THERE COMES A TIME—the fractional instant before he releases a ball which means triumph or defeat in an important national tournament—when a bowler faces his "moment of truth." At stake is not his life, but his career, which sometimes seems almost as important to the professional. Winning one of the "prestige" championships—the All-Star, the ABC Masters or the ABC all-events—could augment his income by thousands of dollars in exhibition and endorsement fees. If he is lucky enough to reach the point where one strike will bring victory, he must make good; the odds against a second chance are 100 to 1.
In the fifth annual Masters the "moment of truth" came as the hands of the huge electric wall clocks at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind. moved relentlessly past midnight into the morning of May 20. Sixty-two of the 64 finalists had been eliminated on the four previous nights. Now it was up to either handsome, lithe Joe Kristof, 35, a 6-foot bowling instructor from Chicago and one of the game's great stylists, or short (5 feet 6 inches), chunky Basil (Buzz) Fazio, 47, captain of the U.S. Champion Stroh's Beer team of Detroit. Kristof had had one defeat in six preliminary rounds; Fazio none. This meant that the Chicago bowler was faced with the dismal prospect of having to defeat Fazio in two successive four-game blocks, for the Masters is a double elimination event. (The Masters is rolled each year on the same lanes as the ABC championships to revive local spectator interest in the drawn-out parent tournament which this year opened March 26 and runs through June 5.)
Kristof appeared to have an insurmountable lead going into the ninth frame of the fourth game, when he had a tough break. Playing overcautiously to hit the headpin, he bowled a wide split, while Fazio got a strike. Kristof also failed to strike in the last frame—and this, for Fazio, was the moment. A double would give him victory. If he missed, he would have to face a psychologically-bolstered opponent in another four-game block. Fazio stood at the end of the approach and gazed at his spot on the alley for several breathless seconds. He took three determined strides, a graceful slide and released the ball with an easy follow-through. He knew it was a strike before the ball swept the pins into the pit for a 770-768 triumph and the title.
"Was I nervous?" he asked later, laughing. "I haven't been nervous since I got married 25 years ago. I will say this, though. It was the greatest thrill of my life. Even though I helped the Strohs win the national championship, and Tony Lindemann and I won the U.S. doubles twice, I was never able to win a big individual bowling tournament. Well, from now on I'll never have another regret."
May 29, 1955
Fazio, who is known as a man who never stops trying, made two "impossible" 7-10 splits during the Masters (by rebounding the 7-pin off the back cushion). One of the conversions gave him an 866-860 triumph over Bill Welu of the St. Louis Budweisers. For those who like statistics, the new champion scored 5,723 for the 28 games (204.13 average) and had high series of 925. Corp. Dick Hoover of Akron finished third behind Kristof. U.S. Champion Steve Nagy, seeking to become the first man in history to win both the All-Star and the Masters, could not get going. He lost his first match to Fazio, defeated Therman Gibson of the Pfeiffers (who recently, with George Young, won the U.S. doubles crown at Louisville, Ky.), and then was eliminated by Fred Sykes of Chicago.
Nagy, incidentally, is selling his home and business enterprises in Cleveland and moving to Detroit to join Pfeiffer Beer's promotion department under a two-year contract. Going with him is Harry Smith, Cleveland match game champion. They will replace Bill Lillard and Bill Bunetta. The 1955-'56 Pfeiffers—Capt. Lou Sielaff, Young, Gibson, ABC all-events leader Fred Bujack, Nagy and Smith—seem to me to be stronger than the Strohs, who are contemplating no changes in their line-up next season.