From Johnson and Johnson to the Masters

By Mike Valanzano

I love bowling, it is not only my hobby, but it is a passion. Competitive bowling is what drives me. I love to compete; I have been bowling competitive since I was 12 years old. This past week, Carolier Lanes played host to the USBC Masters, one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Many friends of mine asked me for weeks, Mike, are you bowling the Masters? My response to them has always been the same, I can’t bowl, I have to work. I work full time in the finance industry; I work 9-5, Monday thru Friday. Bowling does not pay the bills for me. There were many local guys that took a weeks vacation to lace up their shoes and compete against the best bowlers in the world. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with one of those guys, Casey Creutz. I have known Casey since we were in high school, once bitter rivals growing up in the local YABA(yes that is how long ago I bowled juniors) we have become pretty good friends. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Casey to discuss his week of bowling the Masters.

MV- So Casey, what is it exactly that you do for a living?

CC- I am a Senior Analyst of Government Rebate Operations for Johnson & Johnson

MV- What made you want to bowl the Masters?

CC- 1) Talent, I have talent and wanted to be tested. 2) It was a personal goal of mine to get back to the level of where I used to be at when I was in high school. I know I could compete against these guys so I figured why not.

MV- How did you prepare for this tournament, practice 10games a day? What did you do?

CC- Tournament bowling is what prepared me for the Masters. If I saw a tournament on a weekend, I don’t care if it was 100 miles away, I was going to it. Tournament bowling helped me get in that mindset. As for my physical game, I tweaked 2 things thanks to the advice of USBC Bronze Level Coach and NJIT head coach, John York. I would practice after subbing in a league one night with John and he said hey, on your 4th step try to bend more and don’t over rev it. He did this w/o me asking and I appreciated it. He basically said to follow the line and envision the ball going 60 feet down the lane. His advice really helped.

MV- Did you drill anything for this tournament? I would imagine you want to have some new, fresh equipment to keep up with the pros?

CC- With the advice given to me by Ed Carrigher of The Bowler’s Concept Pro Shop in Sea Girt, NJ, he said to drill a Storm Sync. That was it. I figured that I could get to where I wanted to get to with what I already have.

MV- Did you compete in the sweeper?

CC- It was a late decision Saturday night. I was having some beers Saturday night with my friend Walter McKnight, and he said we should bowl, I said ok, and we took the trip to Carolier to bowl the sweeper Sunday morning. I bowled with Mike Edwards and Rick Steelsmith.

MV- Nice cross, did bowling with these 2 guys make you nervous?

CC- Not at all. I considered this to be a $65 practice session. My mindset for this sweeper was to find out how the lane patter was going to play, and to get used to this double jump lane courtesy that the PBA uses. I was not nervous, that was my biggest fear. I was so nervous about the double jump that I just relaxed and shot 195-226-196 and I finished tied for 9th with Bryan Goebel. It got me a small cash, but the important thing for me was the experience.

MV- You had to be on a high after cashing against a loaded sweeper, how did you manage your emotions after bowling?

CC- Walter and I went to Chipotle and went home, relaxed and got ready for the long week ahead.

MV- Who were you crossing with for this week?

CC- This is a funny story. My cross was Patrick Allen, Rafael Morin, and Mike Armstrong. When I arrived on Monday morning, Armstrong was crossed out and was replaced with Jay Cizewski. I know Jay personally, so that relaxed me a little big and made me realize, hey if I am bowling bad, and he is bowling bad, I don’t have to suffer the 15 games alone.

 MV- Did you feel any nerves, or pressure that you were paired with one of the best bowlers in the world, Patrick Allen?

CC- No nerves, was not nervous at all. I considered this just to be another sport shot tournament, and did not let the name of the tournament, the bleachers, or the banners play into my head.

MV- So you had “B” Squad Tuesday afternoon…. So what happened in Game 1?

CC- Well I threw a ball that I did not really practice with, my Ebonite Elevate. I threw the 1st shot of the game perfect, dead flush. Then I tripped the 4pin in the 2nd and 3rd frame. And the next thing I know is that it’s game 1 at the USBC Masters and I am on the front 9. I didn’t really think about it till the crowd clapped after my 9th strike, and the crowd gathered around. I was following PA, so I got up on Lane 48 and I saw this guy walking up the handicap ramp to the right of lane 48 and who was it? USBC’s own Lucas Wiseman with his camera, oh great, now he’s filming me on the front 9.

