Pro bowlers out to pin down success

Bowler Sean Rash of the USA's Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour practises his shots as he competes in the Masters qualifiers for the Men's Open during the 47th Singapore International Open on 2 June 2014.

Pro bowler. It sounds glamorous enough, but there is more to making a living on the lanes than just fun and games.

Just ask Finn Mika Koivuniemi and American Sean Rash, who are both competing in this week's Singapore International Open, where the winner will bag $20,000.

For starters, there is the time away from home, which sees them not just travel across the United States, but also takes them across the globe to Asia.

Koivuniemi, who has raked in over US$1.7 million (S$2.13 million) in Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour earnings over a 16-year career, said: "Five or six times a year, we travel and bowl at two or three events at a stretch."

Being away from home for such lengthy periods is not easy, especially for a new father like Rash, who has a nine-month-old daughter back home in Illinois.

"It's tough to be away from them and that's the hardest part," said the 31-year-old. But the American, who earned US$248,317 in the 2012-13 PBA Tour - one of the top tours in the US - to become the highest cash winner that season, insists it is imperative for him to strike while the iron is hot, noting: "You're only good for so long."

While the purses might seem attractive - Koivuniemi once won US$250,000 in the 2011 PBA Tournament of Champions - Rash pointed out that pro bowlers pretty much earn every cent of their prize money because the sport affords them no rest day.

Unlike golfers or tennis players or footballers, bowlers are in action every day of a tournament and sometimes they can go on a seven-week competition stretch.

"Our bodies hurt after we bowl for a week straight," he said.

Being a professional also means they need to do more than just bowl. Some work is also needed off the lanes as well, calculating where they need to finish in order to recoup their expenses for air fare and accommodation.

Rash said: "It took me $3,500 for the air ticket to come here before I even started playing - so I've got to make sure I win enough to offset that." He estimated that he would need to finish at least fourth at the Orchid Bowl to cover his costs.

Still, despite both acknowledging that one can make a decent living on the PBA Tour, they admitted that it is not as lucrative as other televised sports in the US.

It also comes down, they say, to the general public's respect for the sport. In Asia, it is held in higher regard, they said.

Koivuniemi, 48, praised the Singapore school system, which allows bowlers to be more serious about the sport from a young age.

Despite the tough life on the pro tour, he is not about to put his bowling ball away. "The feeling of winning is something that drives us on," he said. "And of course, you make a lot of friends."

This article was first published on June 3, 2014.
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