Lavoie Defeats Rash to Win His Second U.S. Open Title
by Bill Vint | Wednesday, October 30, 9:56 PM
By Matt Cannizzaro, USBC Communications
MOORESVILLE, N.C. - For the second time in his short professional career, Canada's Francois Lavoie donned the coveted green jacket at the U.S. Open.
The 26-year-old right-hander defeated 14-time Go Bowling! PBA Tour champion and top seed Sean Rash of Montgomery, Illinois, 221-172, on Wednesday night to become the 12th bowler in history to win the prestigious title multiple times.
His first time hoisting the U.S. Open trophy was in 2016 on the way to PBA Rookie of the Year honors.
The latest win gave Lavoie his fourth PBA Tour title and made the fourth-year professional the first foreign-born player to win the U.S. Open more than once. Finland's Mika Koivuniemi (2001) and Dom Barrett of England (2018) also have won the event.
Wednesday's star-studded stepladder at Victory Lanes was broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.
Along with the iconic outerwear, Lavoie also earned a $30,000 top prize. The U.S. Open was the fifth, and final, major of the 2019 PBA Tour season. The win was Lavoie's first since 2017.
"This is so surreal, and I don't even know where to begin," Lavoie said. "To win the first one was unbelievable and a dream come true. Winning the second one, wow. Especially with the way the season started, I never could've expected this. It's not something you think will happen again, and definitely not this year of all years. I feel so fortunate."
Lavoie started the final match with five consecutive strikes and cruised to the title. Rash opened with a strike but did not throw another until the ninth frame when his third major title already was out of reach.
Rash was in a familiar position as the No. 1 seed, having won the 2007 United States Bowling Congress Masters and 2012 PBA Tournament of Champions from there.
"I'm great, honestly," Rash said after the loss. "I led the U.S. Open, which is a dream come true. I've always wanted to make this show. Frankie bowled unbelievable. He started with the front five on a pair that was extremely brutal. He's a two-time champion at this event for a reason. It was a great performance, and he out-bowled me. I'm happy with my preparation and thought process and everything that was going on. I have no regrets from today, and I feel like this still was one of my best seasons overall."
Despite the loss, Rash indeed is winding down one of his best seasons in a career that began in 2005. His 2019 campaign includes two titles and more than $145,000 in earnings. He took home $15,000 for Wednesday's runner-up finish.
In the night's four matches, there only were three strings of strikes longer than a double, and Lavoie had two of them on what he considered the most challenging of the week's four oil patterns.
His keys to success on all the patterns were surface management and different hand positions.
"I wasn't ever really comfortable on this pattern for the 32 games we bowled on it, and going into match play, I was pretty nervous about holding onto a spot on the show for another 24 games," said Lavoie, who averaged less than 200 for his first eight games on the week's final oil pattern. "I had a hard time getting my hand to do what I wanted to get the right ball motion, but we stuck with it and stayed in it. Throwing the front five in the final game was huge, especially since our plan was just to try to hit the 1-3 every time. That pair was really hard."
On the way to his first U.S. Open title in Las Vegas, Lavoie also managed to string strikes in what is considered one of the sport's toughest environments. That year, he also was the second seed and advanced to the title match by becoming the first bowler in history to roll a perfect game on a U.S. Open television show.
Lavoie rolled into this year's championship match simply by filling frames, another key to success on the demanding conditions at the U.S. Open.
The Team Canada member posted a clean 214-164 win against two-time major champion Anthony Simonsen, 22, of Little Elm, Texas, who was looking to earn his eighth PBA Tour title and become the youngest player to win three majors.
Simonsen, who won the 2016 USBC Masters and 2019 PBA Players Championship, advanced to Wednesday's semifinal with a 187-148 against 11-time major champion and 2019 PBA Player of the Year front-runner Jason Belmonte of Australia.
After three solid shots to start the match, Belmonte failed to get more than six pins on four of his next five first balls. The 36-year-old two-hander tried everything to get back in the match, including a switch to a urethane ball in the seventh frame and moving from the left side of the lane to the right.
The move worked on the right lane, but the 22-time PBA Tour champion split twice on the left lane, including the 2-8-10 combination in his final frame. A missed 10 pin from Simonsen in the ninth frame gave Belmonte an opportunity to at least force Simonsen to mark, but the final split ended his chances for a fifth title in 2019.
A win Wednesday would've given Belmonte his first U.S. Open title, and he would've joined USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Mike Aulby as the only players to win the Super Slam.
Belmonte has four wins at the USBC Masters, three PBA Tournament of Champions titles, two victories at the PBA World Championship and two wins at the PBA Players Championship.
His 148 game was the lowest he has bowled on TV. His previous low came in a 214-156 loss to Wes Malott in the title match of the 2013 U.S. Open.
In Wednesday's opening match, neither Simonsen nor Bill O'Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, looked immediately comfortable on the fresh 40-foot oil pattern, but two rolled 10 pins early in the game gave Simonsen a small advantage over O'Neill, who didn't deliver his first strike until the fifth frame.
A 2-8-10 split from O'Neill in the sixth frame widened the deficit, and Simonsen followed the first commercial break with four consecutive strikes to pull away for a 226-193 victory.
O'Neill, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, also was looking to become the 12th bowler in history to win the event multiple times. The 38-year-old right-hander owns 11 PBA Tour titles, including two this season.
The field this week started with 144 players, all of whom bowled 24 games of qualifying over three days (eight games each day). Each round featured a different oil pattern, and a fourth lane condition was introduced for the cashers' round, match play and championship round.
The U.S. Open is conducted jointly by USBC and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.
2019 U.S. Open
At Victory Lanes, Mooresville, N.C.
1, Francois Lavoie, Canada, 435 (two games), $30,000
2, Sean Rash, Montgomery, Illinois, 172 (one game), $15,000
3, Anthony Simonsen, Little Elm, Texas, 577 (three games), $12,000
4, Jason Belmonte, Australia, 148 (one game), $10,000
5, Bill O'Neill, Langhorne, Pa., 193 (one game), $8,000
Match No. 1 - Simonsen def. O'Neill, 226-193
Match No. 2 - Simonsen def. Belmonte, 187-148
Semifinal - Lavoie def. Simonsen, 214-164
Championship - Lavoie def. Rash, 221-172