Williams, Walter Ray, Jr.

Williams, Walter Ray, Jr.
▪ 1998

      In the summer of 1997, bowling champion Walter Ray Williams, Jr., said, "This year might be the best year I've ever had"; considering his accomplishments, it appeared that he was correct. Ranked the number one bowler in the world, Williams in June became the first professional bowler to reach the $2 million mark in career earnings when he beat Pete Weber, his closest competitor for the title. By the year's end he had increased his winnings to $240,544, and for the second year in a row and the fourth time in his career, he was voted bowling's Player of the Year.

      Williams was born Oct. 6, 1959, in San Jose, Calif., and grew up in Eureka and Auburn, Calif. Citing horseshoes as his favourite sport, at age 11 he became the youngest junior world horseshoe champion just two years after he was introduced to the game by his father. He went on to amass six world horseshoe-pitching titles by 1997. It was when he reached his teen years and wanted to pay his way through college that he began bowling in tournaments. Williams later earned a B.S. degree in physics from California State Polytechnic University, where he also studied mathematics. For his senior thesis Williams wrote about the physical behaviour of a bowling ball being thrust down a lane. In 1980, his first year on the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tour, he won only $641. He won his first PBA tournament in 1986, and in 1993, after 13 years of professional bowling, he joined only about 15 others who had earned $1 million in tournament winnings. His second million came only four years later.

      By the end of 1996, Williams had bowled 39 perfect games and earned 21 career titles, including the PBA Player of the Year title in 1986, 1993, 1996, and 1997. In 1993 he set PBA records for bowling a perfect score (300) four times in a tournament, for most games bowled in a year, and for bowling the most games with a score of at least 200 in succession. In 1995 he was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame. Although an accomplished bowler and one of the few athletes ever to hold national titles simultaneously in two different sports, Williams lamented that he did not get as much media coverage as more mainstream athletes. "I'm in the same class as Michael Jordan," he said. "The only difference is everyone knows who he is and not many people know who I am." Williams's wife, Paige, however, summed it all up by saying, "It would be great to have Tiger Woods's or Michael Jordan's money, but I wouldn't want to be in the position they're in. We still like to go to . . . dinner without being mobbed."

ANTHONY L. GREEN

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▪ American athlete
born Oct. 6, 1959, San Jose, Calif., U.S.

      American professional bowler and champion horseshoe pitcher. Williams was the first person to earn more than $2 million, $3 million, and then $4 million in prize money from bowling.

      Williams joined the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tour in 1980, after graduating from California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, where a paper he prepared for a senior science course was an analysis of the motion of a bowling ball during its roll toward the pins. He did not win his first PBA title (tournament) until 1986, when three tournament victories brought him Bowler of the Year honours, which he also won in 1993, 1996–98, and 2003. With his 42nd PBA title in 2006, Williams passed Earl Anthony (Anthony, Earl Roderick) for most career titles. Williams was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 1995. He was one of the stars of the documentary A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (2004), which followed four professional bowlers on the PBA tour for one year.

      Williams's interest in horseshoes, which are delivered in an underhand manner somewhat similar to bowling, never lagged, even though it earned him only a few thousand dollars, compared with the millions he earned from bowling. He won the World Horseshoe Pitching Championship, sponsored by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America, six times (1978, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1991, and 1994).

John J. Archibald
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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