MARSHALL HOLMAN'S LOVE affair with bowling began simply enough: When he was 12, he started watching "Pro Bowlers Tour" on television. "For some reason, it seemed to capture my imagination," he says. "So I asked my dad to take me bowling."
That was easier said than done. His hometown of Medford, Ore., wasn't exactly a hotbed of bowling, and no one else in the Holman household participated in the sport. Reluctantly, his dad agreed to take him, and off they went to Medford Bowl. Marshall bowled one game. "I remember I shot 71," says Holman, now 46 years old. "Not 171, but 71."For a 12-year to bowl a 71 is ..." He hesitates, trying to find a tactful way to describe that historic moment. "It was pretty ... mediocre. It certainly didn't scream out the word `potential.' But I had a good time, even though it was only that one short game."
He pauses reflectively, then adds, "Lane 25 at Medford Lanes." For Holman, it was the beginning of his life's passion. To the rest of the world, it was the birthplace of a superstar.Surprisingly, one of the greatest bowlers of all time was not a natural. Mostly self-taught, Holman gradually went from throwing a backup ball to delivering a straight ball to actually hooking it to, as he puts it, becoming a "pretty good" player. "The junior coaches were there mainly to keep us line. Not that I've ever had any problem with that," the infamous PBA bad boy says sarcastically.
Holman studied the top local players and adopted the best elements from their styles. "I learned how to bowl much like one learns how to talk or walk," he says. Holman says he was a product of his environment, one that presented very difficult scoring conditions. But that challenge forced him to develop a game that required both accuracy and power.Medford, a small town situated in the southwest part of Oregon, didn't offer much in the way of bowling competition, so at age 17 Holman drove hundreds of miles every weekend to Portland or Seattle to compete in tournaments. Those excursions offered him the chance to hone his competitive skills against topflight opponents such as Earl Anthony, Johnny Guenther, Matt Surina, and the late Jeff Mattingly.
Although Holman was competing vociferously in the Northwest, he had no visions of becoming a pro bowler. "I had this image of professional bowlers being these awesome bowling machines," he says. "I didn't see myself being that good."What made the thought of becoming a professional even more improbable was the fact that Holman didn't receive much support on the home front. Says Holman: "My father thought bowling was a profound waste of time." Statistically speaking, the elder Holman was right. At that time, the chances of anyone making a good living at bowling were remote. "He was trying to be a responsible parent," Holman says of his father's stance on bowling. "But it didn't take long for him to see that was what I should be doing. He became my biggest fan."
There certainly has been a lot to cheer about. Holman's accomplishments in bowling are the stuff of legends: With 22 titles, including three majors and $1.7 million in career earnings, he will go down in history as one of the game's greatest players.Holman attributes his success simply to being in the right place at the right time. "If you wanted to design a pro bowler to combat the conditions of the mid-'70s," he says, "you would have made me." Holman says that a lot of players come on tour and find themselves having to retool their games to adjust to the conditions. "I went on tour and didn't have to change a thing. I just bowled like I bowled."
Of all his accomplishments, Holman cherishes his first two titles the most. Why? Because in each event he beat his hero, Carmen Salvino, in the title match. "Carmen had as much to do with me wanting to be a pro bowler as anybody," he says. "He was always my favorite bowler. He was athletic, he was fun, and he always gave more than was expected. He was a very special player. And he'll tell you he made a star out of me."Actually, Holman did that all by himself. In 1976, at age 21, he became the youngest player to win the Firestone Tournament of Champions, a feat he accomplished by beating the first winner of that event, Billy Hardwick.
It's an achievement Holman still can't believe. "I won it," he says, "but I'm not sure exactly how I did it. I think it had a lot to with not really being sharp enough [mentally] to understand the moment. I think my age had a lot to do with it. I just kept trying to bowl each frame, not realizing the significance of what was really happening."In 1977 Holman and Mark Roth teamed up to win the PBA Doubles, a title they would claim two more times. Although Holman was already a four-time winner on tour, he still was in awe of Roth and astounded that the "proven star" wanted to bowl with him. "I didn't ask Mark to bowl," he says. "I wouldn't have had the guts to ask him."
How did Holman, only in his early 20s, deal with the pressure of big-time bowling? Easy. He just went with the flow. "I was loving it," he says. "Can you imagine that? I liked all the attention. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I was real good at it. I was making some pretty darn good money for someone in his early 20s whose only education was what I'd learned traveling the tour the previous few years."As for the fame that was coming to him so suddenly, that was pretty good, too. After winning the 1976 Tournament of Champions, he went to the ABC Tournament and was given true celebrity treatment. "It was quite intoxicating and prompted me to want to continue achieving at that level," he says.
Holman was fortunate to have some experienced and caring mentors around him in those early years, most notably PBA tournament director Harry Golden. As a result, Holman was able to handle everything with class and intelligence.Of course, not everything went smoothly. Bowling fans had a love-hate relationship with him, as did he with them. Everyone had an opinion about Marshall Holman. "People would come to a tournament, and they'd park themselves behind me to either really wish me well or to root for me to fall flat on my face," he recalls. "Some of the most enjoyable tournaments for me were in Milwaukee because the fans there were so vocal against me.
"When I was young, it didn't bother me that people didn't like me. I played the bad guy for a lot of years, but later in my career the fans started cheering for me. Aside from that fiery competitor as a bowler, I think I am a pretty nice guy. I just got a little crazy when I bowled."In 1987, Holman earned the bittersweet distinction of having the best year ever by a player who didn't win a title. However, his earnings of $152,563, his numerous top-five appearances, the high average on tour (216.80), and the top position on the PBA point list did earn him the respect of his peers, who voted him the PBA Player of the Year. "It was the best of times and the worst of times," he says. "It was frustrating to have that many opportunities to win and not be able to do it."
Ironically, despite Holman's contention that he has lived a charmed life--often being in the right place at the right time--he has had some bad luck. He had many years that were player of the year-caliber, but he didn't receive the honor because someone always seemed to be doing better. Between 1977 and 1987, Holman finished among the top four money leaders eight times. Five times in that stretch, he was runner-up--twice to Anthony, twice to Roth, and once to Walter Ray Williams Jr.But the fatalistic Holman views those close calls as blessings in disguise. "Mark and Earl took a lot of the heat off of me," he says. "I never had the pressure of being the one who was driving the tour."
After the 1988 season, when he captured a title in Venice, Fla., Holman's game rapidly declined--in fact, he didn't win again until 1996. He says the introduction of reactive resin balls is what did him in. "[The reason for the slump] was my inability to adjust to the reactive equipment," he says. "Previously, I never had to adjust to anything."Actually, Holman's career was all about making adjustments. He started bowling when plastic was the cover-stock of the day and became an even more dominant player when urethane was introduced. But he says going from urethane to reactive forced him to view the lane in a completely different way.
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