Chris Barnes eyes his first NM Open title

Chris Barnes needed all of his 41 years of bowling experience to throw a single strike and win the 15th New Mexico Open at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho last Sunday.

Barnes, 48, of Double Oak, Texas (a suburb of Dallas) defeated his unheralded opponent, top-seeded Brandon Grant of Las Vegas — also making his first appearance at the City of Vision event. Grant got 29 in his 10th frame, requiring Barnes to get 20 to win.

Barnes comfortably converted a 10-pin this time — that he had missed in the first of the two-game set to give Grant a 9-pin lead, 210-201 — then bowled the strike to ride out the ups-and-downs of an exhausting three days. He then pocketed a check for $12,000.

The PBA Hall-of-Famer barely qualified in 29th of the top 32 to make the bracket play at the 171-bowler tournament. He started slowly there too, with a 370-340 win over Steve Novak of Louisville, Ky., then lost round two, shooting 337 to Dino Castillo’s 446 to send him to the loser’s bracket and “a long day at the office.”

With a large crowd of interested local spectators behind him and drawing on his many PBA titles, a Bowling World Cup and multiple medals as a member of Team USA, the man’s demeanor seemed worth a head-start once he got his act together.

He eliminated Chad Lusche of Las Vegas, 478-326; had a perfect game in his match with Alfred Wolfe lll of Denver, 558-326; topped former U.S. Open champion Robert Lawrence of Austin, 437-412; Stu Williams of Phoenix, 417-390; and then Kris Koeltzow of Denver, 449-410, to make the stepladder championship round opening match against Castillo.

Castillo, 47, another Texas veteran of decades of bowling “wars”, had lost to Darren Tang (477-443) in round three then beat Morgan Moore with 410, 2017 US Open winner, Francois Lavoie of Quebec City, Canada, with 450 and Emily Eckhoff of Denver with 405 to get a crack at Barnes.

Castillo, who suffered an early illness exit earlier this year at the USBC Masters in Syracuse, N.Y., simply as he put it, “ran out of gas”. His 167-139—306 was no match for Barnes’ 224-175—399. He finished fourth for $2,250.

Next, Tang of San Francisco, whose first loss came in round five to Grant in the final of the winner’s bracket (372-389), a result that could easily have gone the other way. Tang’s winning sets were over Michael Steele Amarillo, Matt McNiel of Minneapolis, and Koeltzow.

Barnes showed his reputation, opening with 277 to Tang’s solid 256. The 19-pin lead disappeared in the fourth frame but Barnes recovered with a turkey, as Tang closed with five consecutive single pin spares, some of which looked likely strikes on the 57-ounce Qubica/AMF pins, less than three weeks in the pinsetters. Tang received $3,000 for third.

That set up the final match against Grant, who couldn’t believe his good fortune in getting to the title match. Barnes had to beat the No. 1 seed twice — the opener was no contest as he cruised with 397 to his opponent’s 292, peppered with four missed spares, four unconverted splits and only four strikes.

The bespectacled Grant suddenly emerged as “Superman”, starting the final match with six strikes, as Barnes struggled early.

Two late open frames by Grant in the eighth and ninth gave Barnes a life going in to game two and a five-bagger by him in frames three through seven didn’t hurt, after Grant opened his seventh frame.

The title was going to go down to the very end after Barnes left a blowout 7-10 split in the ninth, but his fill-ball strike got him over the line, as Grant was rewarded with $6,060 in his first big appearance in a major regional event from a total prize fund of $56,250.

Stu Williams picked up valuable World Bowling Tour points as the only bowler in the top 10 to bowl this new tier-3 event.

Next year’s New Mexico Open is set for Aug. 16-18.