted that 2021 has been one of his worst on the PBA Tour.
“What’s been wrong? It’s hard to say,” he said. “I did well at TOC. But as the trip has progressed it’s gotten harder and harder. It weighs on you. Everyday there is something that you’re missing at home. And normally you get to go home every few weeks and recharge and reconnect. And my family has been great. They haven’t put any pressure on me to come home.
“All that said, when I’m on the approach, I really still do feel committed and connected to the event. All the other things pop into your head after the laces come off. When the laces are on, I’m focused.”
The Masters seems to be a microcosm of Belmonte’s year, forced by a poor start to make a late charge, only to come up short. And now, on a night with so much at stake, that untimely 2-10 lingered with him.
“Not knowing the overall score, I went for the conversion,” Belmonte said. “I tend to be more of a risk-taker. Looking now I should have taken the one. Then again, if I ended up missing by seven, then I’m questioning myself the other way.
“The frustration was getting so close even though I hadn’t bowled well all day, and then having that ball not get up the hill a little quicker.”