Santtu Tahvanainen Has Arrived
While bowling fans around the world bid farewell to Norm Duke at the PBA League, they were introduced to perhaps the PBA’s next star: Santtu Tahvanainen.
The Dallas Strikers’ first-round selection established himself as one of bowling’s rising talents. During PBA League qualifying, he yielded the second-highest score and strike total. Only Matt Ogle, his teammate, bested him.
That night, Tahvanainen made his TV debut at the Carter Division Finals. Though he said he was “afraid of even making it to the foul line,” the 25-year-old blasted four strikes in four shots.
Bill O’Neill, who along with Tommy Jones encouraged Duke to draft Tahvanainen, was quite impressed.
"He threw it perfect, split the 8-9 like it was nothing,” said O’Neill of Tahvanainen’s first shot. “He comes back and goes, ‘whew, first shot on TV.’"
Powered by Jones and Ogle’s clutch shot-making and Tahvanainen’s perfect premiere, the Strikers advanced to the Elias Cup Finals. On the telecast, Randy Pederson called Tahvanainen a future superstar on the tour. Carolyn Dorin-Ballard went a step further.
“Is this the second coming of Jason Belmonte?” she asked herself.
Tahvanainen describes himself as “too humble,” which, admittedly, is a bit oxymoronic. He knows he’s good — he just hasn’t grasped how good.
He left Finland to join the PBA midway through the 2022 season. He had no expectations; his lone goal was to bowl a 300 game. Instead, the kid became a Harry Golden Rookie of the Year front-runner.
Tahvanainen earned a top-10 finish in his PBA debut, finishing ninth at the Mark Roth/Marshall Holman Doubles with Brian Robinson. With a 12-game score of 2,804, Tahvanainen ranked fourth among individuals behind only EJ Tackett, Ogle and Belmonte.
When he and Robinson qualified for match-play in fifth place, his phone blew up with messages from friends and family. The gravitas of competing in the PBA began to register.
“Hold up, this isn’t a regular tournament anymore,” Tahvanainen said to himself. “Oh, man. I’m actually here, and striking.”
A few weeks later, Tahvanainen achieved his goal of earning a 300 ring at The Storm Cup: PBA Colorado Springs Open. His perfect game quickly became a footnote.
He battled for the lead throughout the tournament, notching the No. 2 seed for the stepladder behind Dom Barrett. He beat Darren Tang in the semifinal 233-213, then gave Barrett everything he could handle in the title match.
Though Tahvanainen ultimately fell 244-234, his undeniable talent left a grand impression.
The rookie became eligible for the PBA League Draft after finishing the regular season 46th in points. He watched the draft with friends and Finnish bowling fans in a discord channel, but did not anticipate being selected.
About 30 minutes into the draft, a sprightly Duke popped onto the livestream to make the eighth overall selection. PBA commissioner Tom Clark congratulated Duke on his still-unbelievable second place finish at the USBC Masters, then asked for his pick.
“Well, I was hoping that you would tell the crowd so I wouldn’t mispronounce the kid’s name,” Duke said.
Tahvanainen said he fell out of his chair. He didn’t need to hear another word.
O’Neill said he noticed Tahvanainen’s immense power at the World Series of Bowling. With Duke’s pending retirement, they wanted to find a potential replacement as well as someone who could play the extreme left part of the lane.
Between Tahvanainen’s breakout and Ogle’s sensational performance, they found two worthy candidates. O’Neill said he’s heard all the jokes — “first and foremost from Tommy” — about how he’s the one on the chopping block.
After being drafted by Duke and hearing the same encouragement from esteemed bowling figures while at the PBA League, Tahvanainen said he’s starting to believe he might have what it takes.
“If this is my TV performance, you never know what's gonna happen in a few years,” he texted a few friends after his dominant showing at the Carter Division Finals.
Tahvanainen said he will arrange his schedule to compete full-time next season. He doesn’t set expectations for himself, but he does have something to prove.
“My plan is to keep my feet on the ground as much as possible,” he said. “It's only three months. What I want to prove next season for everyone is that I wasn't just a shooting star, that I actually can be consistent.”
His first name may translate to “defender of mankind” in English, but Tahvanainen still sees himself as an ordinary Joe.
The night before leaving for the World Series of Bowling, he said he got cold feet. He didn’t want to get on the plane, until one of his friends set him straight.
If he had succumbed to his inner doubts, he would not have realized his true talent. The world wouldn't know his name.
“The thing I wish to say is that I really hope there's more people that have the courage to try out the PBA,” Tahvanainen said. “Because you never know.”
You just might be the PBA’s next superstar.