Sport is so internationally oriented these days that it has become fun to guess who will turn up winning what where. No one is surprised to see that Arnold Palmer has taken a golf tournament in Mexico City, but what about a shy youngster from Wisconsin State University at La Crosse, bobbing up in Paris to capture the world amateur singles bowling title? Last September Jack Connaughton hadn't even heard of the International Masters Championship. Though 21, he had never strayed too far from the tiny community of Oconomowoc, Wis. (pop. 6,682), where he now lives, or from Waukesha, 18 miles away, where he was born and learned to bowl. But last week he handled the temptations of Paris and the terrors of international competition as easily as if it were all taking place down at his grandfather Floyd Dunbar's bowling alley on Waukesha's South Street instead of at the chic little Bowling de Paris in the Bois de Boulogne. Ably representing the U.S. in every way, Jack, with his clean good looks, his shy good manners and his consistently good bowling, thoroughly dominated a field made up of one bowler from each of 29 countries. He marked up the high score, with an average of 196 per game, in the 18-game qualifying round. He marked up the high score, with an average of 198, in the 22-game semifinal round. Then he recovered from a nervous, nearly disastrous start in the one-game, sudden-death final to defeat 31-year-old Kazuo Hayashi of Japan by 195 pins to 172.
The fact that Connaughton was not aware of the tournament until shortly before he won it cannot be classed as inexcusable ignorance on his part. Until this year the International Masters hardly had made a resounding impact on the world of sport, even the sport of bowling. Sponsored by the Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs—a group that might be described as the ruling body of world bowling, mainly because the title is claimed by nobody else—the bowling division of American Machine & Foundry and Coca-Cola, the Masters has only just completed its third low-keyed event. It had previously been held in Dublin and London, and is the invention of Vic Kalman, former bowler, former bowling writer for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and currently public-relations man in AMF's London office. Connaughton earned his trip by winning the all-events title at the Association of College Unions' Intercollegiate Championship, but most of the entrants had qualified by winning FIQ eliminations in each country. Each one's amateur status seemed beyond question, but the list of occupations read like something off the forged passports of an international spy ring—a Lebanese tailor, an Iranian mechanic, a Swiss bank cashier, a chocolate salesman from Milan, a baker from Paris and a life-insurance salesman from British Columbia. Not that the S√ªreté or the CIA were worried exactly, but they were glad when all the contestants proved they could bowl.
From the very first string, when he blasted out seven straight strikes and scored a 248, Connaughton proved himself the best of a good lot, which is not surprising, since Jack has been bowling since he was 8 years old. His father was killed in an automobile accident when Jack was 5, and the boy, an only child, was practically raised in the two bowling centers that his mother's father owned in Waukesha. By the time he was 16 Jack was averaging a startling 215 per game, had hit three perfect 300 games in league competition and was picking up more than a few dollars each week bowling in three of Milwaukee's ABC leagues. Then something funny happened. Jack started to play baseball. The summer he was 16, in 1962, Jack played a lot of baseball. On Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday he played hardball; on Monday and Wednesday soft-ball. That did not leave much time for bowling.
"I didn't roll a single bowling ball all summer," he says. "By the time fall came around my form was completely gone, and I couldn't get it back. I've seen films of me before that summer and films of me since, and it's just two different bowlers. I had to do a complete rebuilding job."
Jack hasn't been close to that 215 average of his high school days since. He stopped bowling professionally, rejoined the amateur ranks in 1964 and, during his freshman year at La Crosse, averaged 191 pins per game. By this year he was back up to 201, which was good scoring, but not quite good enough to send him rushing out onto bowling's pro tour, where an average of between 210 and 215 is needed to bring in the prize money. His kind of bowling was good enough to win what amounts to the U.S. collegiate championship, however. And in September he was invited to Paris.
"I'd never been anywhere before," says Jack. "It all seemed a little too much." His fiancée, La Crosse sophomore Gloria Sebranek, was told by friends that Paris might well subvert her handsome boy friend, but Gloria had no cause for alarm. Jack went to church on Sunday morning, quietly dined out a couple of times, went to the opera, an American movie (The Born Losers) and the Arc de Triomphe; otherwise, he was content to commute sedately between the 12-lane establishment, Bowling de Paris, and his hotel, each night sliding virtuously into the lobby past a gauntlet of not-so-virtuous ladies who cooed invitations from cars parked across the street.
After three full days of bowling, the final round was quick and ruthless. In the semifinal each of 12 contestants played 22 games with the other 11, and the four highest scorers advanced to the final round, which was televised throughout Europe. The third-and fourth-place semifinalists played off first, the winner meeting the No. 2 finisher in the second game. Then the survivor of that met Connaughton, the high-scoring semifinalist, in the ultimate one-game final.
In the first game Hayashi, who owns a small building-construction firm in Osaka, bowled strikes as if he were driving nails and polished off the 45-year-old Parisian baker, René Ferrié, 213-175. In the second game Hayashi continued to hammer out strikes, seven in all, and routed the 32-year-old Milanese chocolate salesman. Lino Braghieri, 243-168. None of this provided much comfort for Connaughton, who sat directly behind the bowlers fidgeting nervously as he eyed the hot klieg lights, the cameramen lining the left side of the two lanes used for the final and the other tournament bowlers ranged on chairs down the right side. Then, just as Hayashi was completing his decisive defeat of Braghieri, Connaughton noticed that something was missing.
"Hey, where's my bowling ball?" he whispered frantically to the people sitting around him. "I left it on the rack after the semifinals, but it's not there anymore." Jack's nerves hardly were calmed by the fact that a search turned up the ball under the bench on which he had been sitting, and by the time he stood up to roll the opening ball in his game against Hayashi it was about even money whether he could keep it out of the gutter. He did, but not with much result. When the pins had fallen Connaughton was faced with a three-10 split, which he failed to pick up. Hayashi then opened strike-spare, and Connaughton found himself 11 pins down.
But he wasn't down for long. He came back with two strikes in his next turn, and when Hayashi—now the nervous one—left himself the impossible seven-10 split in the fourth frame, Connaughton had the 11-pin lead. The Japanese lost his last chance to catch up in the ninth frame. His first ball hurtled down the 60 feet of maple lane and hooked smoothly, right into the strike zone between the No. 1 and No. 3 pins. A perfect strike? Not quite. The No. 10 pin remained stubbornly upright in its dark corner, and Hayashi was beaten.
It had been an exciting few days for the tournament in general and for Connaughton in particular, but though he was glad the whole thing was now over the young American was not about to go out on the town and wildly celebrate in a Pigalle nightclub. Early the next day Jack Connaughton packed up his trophies and his pitch-black, 16-pound bowling ball and headed straight home to Gloria. Well, not just Gloria. "We've got an important meet coming up in our college conference on Saturday," he said earnestly, "and I really don't want to miss it."