Charlestown’s Jonathan Van Hees has spent the better part of the last 12 months dominating numerous bowling centers around New England, leaving plenty of his opponents – and bowling pins – in his wake.
Two weeks ago, Van Hees made the decision to head back out on the road to try and achieve that elusive goal of earning a national title on the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour.
Although he came up a few rounds short of standing 60 feet away from the pins under the bright television lights, Van Hees, at the very least, put some of the premiere bowlers in the country – and the world – on high alert.
The right-handed power bowler struck major success last week at the United State Bowling Congress (USBC) Masters at Strike Zone at Sunset Station in Henderson, Nev. just outside of Las Vegas by finishing eighth overall and earned a $5,000 check for his efforts.
Van Hees averaged 215.15 and advanced as far as the Round of 8 in the Winners’ Bracket of the double-elimination match-play format of the Masters and then made it to the quarterfinal round of the Losers’ Bracket before being bounced by Byron Smith – who eventually qualified as the No. 4 seed for the television finals this past Sunday. Overall, Van Hees’ match play record was 4-2, including a 676-664 victory over his childhood idol, Tom Baker, in the Round of 16.
This was the fourth time that Van Hees made it into match-play in one of the four “major” tournaments on the PBA circuit and this was, by far, the furthest that he’s advanced at the Masters in his brief career as a professional.
“I definitely had a good start to the trip,” said Van Hees, who will be bowling in various tournaments in Las Vegas until mid-February. “I bowled against a lot of really good people. It was just really good that I could push that bar a little bit higher, especially since it’s a major.”
This past year, Van Hees was one of the stronger bowlers in the New England Bowlers Association (NEBA) circuit, winning a pair of titles in the latter half of the year in Windsor Locks, Conn. and in Brockton, Mass., respectively.
Plus, Van Hees had an impressive showing at the World Match Games Marathon on New Year’s Day in at Brunswick Zone Carolier in North Brunswick, N.J. – the site of the PBA U.S. Open – by finishing third overall in the 10-game, one-day blitz to lead up to his latest trek to just outside of “Sin City.”
“I’ve been bowling pretty well pretty much wherever I’ve been going,” Van Hees said. “I had a little bit of confidence coming out here (to Nevada). I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m off to a good start.”
The oil condition that was on the lanes for the Masters was very similar to what Van Hees rolled on the last time he bowled in the tournament two years ago when it was held at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., with the shape of it being crowned in the middle and the ratio from heaviest in the middle out to the gutters is about 2.5-to-1.
During the three qualifying rounds – the two open qualifiers and “cashers” qualifier – Van Hees’ line down lane was more of an inside play, laying the ball down at about the 15 board, or third arrow, swinging it out into the “track area,” which is around the 9 or 10 board and then curl it back into the 1-3 pocket.
He had a great look through those 15 games, earning himself an average of 219.07 and a tie for 20th overall, in firm position for the 64-bowler match-play round, a very difficult format at the Masters considering each round is based on total pinfall through three games.
By the time that Van Hees made it to the double-elimination match-play rounds, the lanes were dictating play to where bowlers had to send each shot straight up along the outside near the gutter, around the 5 or 6 board, because of the minimal reaction off of the backend into the pocket.
It was deeper into the rounds when Van Hees had trouble getting into a comfort zone playing straight up along the outer edges, still trying to have a little hook to his shot and have it bounce off of the 8 or 9 board and not getting a consistent angle into the pocket.
Those problems arose in his 720-631 loss to Chris Warren in the Round of 8 in the Winners’ Bracket and in the 703-602 defeat at the hands of Smith in the Losers’ Bracket quarterfinal.
“The whole tournament changes (in match play),” Van Hees said. “You go from playing the lanes one way with certain kinds of equipment and by the time you get to the later rounds of match play, the lanes are completely different. You’re playing them a completely different way than you did in the beginning part of the week, using much different stuff.”
Van Hees will be back on the lanes for a World Tenpin Bowling Association Tournament and then in the High Roller, one of the top amateur tournaments in Las Vegas, before returning home for a brief period for some NEBA tournaments in the middle of next month.
Going forward, Van Hees knows that he just needs to fine tune his arm swing and other issues with his mechanics to build on what he did this past week because he knows that it’s only a matter of time before the pins fall for him at the right moment.
“You just have to make sure that you have confidence in your game,” he said. “You can’t think twice about much. You just have to go out there and make it happen.”