Heading into last year’s U.S. Open, EJ Tackett found himself in an idyllic position. The born-and-raised Hoosier entered Indianapolis’ Royal Pin Woodland with a chance to augment his PBA legacy.

A dozen years earlier, Tackett made his U.S. Open debut at Woodland in 2010 as an amateur. And with major titles at the 2016 World Championship and 2017 Tournament of Champions under his belt, winning the U.S. Open would complete the Triple Crown.

Only eight players in PBA history have attained all three trophies. For Tackett, adding his name to that exclusive list, on his home turf, would be a career-defining achievement.

It was one of the rare moments in sports where everything — from the historic possibilities, to his internal motivations, to the ancillary narratives — came together. The potential script was so tantalizing Disney would find it too good to be true.

Tackett didn’t let the noise cloud his head; if anything, it fueled him.

Over 56 games of grueling competition on four different oil patterns, he obliterated the field by 502 pins. The 502-pin difference between himself and the second-place qualifier, Anthony Simonsen, was greater than the gap between Simonsen and the 13th-place finisher.

The top seed earned him a berth in the championship match and placed him one game from a fairytale ending.

“With the Triple Crown and never winning (a PBA Tour title) in Indiana and it being the U.S. Open, the story was so great,” Tackett said. 

“It’s just, that's where it ended.”

Anthony Simonsen stole the show and defeated Tackett for the 2022 U.S. Open title | Photo credit: USBC

In the title match, a slow start snowballed into a disaster. It took Tackett three shots to strike on the right lane, then errant shots led to open frames on the left. By the time he found a groove, it was too late.

Simonsen engaged cruise control by the third frame and rolled to a 232-165 victory, becoming the youngest player to win three major titles.

Tackett did add his name to a historic list, just not the one he wanted. With the loss, he joined Jakob Butturff and Hall of Famers Earl Anthony and Walter Ray Williams Jr. as U.S. Open runners-up who led by more than 500 pins.

As the days following the tournament turned into weeks and months, the feeling of disappointment faded. He captured a pair of doubles titles with Marshall Kent, one of his best friends, and Diandra Asbaty and led the Tour in average. 

Heading into 2023, a burning determination has filled the place of any lingering dismay for the 30-year-old.

“When something like that happens, I always feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “Leading by that much wasn’t a fluke. I can do it again.”

Tackett referenced the 2015 World Championship, where he also qualified as the top seed. He was the only right-handed player to make the show — “and then I bowled awful on the show.” 

The next year, Tackett came back with vengeance and repeated as the tournament leader. Facing Tom Smallwood, who shot 266 in the semifinal, Tackett held a one-pin lead through six frames.

This time, nothing — not the pins, not the pattern and certainly not the past — would stand between Tackett and the trophy. He struck on his final six shots to earn the first major title of his career and secure 2016 Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year honors.

As the U.S. Open presented by Go Bowling! once again descends upon Woodland, the picturesque narrative, now including an additional chapter and redemptive arc, remains for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It’s his mission to write the ending.

Qualifying for the 2023 U.S. Open presented by Go Bowling! begins on Tuesday, Jan. 31. All rounds leading up to the televised finals will be livestreamed on BowlTV.

Tickets for the first telecast on Feb. 4 are available here.

More information on the U.S. Open is available here.