MV- Front 9, what happened??

CC- I dead wrenched the shot in the 10th, left a 3-6, nice round of applause. Got up in the fill ball and dead stoned a 7pin just for laughs. 277 to open up the Masters. I was most happy because I had my mom in the crowd. She really hasn’t seen me bowl in a tournament in about 10 years, so for her to be there, on the biggest stage of bowling, with a chance for me to shoot 300 in the USBC Masters, yea, kind of felt the nerves. But after that game, I thought things would go good for the rest of the day.

MV- So how did Day 1 end for you? Did you think at this point that you could be able to hang in there for the next 10 games against the best?

CC- I finished at +80. After the 277 I shot 188-216-191-and 208, I was really please and knew I was right in the middle of the pack and started to like my chances

MV- Now you are onto Day 2, did you do anything different to prepare or get ready for the 2nd round of qualifying? Nerves?

CC- No nerves, I basically had the same plan, and just wanted to make good shots and stay out of trouble. The only thing that changes was my ball choice. I ended up throwing my Sync instead of my Omen. I actually had to play the fresh a little deeper than I really wanted to play them. So there is a funny story about game 1. We were on 71-72, we bowled 9 frames then lane 71 just shut off. So it was about a 10 minute delay, and then comes over the USBC official, and we as a pair are trying to decide what to do? Can we finish on 72? That was not an option. So about after 20 minutes, the decision was to finish the game on 1-2. They handled it great, even gave us 2 balls of practice on each lane. But the problem with lane 1 was that they had the projector for the scoreboard there. So when I walked up to throw it on 1, I had sun spots in my eyes. I threw the 1st hit in the 10th, opened, 200 on the nose. All I wanted to do was throw the 1st hit so I would not lose any ground, I was please. But as the gentleman that I am, I told the USBC rep that helped us that he needs to move the projector or someone (professional) will probably flip out and perhaps punt that projector if they get blinded by the light.

MV- So putting the drama of Game 1 aside, how did the rest of the block work out?

CC- 200-205-212-201-161. And the 161 game was directly because of the finish of game 4 which I bowled 201. I had 235 out in the 10th of game 4, and I got amped up and wrenched on the shot in the 10th, 6-7 and opened. I gave 30 pins away there. Game 5 was on 63-64 and the pair was totally different, I missed a 6-9-10 in the 8th, split in the 9th, and missed a washout in the 10th that equals 161, very amateur of me. I now am at +59 with 5 to go.

MV- You made it to Day 3, and you are right in the hunt. You are probably bowling the worst squad of the tournament. You are the last squad and kind of have an idea of what you need to cash and for match play. How are you handling all of this?

CC- I really was watching the earlier squads and not looking at the numbers. I wanted to think of a way to play the pattern that would keep me safe but score well. I drilled up an Arson Hybrid (got camped off the truck) for this pattern. I made a minor surface change to my Marauder Madness that was the only adjustments I made for the night block. I also wanted to square up and play the lanes straighter, and not hook them quite as much. I thought that would keep me safe. Game 1, I think it kind of worked; I went front 4, big 4, yea made it that was cool. So after that I crossed over and left 2 weak 10 pins and my friends in the back said I needed to eat.

MV- Why eat?

CC- I am a Type 1 Diabetic. And honestly, I was so focused on bowling, I didn’t even think about my blood sugar. My friends told me that I looked more pale than normal. So I tested my blood and it came back at 70. When I bowl I need it to be between 130-200. So basically, my body was in crisis mode and I had no energy, hence the cross over and 2 weak 10s. I chugged a Gatorade, and ate a PB&J real quick, left a 4-6 then threw 3 perfect shots in the 10th to finish with 223, so I was feeling better and knew I’d be ok for the final 2 games.

MV- +121 with 2 to go. What is going thru your head now, are you thinking hey I can cash, or hey I can make match play?

CC- I figured if I went 50 over for the next 2 games I’d be safe, but really going two teen each game would probably be enough. I just wanted to make spares and stay out of trouble and I knew I’d be fine.

MV- 15 games of qualifying is over, finished at +153. Nice bowling my friend

CC- Thanks. I knew I had a check guaranteed, and going into game 5, I figured if I shot 270 I could maybe sneak into match play, but I did not want to over do anything and just wanted to be safe. I was very, VERY happy to get a check!!

