LAS VEGAS – Tom Hess of Granger, Iowa, walked into the 56-lane Sam’s Town Bowling Center knowing exactly how much was on the line this week at the 2021 United States Bowling Senior Masters, and he did all the right things to help finish off a dream season on the Professional Bowlers Association 50 Tour.
The 51-year-old right-hander defeated top seed Chris Barnes of Denton, Texas, two times, 278-226 and 237-203, to win the coveted USBC Senior Masters title and $ 20,000 top prize Sunday, which also locked up the PBA50 Player and Rookie of the Year awards.
The victory made Hess the fourth player in history to win both the USBC Masters and Senior Masters and third to win both the PBA50 Senior U.S. Open and Senior Masters in the same season. He won the Masters in 2011 and defeated Barnes in the title match of the 2021 Senior U.S. Open on Sept. 7.
The entire 2021 Senior Masters, including the stepladder finals, was broadcast live on BowlTV.
“To be able to stay present and bowl those five games today was an unbelievable experience,” Hess said. “I wasn’t thinking about anything but staying down at the line and making good shots. When I stayed down, they were on target, and I’d done all I could do. Then, it was a matter of whether they struck or not, and I was fortunate to throw enough strikes today.”
The five-player championship round also included three USBC and PBA Hall of Famers and a newcomer to the senior circuit, and Hess averaged more than 246 over five games to climb the stepladder from the No. 4 spot.
He opened the day with a 247-212 win against another first-time participant, Donnie Hogue of Akron, Ohio, and then topped two-time Senior Masters champion Pete Weber of St. Ann, Missouri, the first of the three hall of famers, 201-183.
Effectively cycling through his arsenal helped keep Hess on track, and he piled on the strikes against Doug Kent of Newark, New York, winning 269-216, to set up the meeting with Barnes.
It was the continuation of a week for Hess that included clutch split conversions, a sudden-death roll-off and so many strikes in pressure situations.
“I got out to a hot start as the tournament leader on Day 1, and I just kept the foot down and kept pressing to ultimately be the qualifying leader and earn the No. 1 seed for the bracket,” Hess said. “Being in that position comes with a lot of pressure. You’ve been the best bowler all week, but now you have to beat one guy every match. During the matches, I wasn’t thinking about anything but making the best shots I could and winning the match.”
Against Barnes, a 19-time PBA Tour champion and winner earlier this year on the PBA50 Tour, Hess struck 17 times. Barnes never threw more than three strikes in a row and left a flurry of 10 pins and 4 pins along the way.
The two wins over Barnes marked the third consecutive time the top seed at the Senior Masters was beaten twice and denied the title.
The last top seed to win, which only took one game, was Walter Ray Williams Jr. of Oxford, Florida, in 2017. The victory made him the first bowler to win the Masters and Senior Masters twice each.
Both of Williams’ Masters titles came against Barnes, who reached the championship match three times as the No. 1 seed and was looking for redemption Sunday in the senior version.
The reason Barnes had two chances to win Sunday was because he still was unbeaten in the double-elimination format, and the final round was livestreamed, rather than broadcast on TV. That was not the case against Williams in 2004 and 2010 and Mike Fagan in 2012.
In five opportunities to win one of the titles, Barnes has averaged 219.6, while his opponents have averaged 263.8.
“Tommy bowled great, and that’s really where it starts and stops,” Barnes said. “If he doesn’t bowl as well as he does, it allows some more flexibility in what I’m doing and the choices I’m making. I’m not really a believer in luck, but there obviously was a better way of doing it than I was doing. Traditionally, one of the hardest things about a stepladder is getting out to a good start, and I threw three shots I’d take every time, with the result being three ring 10s. You can’t give a guy who’s comfortable that kind of head start.”
Total pinfall for three games determined the winner of each match in the 64-player double-elimination match-play bracket and the final shootout, while the championship round was single-game matches.
In the semifinal against Kent on Sunday, Hess struck eight consecutive times after a second-frame 10 pin, while four consecutive nine-counts from Kent, starting in the third frame, put him behind more than 40 pins before his first double.
Hess’ success against Weber denied him more than just the chance to be the first bowler to win the Senior Masters three times. Weber also entered the championship round as the front-runner for 2021 PBA50 Player of the Year honors. He won twice on the PBA50 Tour this season.
Weber, the 2013 and 2016 Senior Masters winner, fell behind early, leaving a 2-4-10 split in the second frame, which he was unable to convert. Hess started with a double and struck five times in the first seven frames, before a 3-6-7-9-10 split slowed the momentum.
Despite the opportunity, Weber didn’t strike on the left lane until his fill ball. He did strike on four of five visits to the right lane, but it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit.
In the opening match, Hess struck five times in his first six frames, and eight times overall, to outdistance Hogue. Hogue was slowed by an 8-10 split in the seventh frame, which came after his first double in the match.
Hess, Weber and Hogue advanced to the stepladder through the Elimination Bracket and a four-player shootout used to determine the final three seeds for the finals.
Barnes and Kent earned their spots after moving unscathed through the Winners Bracket. Barnes topped Kent in the match to determine the No. 1 spot, 656-639.
The 2021 Senior Masters started with 223 competitors vying for one of the 63 open spots in the bracket with defending champion Amleto Monacelli of Venezuela, and matches took place throughout the day Friday and Saturday.
Monacelli finished tied for 25th place in his title defense. He was looking to become the first bowler to win back-to-back events since Tom Baker of King, North Carolina, accomplished the feat in 2007.
The event was the final tournament on the 2021 PBA50 Tour schedule, and the postseason awards are points-based. Barnes missed four events this year due to schedule conflicts with the PBA Tour and the death of his sister, Laura.
The Senior Masters and the Super Senior Classic, won Monday by Monacelli, took place at Sam’s Town Bowling Center together for the fifth time, a routine that began in 2016.