Defending champion now leads Regular Doubles at 2019 USBC Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro and Daniel Farish
USBC Communications

As any bowler who has participated in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships can attest, winning an Eagle, the trophy awarded to the event's champions each year, can be quite difficult.

Winning in back-to-back years is even more rare, but Cotie Holbek of Burlington, Wisconsin, has put himself in position to do so by taking the lead in Regular Doubles with Steven Fisher of Winthrop Harbor, Illinois.

The duo catapulted to the top of the standings Monday with a 1,478 total at the South Point Bowling Plaza, besting the previous leaders by 128 pins.

Holbek, a 25-year-old right-hander who entered the 2019 event as the defending champion in Regular Singles, led the pair with games of 266, 234 and 276 for a 776 series, while Fisher fired games of 219, 270 and 213 for a 702 set.

Justin O'Hara of Belleville, Michigan, and Brad Smyth of Oxford, Michigan, previously held the top spot with a 1,350 total, shot just 24 hours earlier.

"It feels amazing," said Holbek, who made his third USBC Open Championships appearance this year. "To come back and bowl with Steve again after we didn't bowl great last year - it feels great to make up for it."

Last year in Syracuse, New York, Holbek and Fisher combined for a 1,138 doubles total, before both found a way to pile on the strikes in singles. Holbek went on to post games of 278, 278 and 246 for an 802 series, the lone 800 in the 2018 tournament, and Fisher made the top 150 with a 709 effort.

"It was basically a reversal of fortunes from last year in singles," said Fisher, a 33-year-old right-hander who made his 11th visit to the Open Championships. "We absolutely whacked it in singles but couldn't get anything going in doubles. It's just indescribable."

The duo, along with their teammates, didn't come into the 2019 tournament unprepared. They knew what they wanted to do, and it was all about execution.

"We talked to the guys last night, and in the squad room," Holbek said. "We decided to stick with our game plan, and it worked. Without those guys, we couldn't have done what we did today."

Fisher credits their performance to time spent Sunday at the nearby Bowlers Journal Championships presented by USBC, which gave them the confidence heading into Monday afternoon.

The Bowlers Journal Championships is being held at the South Point Bowling Center, a short walk from the South Point Bowling Plaza, and features the same oil pattern being used for doubles and singles at the Open Championships.

Competing in the Bowlers Journal Championships allows competitors to get a feel for the pattern and how it might break down over the three games, and it gives them a chance to develop some basic strategies for when it's time to bowl on the biggest stage in bowling.

"The Bowlers Journal gave us everything," Fisher said. "We had an amazing look. We didn't score well, but I played the exact same spot there as I did today, and seeing that motion again really helped. It was fun."

Going into the last game of doubles Monday at the Open Championships, Holbek and Fisher need to shoot just 362 in their final game to lock up the lead.

Holbek opened the final game with nine strikes, before coming in light and leaving the 2-5 combination to end his run at the first perfect game and third 800 series of the 2019 event. Following the spare conversion, he knocked down eight pins on his fill ball for a 276 game. Fisher rolled a clean 213, which included converting a 2-10 split in the eighth frame.

For Holbek, the doubles run was an unexpected result following his performance in Sunday's team event. Team competition, however, is contested on a different oil pattern.

"Coming back as a defending champion was an amazing feeling," Holbek said. "It kind of got to me yesterday, and I started off team event with a 137 game. It was all my emotions. Last night, there's no way I could've dreamed of us doing what we did today. I looked at Steve after practice, and I said 'this is our shot, this is our opportunity. We know we can do it, let's go.'"HolbekCotieWatch2019OCForWeb250x250

The 1,478 total ties the highest doubles score in the tournament since 2013, when the switch was made to run a fresh pattern for every squad. Zachary Hattori of Henderson, Nevada, and Michael Coffey of Melbourne, Florida, shot 1,478 to claim the Regular Doubles title at the Bowling Plaza in 2017.

Holbek added sets of and 647 in singles and 559 in team for a 1,982 all-events total, the best of his three tournament appearances, and he is ninth in Regular All-Events. With the 802 singles set in 2018, he finished with a 1,952 all-events total.

Fisher rolled a 608 series in team this year in Las Vegas and added 577 in singles for a 1,887 total. Ryan Mouw of Muskegon, Michigan, leads Regular Singles and Regular All-Events this year with 802 and 2,156, respectively.

No bowler in 116 years of Open Championships history has successfully defended a Regular Singles title.

The last bowler to win any titles in consecutive years was Anthony LaCaze of Hoffman Estates, Illinois, who was a Team All-Events champion in 2013 and 2015 and won Regular All-Events in 2014. He became the second bowler in history, joining USBC Hall of Famer Les Zikes of Palatine, Illinois, to win in three consecutive years.

Regular Doubles features bowlers with combined entering averages of 351 and above.

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