MV- So Casey, can the 9-5 guy beat the guys that bowl on tour for a living?

CC- With practice, and a lot of practice, maybe. But honestly, these guys are really good. I think the mental part is more important than the physical game on tour. You have to be more sharp mentally go adjust to all the things that the PBA throws at you out there.

MV- So I’d say you are back to the level you wanted to be at. You earned a cash in the USBC Masters, against the pros. What is next for Casey Creutz? Will we be seeing you at the US Open, WSOB? Are you going to live the dream for all of us working guys out there?

CC- Thinking about the US Open that is a real strong possibility. WSOB is probably not going to happen, but I am thinking really hard about the US Open

MV- The US Open is the toughest tournament in all of bowling across the world. You would have to maybe practice for this one huh?

CC- Yes for sure. But I would try to focus on 1 thing at a time, try to fix 1 thing, work on 1 thing and not work on 20 things at once. But I think the only way to prepare for a big tournament, is to bowl tournaments. That is the way to stay sharp, and be mentally sharp.

MV- Casey, would you ever quit your 9-5 job and bowl full time on the tour? Do you think you could compete w/those guys?

CC- No way, I would never quit my job. There is not enough money in the bowling world to justify me quitting to bowl full time. The talent level out on the tour is still many worlds above me and where I am currently am. My job gives me a chance to do my hobby and compete competitively without worrying if I can put food on my table.

MV- Casey thanks for the time, this was fun and I hope my readers got a good sense of what a regular guy went thru Masters Week. One last thing. I know when I bowled the US Open, I always left with some good stories, do you have any you can share w/my readers?

CC- Well getting a comped ball, and getting to go on the trucks was awesome. It was the coolest thing for a bowler to do. 2 tractor trailers just lined up with balls and the other one with drill presses, it was an awesome sight to see. 2 other ones. I was in the paddock, and Pete Weber stepped on my foot. He looked up at me and actually apologized; I guess dreams can come true huh? The last one was funny. I was crossing with Patrick Allen. And at the end of the 15th game, Stu Williams had come down to see how PA finished, as they are roommates. So I had a ball on the chair, and he said with his cool British accent, “Who’s bloody ball is this?” So I replied, that’s mine, sorry. He then replied, “Man you have a bloody large mitt.” I just thought that was a cool thing to say, especially with his accent.

So there you have it bowling fans. That was the USBC Masters from the eyes of a working class guy, who loves this sport, and who is pretty good at it. Can the working guy win a PBA National tournament? I think it would be pretty damn hard to pull that one off. Yes you are always going to have the local guy bowl the stop and make a run, grab a check, maybe even make match play, but I think it is hard for that local guy to run the table against the best in the world and hoist up that trophy on Sunday afternoon. Those guys are stupid good, and we all have to remember, no matter how good we are locally, bowling is a job for the guys on tour. We are going into their office for a week. Yes, I can do the same thing that Weber or Parker do day in and day out, but I can’t do it at the level that they are at. The same goes for them stepping into my shoes and do what I do for a living. They could probably do it, but not at the level I do my job at. And that is why bowling is the greatest sport in the world. It is one of the few sports that will allow the regular person a chance to put their money up, and compete against the heavyweights of the sport. Can you pay a price and put on a Yankees uniform and step into the batters box against Justin Verlander… NO. Can you put on shoulder pads and play WR for the Patriots and catch passes from Tom Brady, nope. Can you lace up the Nike’s and throw alley-oops to Labron James, we know the answer here. But bowling you can live the dream that every bowler has. The dream of beating the guys they watch on TV week in and week out, and have the hope of getting their 15 minutes of fame on ESPN that Sunday afternoon.

Mike Valanzano, 29 from NJ. Bowled for Morehead State University and has competed and had success at all levels of this game, he is the holder of 21 300 games, 10 800 series, with a  high of 856 (with an open frame).   Mike is married to his wonderful wife Lynda and have a baby girl, Daniella.  Some of Mike’s interests, he’s a HUGE New York Mets fan, he loves poker, traveling, and fine dining.  He is also a big advocate of zumba classes.  Mike has one of the largest video collections of old bowling shows anywhere.  He has every amateur bowling show ever aired and has a wide collection of numerous PBA, Sr PBA, LPBT shows from the 1950’s thru today.