by Bill Vint | Saturday, February 22, 5:51 AM LINCOLN, Neb. - Not long ago, Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas, was wondering if it was the right time for him to join the PBA and embark on a full-time bowling journey.
He was only 17 years old and not yet able to drive himself to the tournaments, but he was confident in his abilities.
In the years since, the world has watched him grow up in the spotlight, and he already has enjoyed enough success on the PBA Tour to meet the performance requirements for the PBA Hall of Fame. He'll have to wait until 2034 to reach the 20 years of PBA membership required for election, however, so there's plenty of time to add to his already impressive resume.
This week, the 23-year-old two-hander is looking to become the youngest bowler in history with three major titles, and he's the leader after 40 games of competition at the 2020 U.S. Open.
Simonsen has been among the top four in the standings all week at Sun Valley Lanes, and he took hold of the top spot during the 36-player Cashers' Round on Friday morning.
He carried that momentum into the first round of match play Friday night and won six of his eight matches to maintain the lead with a 9,101 total, which includes 30 bonus pins for each victory.
"I've had past success in this building (at the 2016 World Bowling Youth Championships), and I think that definitely helped me feel more comfortable right from the start this week," Simonsen said. "I'm in a great position right now, but I still need to take it one shot and one game at a time. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself."
Reigning PBA Player of the Year Jason Belmonte of Australia is 126 pins behind Simonsen with an 8,975 total. The 22-time titlist owns a record 11 PBA major titles, with the U.S. Open being the one that has eluded him.
Dick Allen of Columbia, South Carolina, finished the day in third place with an 8,930 total and was followed by Kristopher Prather of Plainfield, Illinois (8,874), and Bill O'Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania (8,815).
Prather and O'Neill won the year's first two majors - the PBA Tournament of Champions and PBA Players Championships, respectively - earlier this month.
Competition at Sun Valley Lanes will resume Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern with another eight games of match play, followed by the final round at 6 p.m. EST. Five players will advance to the championship round based on their 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play. Saturday’s competition will be covered live by FloBowling.
FOX will have live coverage of the stepladder finals on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home the coveted green jacket and a $30,000 top prize.
In six previous appearances at the U.S. Open, Simonsen has finished in the top eight four times, with a best finish of third at last year's event in Mooresville, North Carolina.He hopes the things he experienced and learned will help him improve his finish in 2020.
"I think I now understand how important it is to stay in the moment and maintain the process, especially since we still have 16 games of match play left, where that may not have been the case a few years ago," Simonsen said. "I think I'm a little more mature and knowledgeable, and I've learned a lot from watching the guys who are out here week in and week out. I've been trying to understand how and why they succeed, so I can apply it to my own routine."
In all, Simonsen owns seven PBA Tour titles - five standard victories and two major titles.
In his breakout win with Conner Pickford at the Mark Roth/Marshall Holman Doubles event in January 2016, Simonsen missed becoming the youngest champion in PBA Tour history by just two days.
A month later, he claimed his place in the record book by winning the United States Bowling Congress Masters to become the youngest bowler in PBA history to win a major (19 years and 39 days).
In 2019, he added a win at the PBA Players Championship, becoming the youngest in history to win two majors.
Ultimately, nearly every time he claims another trophy on the PBA Tour, Simonsen is rewriting the record book, but he has learned not to think about it.
"The U.S. Open is one of the special ones, and I honestly don't know what it would mean to have this one and a third major overall," Simonsen said. "Of course, it would be sweet to be 23 and have three majors, but it's still so far away and way too soon to even be thinking about it. We'll take it one shot at a time and see where it goes."
The week started with 108 competitors, who bowled 24 games of qualifying over three days, on three different oil patterns, before the field was cut to the top 36 for Friday's eight-game Cashers' Round on a fourth oil pattern.
Total pinfall for 32 games determined the 24 players who advanced to the round-robin portion of the event.
The 41-foot oil pattern introduced for the Cashers' Round will be used for the remainder of the event.
2020 U.S. Open
Sun Valley Lanes, Lincoln, Neb., Friday
x-Tackett def. Palermaa, 225-204, in a one-game roll-off to break a tie for 24th place at the end of the cashers round.