Norm Duke prepares for final time competing at the PBA League
In Norm Duke’s first-ever televised PBA match, he defeated the legendary Earl Anthony and three others to become the youngest PBA champion at just 18 years old. Iconic sportscaster Chris Schenkel introduced him as “little Norm Duke.” The No. 5 seed averaged 238 in his four matches to earn his first title at the 1983 Cleveland Open.
Chants of “Duke, Duke, Duke” could be heard inside Buckeye Lanes in North Olmsted, Ohio. He has received that same support while competing professionally ever since, and on Thursday, after he announced this would be the final time he would roll a ball for PBA League competition, passionate bowling fans inside Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine showered him with those chants once again.
“What I would like is for all of these young men that I compete with day-to-day, right now, I want them to remember me with serious skills and with the ability to win,” the 58-year-old said. “I want them to remember me like I remember Mark Roth and Earl Anthony. When they left, they were unbelievably good.”
Duke shared his news as player/manager for the Dallas Strikers, who will face the two-time reigning champion Portland Lumberjacks in the Elias Cup Finals. He felt the decision needed to be made, and “I am calling it now.”
The 40-time PBA Tour titleist feels that it is harder to enjoy the game when he is spending twice or three times as much effort to get less than half back in return.
Duke almost had a fairytale ending back in April. He went undefeated in double-elimination brackets to earn the No. 1 seed at the USBC Masters. In the title match, Duke converted a 10-pin and got nine pins on his final frame. That opened the door for 25-year-old Anthony Simonsen, who struck to claim the major victory and spoil Duke’s potential farewell.
“I would have loved to have done it with a trophy in my hand,” the USBC and PBA Hall of Famer said about how he wanted to end his professional career. “I am so good with it all because I have looked forward to this day, not hated it. I have looked forward to it.”
After the match, Simonsen shared his thoughts on Duke.
“It has been an absolute privilege to share the lanes with him,” Simonsen said. “Norm’s a special one, and I don’t think there will be anybody who does it like him ever again.”
Duke originally expected his professional career would end competing in the 2020 Devil’s Lair Tasmania taking on Jason Belmonte, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Duke’s plans changed.
He is not declaring himself retired, because he doesn’t like that word. He plans to remain very active in the sport of bowling.
“I think that I owe the sport more than any man on earth,” he humbly said. “So therefore, I am going to try my very best to give the sport the justice that it deserves, for how it has awarded me. If somebody says, ‘Hey Norm, come in and do a strike derby and do a made-for-TV event.’ Yeah, I will come in and play along.”
While at Bayside Bowl for the PBA League this week, Duke looks beyond relaxed and carefree, because he is. After dedicating four decades to competing, making more than $3.6 million in earnings, the seventh ranked bowler on the 2008 “50 Greatest Players in PBA History” list is truly enjoying life.
“I am so very much at peace,” he said. “It used to be all about investing in that title, investing for that performance. So often you are not relaxed. You are tense and in the moment. Now, I am absolutely comfortable.”
His biggest worry as Dallas Strikers player/manager is setting his team lineup for Sunday and figuring out “how am I going to throw that doggone thing down there.”
Duke’s second attempt at a storybook ending will play out live at 1 p.m. ET on FS1. If the Dallas Strikers win, this would be Duke’s third Elias Cup victory, though he’s more focused on helping win Tommy Jones’ fifth.