Keeping it professional on the PBA Tour   

Updated: November 14, 2008, 1:12 PM ET

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Pop quiz: What do millions of Americans do for recreation?

In the words of The Dude, "Oh, the usual: bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback."

While we can't speak to the latter, research supports that bowling is in fact one of the most-played sports in the land. We figured Chris Paul, King James and millions of Americans can't be wrong, so our Mary Buckheit deodorized her rentals, cleared the kindling and lined up with Sean Rash -- the PBA Tour's 26-year-old young gun, winner of last year's USBC Masters.

Here's the Buckheit-Rash split.


ESPN.com: First things first, Sean -- "Kingpin" or "The Big Lebowski"?

Sean Rash: I haven't seen either one in a long while, but I'd probably have to go with "Kingpin."

Honestly, how's life as a professional bowler?

Well, life is never dull when you're changing cities and time zones nine months a year. We're always on the road. It's a lifestyle of hotel rooms and food chains. A lot of people, when they think of bowling, it's about throwing a ball and having fun, but obviously, you don't see the guys on Sunday drinking a six-pack while they're competing. What it's really like is I'm nervous and it's hot and I'm drinking water and the anxiety is up because I'm trying to win a national title.

Sean Rash

Craig Hacker/Getty Images for PBA

The wine and roses life of most professional athletes is more beer and fast food on the PBA Tour.

All for the love of the lanes.

Yup. It gets tough at times, being away from home so much, but we're doing what we love, and the PBA has been very gracious to give us a few weeks off to regroup and refresh.

Regroup and refresh from all the bowling or all the tour groupies? Does the PBA Tour have groupies?

Haha. Wow. Well, I think every sport has whatever you want to call it, groupies, or people that hang out and try to get into the party scene after the competition.

Do guys kick their bowling shoes off and get mixed up in that?

It's amazing, if anybody wants to start a rumor or get someone in trouble they're going to say you were doing something with someone, then you need to check in with your significant other … and that's just how it goes. Athletes always seem to have people that are going to be all over them. You gotta know when to say no and how to stay away from it. There are a lot of fans out here, but a lot of guys are married, and most of the guys who aren't bring their significant other on the road with them.

What? Take their lover on the road with them?! Rookie mistake. A lot of athletes do have something that they can't leave home without. What's yours?

Nothing but a computer and a cell phone to stay in touch, really. We don't have millions of dollars in our bank account. Our lives are very different from a pro golfer or somebody like that. If we need something out here we don't have the luxury of just having somebody get it for us. It's not like that.

Yeah, golf has sponsors like Rolex. Tennis, you might get Lacoste. Hoops has Jordan Brand. Those are some pretty sexy sponsors. You bowlers get Dexter. Jealous?

You know, sponsors, if you know any that would like to sponsor me, please let me know. I'll take any of them! That's how sports work: It's because of sponsors. And of course, I'm very grateful to have Dexter as a shoe company sponsor. … Some pro athletes in other sports get their equipment and clothes and everything else. This sport is obviously not like that. A lot of us are driving our own cars to tournaments, or you might have a couple roommates and take turns. Some of the guys have RVs, but we're not being flown all over the place.

That's pretty legit, though: pro athletes taking it to the streets, tournament-to-tournament in their Honda.

Yeah. I have a Chrysler 300, but yeah, that's what we do. I hang my clothes up in the back seat, pack my suitcase and go.

Man, bowling balls have got to hurt your gas mileage.

We have transportation on trucks, actually, for our bowling balls. The tour has semi trailers, so we don't have to worry about those.

I'm surprised you let your bowling ball out of your sight. It's not like baseball players who keep their mitts with them at all times?

Well, bowling balls are a little tougher to run off with. If they get stolen it's usually when they are inside the building, in the bowling alley. In the trucks you have your own shelf; it's kind of like a locker room.

Do you mark your bowling balls the same way golfers mark their Titleists?

You can't actually do anything to a bowling ball with markers or anything, because that makes the ball illegal. They're pretty plain and simple out here.

Do you have a favorite alley? Is there an analogy to a "hitters' ballpark" for bowling lanes?

Well, yeah, every lane is different. Every throw is different. The idea is always the same -- 60 feet in length, you're trying to knock down ten pins in two shots -- but you don't know what you're bowling on.

Uh, wood?

You don't know what the oil pattern is, or how it will change -- in bowling, every time you throw a shot, the lane changes. The temperature affects your shot; the humidity, the air conditioning, how many people are coming in and out. It all changes every shot, drastically.

Drastically? C'mon. I'd duke that statement out with you, but I'm dying to ask you to make sense of these oil patterns. Right now, the tournament you're at is called the Chameleon Classic (ESPN, Sun. 1 p.m. ET). The PBA Web site describes "pattern" with this statement: "Chameleons change color to outsmart their enemies. To excel on this pattern, bowlers must be versatile in many styles of play." What the heck does that mean?

Well, that's just a way the PBA is trying to educate people. Trying to get fans to learn and understand a little bit about the intricacies of the game, or at least be aware of this stuff. Most people have no idea all that goes into it. We have six oil patterns on tour, plus multiple patterns, plus special-event patterns.

You lost me. But I'm mildly familiar with the living-room pattern, thanks to Nintendo. How are your Wii bowling skills?

Oh, I'm terrible. Ha! I'm not a video-game guy. I have four roommates, they play, but I'm terrible at Wii bowling.

Speaking of skills, a lot was made about our President-elect's bowling skills. I hear the PBA has actually offered to give Barack Obama a few pointers as soon as he, you know, fixes the country and things calm down a little bit. What's your one almighty tip for the new prez?

Keep it in the lane.

What would you think about him replacing the bowling lane in the White House with a basketball court?

Well, of course I hope he keeps the lane. And I hope he and his family and his girls might take an interest in and get to know it and enjoy it. It really is one of those sports people have a lot of fun with once they give it a chance.

You bowl all the time; do you have a chance to have fun?

Yeah, I golf for fun. Hang out. The girlfriend works 9 to 5 every day, and when we're home we usually just go out or I cook dinner or she cooks dinner; that's it. I like to relax! That's fun.

Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.


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