DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Tom Hess said being selected to represent Senior Team USA at the International Bowling Federation Masters World Championships was a dream come true.
In the event he still was dreaming Monday night when he delivered a 10th-frame strike to lock up the singles gold medal, the window-rattling roar he let out definitely would’ve woken him up to enjoy the first international medal of his career.
Hess is known in bowling circles for being transparent with his emotions, and his reaction at the Dubai International Bowling Centre was the logical and expected culmination of his hard work and passion.
The 51-year-old right-hander defeated Sweden’s Martin Paulsson, 2-0, in the best-of-two gold-medal match, winning by scores of 226-222 and 236-229.
In the opening game of the title tilt, Hess missed a 10 pin in the fourth frame and trailed by more than 30 pins halfway through the game.
Paulsson failed to convert the 2-4-8 combination in the seventh frame and then left a 10 pin on the first shot of his final frame to give Hess the opportunity to win.
The reigning Professional Bowlers Association 50 Tour Player of the Year rallied with strikes on six of his last seven shots to steal the game and momentum.
Hess started the deciding game with three consecutive strikes, while a missed 4 pin for Paulsson in the first frame created a deficit from which he could not rebound.
Back-to-back 2 pins from Hess in the sixth and seventh frames opened the door slightly for Paulsson. The Swedish right-hander piled on the strikes to keep the pressure on, but Hess tossed three strikes of his own to put the game and match out of reach.
“This is the ultimate,” said Hess, also the 2021 PBA50 Rookie of the Year and a two-time winner during the 2021 season. “I just won gold while representing my country. The feeling is indescribable. I’d say it would be hard to top, but winning again with my teammates later this week would do it.”
The road to the gold medal included 10 qualifying games over two days, seven games of round-robin match play and one-game quarterfinal and semifinal matches.
As much as the run was individual, it was a collaborative effort for Senior Team USA, supporting each other and collecting information about the venue and 44-foot oil pattern along the way.
Hess is joined on the men’s team this week by Chris Barnes, Parker Bohn III and Bob Learn Jr. Bohn and Learn are past champions at the IBF Masters World Championships, while Barnes, one of the most decorated bowlers in Team USA history, also is making his senior debut this week in Dubai.
“Chris and Parker and Bob all were a big part of my success, and Chris was down there the whole time with coach Stephen (Padilla) just talking me through it,” Hess said. “Chris and I have bowled together all week, and it has been a great pairing. I’m looking forward to going out and trying to win a gold medal with him in doubles tomorrow.”
Hess earned his way into the championship match with a 246-192 semifinal win over Finland’s Kimmo Lehtonen. Hess started the game with four consecutive strikes, while Lehtonen opened twice in the first three frames to fall behind.
Paulsson, who rolled the third perfect game of the week in a three-player roll-off for two spots in the quarterfinals, claimed his place in the final when his teammate and semifinal opponent, Peter Ljung, withdrew due to an arm injury.
The Team USA men also won the singles gold medal in 2019 (Lennie Boresch Jr.) and 2017 (Ron Mohr).
The women’s gold medal Monday went to Germany’s Antje Materne, who defeated Sweden’s Susanne Olsson, 2-0 (209-193, 216-202).
It was the first Masters World Championships gold medal for Materne, who earned bronze medals in doubles and team at the 2019 event in Las Vegas. Monday’s silver medal marked the second consecutive in women’s singles for Olsson.
To reach the final, Materne defeated Senior Team USA’s Tish Johnson, who has competed in all five editions of the Masters World Championships and earned singles bronze medals in her most recent two visits.
Johnson started the match with three consecutive strikes to build an early lead, but a 6-7 split in the eighth frame, which she was unable to convert, and a 7 pin in the ninth frame, were the difference, as Materne threw four consecutive strikes in the second half of the game to roll to a 239-216 victory.
Olsson downed Finland’s Reija Lunden in the other women’s semifinal, 202-182.
“Am I happy, no,” Johnson said. “But, I threw the ball well today, and I felt very good about what I was doing. I wasn’t able to put the pressure on her late in the game. I thought if I could strike out after the split, I’d have a chance, but I left the 7 pin. That let her stay loose, and she closed it out. I’ll take the medal, considering I haven’t bowled anything for two years, but I’m ready to go for the gold, and we’ll get another chance tomorrow in doubles.”
The singles medal ceremony will take place Tuesday morning at the bowling center.
All 79 men and 61 women competing at the Masters World Championships bowled 10 games over two days – five games on Thursday and five games on Saturday – before the respective fields were cut to the top 32 for match play.
The advancing players were divided into four groups, each with eight competitors, and they all bowled seven games of round-robin match play Monday.
Points were awarded for each win in match play, and the top two bowlers in each group, based on points, advanced to the bracket-style quarterfinals.
Learn also advanced to the singles quarterfinals for Senior Team USA, where he fell to Paulsson, 187-177. Powers was denied a spot in the quarterfinals, falling to Canada’s Deborah Lee in a roll-off for the second available spot in their group.
Competition at the Masters World Championships will resume Tuesday with the doubles medal round, beginning at noon local time (3 a.m. Eastern).
Team USA will be represented on the men’s side by Hess and Barnes, and Johnson and Powers will look to get the job done on the women’s side.
The other semifinal participants for the men will represent Denmark, Kuwait and Finland. The women’s semifinals will include Malaysia, Germany and Sweden.
All doubles teams bowled 10 qualifying games Friday at the Dubai International Bowling Centre, before the field was cut to the top 16 teams for round-robin match play and the quarterfinals Sunday.
The IBF Masters World Championships is the last of three events being held in Dubai. The schedule this week also will include mixed team and team competition.
IBF is providing livestream coverage and complete results at StrikeCloud.com.
For more information about IBF, visit bowling.sport.