By Danny Schrafel
An old adage in bowling suggests, “When in doubt, throw the rocket to the pocket.”
Greenlawn native Mike Fagan took that advice, and with it, won his second Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) major and fifth pro title – the PBA World Championship, contested at South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas Jan. 11.
His victory in the live ESPN finals came after 52 games of qualifying in the fall on five different lane conditions – four 9-game blocks on the PBA’s “animal patterns,” followed by 24 games of round-robin match play on the World Championship condition.
Since he was a teenager, Fagan said he’s always been most comfortable taking a more direct path to the 1-3 pocket. And while he defeated England’s Stuart Williams 219-206 in the semifinal match using a big, slow hook, there wasn’t much room for error.
In the deciding game against tournament leader Wes Malott, Fagan cut down his hook, moved right and threw harder. In essence, he went to his comfort zone – and it worked.
“That’s what I grew up doing,” he said.
Evidence of that is shown in a 1997 video on his official Facebook fan page. The video shows Fagan, then bowling for the Harborfields Tornadoes, scattering the pins with lots of speed. The old VHS surfaced when his parents were putting together a video montage for his wedding last year to his wife, Emily. Getting to see how far his game has come in those years was “kind of cool,” Fagan said.
Fast-forward to 2015. After starting his title match with six consecutive strikes, Fagan posted a big 252 over Malott’s 212, netting him $50,000 and his second PBA major.
“It’s the majors where you can separate yourself from everyone else,” Fagan said. “These opportunities don’t come around too often so you always have to consider yourself fortunate to be in a position to win and to take advantage of the opportunity you worked so hard for.”
Already, the 34-year-old has put together a fine bowling CV since going pro in 2002 and has won tournaments around the world in addition to his PBA titles. The World Championship title, paired with his 2012 USBC Masters crown, makes him eligible for PBA Hall of Fame consideration; he’s already earned nearly $850,000 in prize money.
Soon after his World Championship win, Fagan was on a plane to Japan, where he led the field in the DHC Japan Invitational match play tournament. This time, though, it was not meant to be. Fagan fell to 18-time PBA champion Chris Barnes in a 206-196 final Jan. 17. Fagan picked up a cool 2.5 million yen, or $21,516, for his efforts.
For decades, Japan has been a highlight on the pro circuit.
“The fans over there are really receptive,” Fagan said. “It’s the second biggest bowling country in the world… We’re treated with a lot of respect.”
Fagan has been hot on the lanes in recent months. It all got started in Abu Dhabi at the Men’s World Championships, where Fagan won four silver medals for Team USA.
“It was a really great warmup for me, especially going into the World Championship and the PBA season,” he said.
He trains with Team USA in Fort Worth, Texas, where he and his wife have lived for several years. His wife’s job with the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) first lured them there, but as a result of the move, he’s had the opportunity to train at state-of-the art facilities there.
“It’s really made my career,” Fagan said of bowling for Team USA.
Fagan was back on the lanes again this week in Wisconsin, where he competed in the PBA Players Championship and the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles, named for a pair of PBA hall-of-famers who formed one of the game’s most prolific tandems. Next is the USBC Masters Feb. 1-8. After the Masters, it’s off to Indianapolis for the 50th annual PBA Tournament of Champions from Feb. 10-15, and Maine in March. On April 11 and 12, Fagan will host his own scholarship bowling tournament for the second year in Patchogue.
In the doubles, he was paired with arguably the greatest bowler of all time – 37-time PBA champion Pete Weber. The duo finished 18th.
“I got in touch with Pete, and luckily, nobody asked him yet. He was receptive to that,” Fagan said.
The last time they met – as adversaries – Weber struck on the last ball of the 2012 U.S. Open to beat Fagan by a single pin. Weber’s exuberant post-strike celebration went viral on YouTube.
This week, they were on the same team.