Bowling News USA - February 28, 2011 A Classic Duke Victory...by Louie Wemett
There may have been more exciting PBA telecasts over the years, but I can't recall one. When Mika's ball sliced into the gutter at the thrilling conclusion of Sunday's ESPN telecast...our Storm guy, our hero, the great Norm Duke, escaped the gut wrenching claws of defeat that all Storm fans were expecting.
The title match of the 68th Lumber Liquidators U.S Open had it all. Mika Koivuniemi, perhaps the greatest 'major' bowler of all time, was locked in on a condition that would make all bowlers cringe. Randy Pedersen might have said it best. "It is like trying to hit one board inside of a telephone booth....complete with TV lights, a worldwide audience, and $80,000 on the line."
Mika looked invincible. He had just thrashed his fellow staffer Tommy Jones after taking down Storm's Ryan Shafer in the first match. Shafer had won a heart stopper against Bill O'Neill the night before. We should have known then that there are no gimme's at the U.S Open.
Click below for PBA.com and a replay of the 68th Lumber Liquidators U.S Open Championship match.
It certainly didn't look good for Norm. He wasn't clearing his thumbhole and was adjusting tape on every shot. Not having a good feel is one thing..but not having a good feel and bowling for a major, against Mika, is doom. How on earth could Duke make a run at him?
For me, the match brought back memories of the glory years of professional bowling. I recall the same feeling when Dick Weber bowled Don Johnson, or when Mark Roth battled Marshall Holman. It was our guy against their guy. Two of the greatest bowlers of all time, facing off for 80g's and the U.S Open title.
Norm was throwing good shots until one came off his hand early in the middle of the match. He chopped the 1-2-4, recovered with a strike, and then left a solid eight on a perfect shot in the eighth frame. Turn out the lights.
Somehow, the great one reached back and fired four perfect strikes to close the match. It was a valiant effort, but appeared to be too little, too late.
When Duke walked off the approach in the 12th frame, forcing Mika to mark, he had a warrior's look in his eye. I had seen it before. It may have been when he won three majors in a row a couple years ago. Fighting off injury that almost cost him his exemption...Duke came back and knocked it out of the park three times in a row....at the majors. No athlete ever did that. Tiger didn't. Phil didn't. None of them did it....Norm did.
It was the look that screamed out,"You only need a mark, but it is a mark at the U.S Open." A mark for a major. A mark to beat Duke. A mark with the whole world watching...
Duke was all in. Exhausted, out of gas and out of frames.
Mika stepped up to the approach in the tenth. He took extra time, and stared down the pins. The 'Big Fin' was about to put Duke to sleep. I could hardly watch. I muted the TV on the deciding shot. A habit I have, that somehow in my mind, puts a whammy on the enemy. Mika threw it pretty good, but got it left off his hand just a bit. He yelled "carry" in Finnish, but left a solid ten. The camera's went in for a close-up on Norm. He appeared to accept his fate.
I thought it was over. Mika is a great spare shooter. He won't miss. He is Major Mika.
And then it happened.... Mika flagged the ten.
Duke 225 - Koivuniemi 216
I immediately called my co-worker Roger Noordhoek, Storm's Director of Marketing, who was in an airport...and texted Dave Symes, Storm's President, who was also traveling.
Click below for Norm Duke's Storm bio page:
"I don't believe what I just saw!"
I was running around my front room, like I had just won a major. My loyal Golden Retriever Shadow, was looking at me like I lost my mind. For a second...maybe I did.
Having worked with Norm over the year's and filming him hundreds of times, I should have known that you couldn't count him out. He has a gift. He is the ultimate action guy. For over thirty years he has won big matches against all comers. He beat the great Earl Anthony for his first PBA title many moons ago. He has beat the games biggest names and biggest hustlers since he was a teenager. He is fearless...and his classic style is poetry in motion...flawless, timeless, effortless.
When it was all said and done, Norm handled victory like a champion's champion. "Right now, I feel it for Mika," he said with tears in his eyes.
“Mika will be fine, he’ll bounce back. He’s going to be our Player of the Year,” Duke said. “But he’ll never forget that one.”
Either will we.
(Editor's note: Louie Wemett is Storm's Multimedia Director and senior writer/video producer.)
Click below for Storm Prodigy™ video featuring Norm Duke and Michael Tang.
(Photos courtesy: pba.com)
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