After an injury-plagued 2023 season, in which he barely hung onto a direct entry in the U.S. Open by finishing 74th in points, Wes Malott is back on top. The 47-year-old leads the U.S. Open presented by GoBowling after the opening eight-game qualifying round at Indianapolis’ Royal Pin Woodland.

“I'm in a much better spot in my life than I have been in the last few years mentally,” Malott said. “I'm probably getting a little closer to the end of my career and I have a different mindset going in. It's just a clearer picture. I know I'm getting older and I know my body doesn't do what it used to do. I'm trying to fight through some of those things a little bit still. But I'm coming out with a good attitude and trying not to press too much.”

On the flat, 39-foot pattern, Malott averaged over 226 to lead the 108-player field with 1,810 (+210).

“That third pattern on Wednesday might be a little different story,” Malott said with a laugh. “But [today’s scores] will help me be able to try to grind and just get out of it unscathed.”

Malott now resides in Fort Wayne, Ind., which is about two hours northeast of Indianapolis. 

“I've always loved Woodland,” Malott said. “I feel like I've always had a pretty good fan base here. And now, some of those fans have turned into family in a way, now that I only live a couple hours away. Anytime you're close to home and you can do well, it's always a good feeling.”

“This is it, the U.S. Open,” said Malott, who won the 2013 event. “It's the tournament everybody wants to win.”

Sam Cooley, Deo Benard, Andrew Anderson and Nate Stubler round out the top five after Monday’s Round 1.

Cooley’s strong showing, a 1,795 (+195) effort, impressed himself. On this pattern last year, Cooley shot a dismal 1,396. He credited his 399-pin and near 50-pin-per-game improvement to his relaxed mindset and better utilization of slower ball speed and forward ball roll.

“Because I knew how badly I performed last year, I had no expectations coming in,” Cooley said. “I think bowling this pattern first definitely helped, just to get it over and done with. I just wanted to go even, maybe a little bit plus, and I'd be happy about that. The next thing I know, I look up and I’m 100-something over. If you told me that [before we bowled], I would have just laughed.”

“Looking across the board, I felt like I could stay further right longer while still using urethane, as long as I could keep the ball in front of me and I had my ball speed slow enough,” Cooley added. “Not only keeping the ball in play, but my strike percentage was definitely a lot better. I was surprised I got as many games out of it as I did. And then once [my straighter look] started to go away early in Game 5, I just abandoned straight away because I wasn't going to try and force something and go backwards.”

Cooley said he feels more comfortable on the next two patterns, but understands the ups and downs that the U.S. Open annually presents.

“I'm just going to take the high while I can and then come in tomorrow after the big break and try and start again,” he said. “Getting this many pins now definitely helps build a nice little cushion going into the, in a way, easier patterns.”

Round 2 of the U.S. Open begins Tuesday morning with Malott and B-squad. Players will compete at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern.

All rounds will be livestreamed on BowlTV.

More information on the 2024 U.S. Open is available here.

Round 1 Leaders

  1. Wes Malott, 1,810 (+210)
  2. Sam Cooley, 1,795 (+195)
  3. Deo Benard, 1,770 (+170)
  4. Andrew Anderson, 1,766 (+166)
  5. Nate Stubler, 1,749 (+149)
  6. Matt Sanders, 1,720 (+120)
  7. Graham Fach, 1,703 (+103)
  8. Petey Vergos, 1,691 (+91)
  9. Brandon Bohn, 1,686 (+86)
  10. Tom Daugherty, 1,683 (+83)

Full standings are available here.

U.S. Open Schedule

Royal Pin Woodland | Indianapolis, IN

All times Eastern

Tuesday, Jan. 30 | Qualifying Round 2 (eight games)
8 a.m. — B-squad
1 p.m. — C-squad
6 p.m. — A-squad

Wednesday, Jan. 31 | Qualifying Round 3 (eight games)
8 a.m. — C-squad
1 p.m. — A-squad
6 p.m. — B-squad

Top 36 players advance

Thursday, Feb. 1 | Qualifying and Match Play (eight games)
8 a.m. — practice session
10 a.m. — Qualifying Round 4

Top 24 players advance

5 p.m. — Match Play Round 1

Friday, Feb. 2 | Match Play
10 a.m. — Match Play Round 2
5 p.m. — Match Play Round 3

Top five players advance to stepladder finals

Saturday, Feb. 3
4 p.m. — PBA Elite League Round 2 Matches — Tickets

Waco Wonders vs. Motown Muscle; Portland Lumberjacks vs. New Jersey KingPins

Sunday, Feb. 4
4 p.m. — U.S. Open Finals — Sold out