Today’s Flashback Friday feature originally published on October 6, 2017
It has been said that Ted Williams was the best in the world at two things: fishing and hitting a baseball. Walter Ray Williams Jr. [no relation] may be the Splendid Splinter’s equal.
With 47 career Professional Bowlers Association titles, Walter Ray Williams Jr. has won more tournaments than any ten-pin bowler in history. He is a seven-time PBA Player of the Year and won at least one PBA Tour title in 17 consecutive years, both records. With career earnings of more than $ 4.6 million, Williams is professional bowling’s all-time leading money winner. He has rolled 105 perfect games on the PBA Tour – including a record four in one tournament — and has won eight majors. He has also won 11 PBA50 [senior] Tour titles, making him one of only three bowlers to win at least ten titles on both PBA national tours. Williams is the first bowler to win 100 combined [PBA, PBA50, Regional] titles and is the only competitor to win the USBC Masters and USBC Senior Masters each twice.
Williams is also a nine-time world horseshoe pitching champion. He won three junior titles in the 1970s and, between 1978 and 1994, won six National Horseshoe Pitching Association Men’s titles. In the six tournaments he won, Williams went 162-4. In a sport where the best in the world throw ringers 85 percent of the time, Williams at one point had a ringer rate of 88.1 percent. The 17-time California champion was elected to the NHPA Hall of Fame in 1988.
Born on this date in 1959, Williams is the middle of seven children [three older sisters and three younger brothers] raised in a horseshoe-pitching family. His brother Jeff twice won the World Junior Championship and youngest brother, Nathan, won six Arizona state titles, while their parents were nationally ranked. Raised in the Redwood Empire of Eureka – along the northern coast of California, between San Francisco and Portland – Williams started throwing at nine. “When it was time to do the dishes every evening, we would have a little family round-robin competition and the loser would have to wash them,” explained Ray, who taught his sons to throw in the family’s back yard. “Walter Ray didn’t have to wash many dishes.”
At ten, Williams qualified for the Junior Boys World Championships [17 and under] by throwing 45 ringers out of 50 shoes. He was dubbed “Deadeye,” a fitting nickname for his accuracy in bowling and horseshoes. He won Junior Boys World Championships in 1971, 1972 and 1975 while not losing a game. At 11, Williams made so many ringers at the Junior Worlds that he was invited to be a guest on The Dick Cavett Show and appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd.”
Williams was introduced to bowling at 11 and started to take it seriously at 17. He joined the PBA Tour while still a student at Cal Poly-Pomona, where he earned a degree in physics. Bowling helped Williams pay his way through college, and he wrote his thesis on the physics of a bowling ball rolling down a lane. His first win came in 1986 at the True Value Open at Landmark Lanes in Peoria, Illinois. Williams, whose fans refer to themselves as Dead Eye Diehards — went on to dominate the sport for the next 25 years. He won the Harry Smith Point Leader Award and George Young High Average Award a record eight times and is the only player to convert the 4-6-7-10 split – The Big Four – on television. A three-handicapper in golf, Williams is a remarkable athlete. After switching from throwing right-handed to left, he finished second in the 2005 World Horseshoe Pitching Championships. He bowled a record 1,300 games in 1993 and averaged 228.34 [third-highest of all time] at 48. Williams won his record seventh Chris Schenkel Player of the Year Award at 50, the oldest PBA kegler ever to be so honored.
When asked about the correlation between bowling and horseshoes, the cerebral Williams said, “I think my accuracy in horseshoes kind of carried over to bowling, but I don’t think bowling helped my horseshoe pitching.” The right-hander has never thrown an exceptional strike ball, but is one of the best spare shooters in history. In 2005, he recorded the highest season-spare percentage [88.16] in history. The following year, he converted 475 of 475 single-pin spares.
At his peak, Williams threw about 40,000 bowling balls and 15,000 horseshoes a year. He traveled most of his career in an RV with his former wife, Paige, often spending nights in bowling center parking lots. Along the way, he competed in as many horseshoe tournaments as he could, usually 15 to 20 per year. “Fortunately, there’s money in bowling,” he said. “There’s not much money in horseshoes.” Williams is remarried and has a daughter. Playing out of Spanish Springs Lanes in The Villages, Florida, he continues to compete. In June 2017, he collected $ 16,000 for his victory at the USBC Senior Masters event in Las Vegas. Mr. Williams starred in A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, a 2006 documentary about ten-pin bowling.
In December 2007, Williams eclipsed the great Earl Anthony’s career mark of 43 titles with a win at the Great Lakes Classic in Michigan. In 2008, Williams was ranked second to Anthony on the PBA’s list of “50 Greatest Bowlers of the Last 50 Years.” Despite breaking many of Anthony’s records, Williams does not dispute who is the king of kegling. “I feel Earl’s record is better than mine because it was more condensed. Earl bowled 14 years and 400 or so events. I’ve bowled well over 600 by now, maybe 700. I feel very pleased to be number two.”
Happy 58th birthday to the only man ever to be inducted into the PBA, USBC and the NHPA halls of fame.