Defending champion falls short in defense, leaves town with Regular Team lead at 2021 USBC Open Championships

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By Matt Cannizzaro and Sam Neves
USBC Communications

LAS VEGAS -
Defending Regular Singles champion Mitch Beasley of Clarksville, Tennessee, arrived at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships sporting a new hairstyle, a compression ring on his right ring finger and 14-pound bowling balls, and what followed was a wild 72 hours in the Entertainment Capital of the World.

It has all the makings of a straight-to-Netflix feature that is dramatic, emotional and comedic and includes all the feelings and emotions - anticipation, excitement, relief, disappointment, satisfaction and even some nausea.

Beasley, a 52-year-old right-hander, has been fighting a nagging finger injury while competing on the Professional Bowlers Association 50 Tour for the past couple of months and preparing for his title defense.

In the previous 116 years of competition at the USBC Open Championships, no competitor had successfully defended a singles title, so being comfortable and prepared was the first hurdle.

"I actually started the tour off by getting rid of the ring-finger hole all together, drilling 13-pound balls and adding a pinky hole," Beasley said. "It was really hard to begin with, as you tend to take your pinky strength for granted. Luckily, I was able to build strength over time, and now it can handle the pressure from 14-pound equipment."

Prior to his team event Thursday at the South Point Bowling Plaza, Beasley was introduced as a champion for the first time and presented with a championship watch to commemorate his 2019 victory.

"It was very special to me," said Beasley, who shot 812 in 2019 to claim his first Eagle. "It left me hoping to put up a strong defense of the title."

With all the excitement of the presentation and the added pressure of trying to do something that's never been done, having six games to settle in before putting the title on the line often is welcomed.

However, Beasley holds the team aspect of the Open Championships in the highest regard and success as a group always is the focus.

"When we put this team together in 2017, I really felt like we had something special," Beasley said. "Leaving town with the lead is always the top priority for us. I really want this for Chad (Kloss), as he's left town with the lead on five different occasions, only to come up short every time."

BowlersHeadquarters2021OCForWeb465x262The quick turnaround from the presentation to the start of the team event didn't slow Beasley and his Bowlers Headquarters teammates, who edged their way into the top spot in Regular Team with a 3,368 total.

The performance concluded with three final-frame strikes from Beasley to lift his team past The Bowlers Shoppe 1 of St. Louis, which previously held the lead with 3,352. The roster for Bowlers Headquarters of Muskego, Wisconsin, also included William Welch, James Tucker III and Joseph Vrobel.

Kloss, a 20-year tournament veteran was a part of the Motion Plus Lanes team that set the Regular Team series record in 2014 in Reno, Nevada, with a score of 3,561, only to be beaten the same year by Artistic Expressions 1 of Oklahoma City with 3,720.

Beasley, also a PBA Tour champion said if their team score is enough to hold, it would be an even bigger honor than winning singles in 2019.

Unfortunately for Beasley, the celebration was short-lived, as his trip took an unexpected turn later that night. He woke up in the middle of the night having come down with a stomach bug.

"I felt absolutely terrible," Beasley said. "I got a hold of my guys, and thankfully, we were able to get me and James moved to Saturday afternoon for our doubles and singles events."

Still not feeling 100%, Beasley started doubles at the South Point Bowling Center slower than he had hoped, bowling 194 the first game, but he followed it with 222 and 247 for a 662 series.

Tucker, of Troy, Ohio, added games of 209, 234 and 203 for a 646 series, a 1,306 total and good momentum heading into singles, where Beasley would have to bowl 802 or better for a chance at making history.

"I just didn't feel right," Beasley said. "I was still extremely dehydrated and had only eaten a half of a sandwich earlier in the day. So, needless to say, I was pretty shaky."

Immediately following doubles, Beasley fired a 269 game and looked to be picking up right where he left off in singles. On the way to the title in 2019, at the South Point Bowling Plaza, he rolled games of 246, 297 and 269.

Crossing the 800 threshold also made him one of now 38 bowlers with a 300 game and 800 series at the Open Championships. He rolled a perfect game at the Plaza in 2017.

Unfortunately for Beasley, he missed a move in his second game that resulted in 181, his lowest game of the 2021 tournament. He finished with 238, giving him a 688 series for singles. He had 691 in team and finished his 13th Open Championships appearance with a career-best 2,041 all-events total.

Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, leads Regular Singles this year with 802, and Kevin Bienko of Kenmore, New York, leads Regular All-Events with 2,226.

"With how awful I still feel right now, I can't really complain about my performance today," Beasley said. "I just wish it could have been better."

Beasley's overall performance also helped Bowlers Headquarters make a run at the coveted Team All-Events title.

Along with Beasley's total, Welch added 2,093 and was followed by Tucker (1,959), Kloss (1,934) and Vrobel (1,860) for a 9,887 total and third place on the leaderboard. Bienko's team, BowlU, leads with 9,958.

Beasley closed by saying, "While we ultimately left a few too many pins out there, I'm happy with our group's performance this year and can't wait to be back here next year, hopefully defending the Regular Team title."

The 2021 Open Championships will run daily through July 18, with the team event taking place in the South Point Bowling Plaza and doubles/singles competition being held at the South Point Bowling Center.

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