What started as a hobby has turned into a way of life for professional tenpin bowler Stuart Williams, the first UK player to compete full-time on America’s PBA Tour. DAVID TRIGGS reports.
IN a career that has taken him from Vienna to Vegas and Bahrain to Barcelona, Stuart Williams has bagged a glittering array of trophies and clocked up more air miles than he cares to remember.
The fact he is a tenpin bowler, rather than a footballer, boxer or cricketer, means you have probably never heard of him – but he is a leading name in his chosen sport.
The 29-year-old from Ellesmere Port, whose first taste of tenpin bowling came at Chester’s Megabowl about 15 years ago, is a full England international and one of the most active tour bowlers in the world.
As well as representing his country, he has won some of tenpin bowling’s biggest competitions, including the 2007 World Ranking Masters, and has bowled a ‘300’ – the sport’s equivalent of a 147 break in snooker – in no fewer than 14 different countries.
Last year he won a place on the American PBA Tour – the first UK player to qualify for tenpin bowling’s blue ribband series – and did well enough to earn an ‘exemption’ which saw him return to the Tour this year.
“I get to travel the world and see lots of cool things while I’m doing something I love,” said Stuart, who admits there is a flipside to all the glamorous locations and trophy wins.
“You do it for the love of doing it. You don’t do it for monster money,” added the former Stanney High School student. “I just like the fact I can avoid getting a real job!”
Even Las Vegas, a regular destination for top tenpin bowlers like Stuart, can become tiresome after a while.
“It is nice for a week, but once you’re there for more than a week, it’s a bit over the top,” he says.
Stuart first tried tenpin bowling during his early teens when dad Dave took him to the bowling alley in Chester. As keen crown green bowlers – Stuart represented Cheshire and was a national junior champion aged 14 – they were looking for a similar sport that would keep them busy all year round, not just in the summer.
Stuart, whose dad and younger sister Charlotte run a weekly league at the Chester Megabowl, continued bowling when he left school and joined Leeds Metropolitan University, winning the national student champion’s crown in 2001.
“Leeds is a big bowling town,” said Stuart. “In my last year in university, I won the big tournament in Leeds – called the Scott Banks Memorial – and then the next year I was national champion.”
Shortly after graduating in 2003, Stuart reached a major turning point in his career – securing an unexpected victory that gave him the drive to pursue a career in tenpin bowling.
“I decided to go and play a tournament in Barcelona – the City of Barcelona Trophy – and I won it,” he recalls.
“That was my first European tournament. It was really cool and it gave me some money to play some other tournaments and try to compete. It was on TV and was a big tournament to win so early.”
Stuart has not looked back since.
Other trophies have been added to the collection, with wins coming in the 2004 Brunswick Aalborg International, the 2006 Luxembourg Open and this year’s Bahrain Open. In 2007, a 2-1 victory over Sweden’s Peter Ljung saw him win the World Ranking Masters title in Florida – a career highlight.
His upward career curve hit new heights last year when he finished sixth at the Tour Trials for the PBA Tour in America, securing him a regular slot on the world’s premier tenpin bowling series. He did well enough in his first season – finishing 41st on the points list and securing three top-10 finishes – to book a return ticket to this year’s Tour, lining up in an ‘exempt’ field of 60 elite players.
Competitions take place across the States, from San Francisco, through the bowling heartland of the Mid-West and across to Long Island on the east coast.
Stuart is the first and, so far, only UK player on the Tour.
He recently returned to his Stanney Lane home following a ninth-placed finish at the Vienna Open and intends to carve out a full-time career as a tenpin bowling pro for as long as he can.
There are still plenty of milestones to reach – like recording a score of 300 for the 50th time.
“I’m on 49 at the moment. I’ve been a bit stuck... it’s a dry spell,” he confessed. “In Vienna, I had four decent opportunities but messed up.”
But his main ambition is to notch up a maiden victory on the PBA Tour – something which would really hit the headlines.
“I’d really like to win a title on the professional tour,” he said. “That would be amazing.”
Stuart heads back to America soon – so watch this space.