Originally published Jan. 28, 2013.
The secret to being a professional bowler isn't being good.
It's being consistently good.
That's a lesson that EJ Tackett, of Huntington, is learning right now.
Tackett, 20, became a professional bowler last November.
It was the culmination of competing in years of tournaments where he displayed the same skill and consistency that professional bowlers have to a regular basis.
Bowling since he was "able to walk," Tackett made the Junior Gold in 2005, which is the biggest youth bowling tournament in the United States. It was a valuable experience and when Tackett returned four years later a more mature bowler, he started a run that would help define him.
"Got back in '09, '10 and '11, and all three of those years I finished in the top 16," he says.
Doing so wasn't easy, as bowlers begin the tournament by bowling 18 qualifying games. Following those games, a cut is made to the top 150 bowlers from approximately 1,000. After that, 12 more games are rolled to reach the top 16.
"It was one of my best accomplishments because it was across a three-year span," says Tackett. "So, it really showed I was working hard and that I had become a really consistent bowler."
In 2011, Tackett participated in the U.S. Open, one of the majors on the Professional Bowlers Association's (PBA) calendar. He had participated in it the year prior, staying in the cut through the first two rounds of qualifying before a poor final day knocked him out of it.
Tackett made the cut this time around, bowling well through 18 qualifying games to land a spot in the top 25 percent. From there, Tackett played another eight games to make it to the top 24. At this point, Tackett was pitted against PBA stars that appear regularly on ESPN.
"And I beat some of them," he says. "I finished 20th in the U.S. Open, at 18 years old."
The experience gave Tackett a dose of what being a professional bowler was like.
"It's grueling, physically, because it's a long week, a lot of games," he says. "Because when I made match play, I bowled 50 games in five days.
"And along with the physical, mentally, it can break you down. Because you don't throw a lot of strikes, you have to pick up your spares. So, the people that can keep their body healthy throughout the week and stay mentally sound, those are the guys you're going to see at the end of the week."
Tackett also made Junior Team USA in 2011, which gave him an opportunity to represent the United States in competition overseas.
"That summer I got to bowl one tournament with the junior team in the Dominican Republic and I won two gold medals and two silver medals," he says. "That was a lot of fun."
Tackett's decision to go pro last year came in the wake of qualifying once again for Junior Team USA. He made the decision to leave IPFW, where he was a member of the men's golf team, obtained his PBA Tour card in November and has been on the road traveling to tournaments ever since.
All the traveling is the thing that's struck Tackett the most about bowling professionally.
"That's probably the biggest part, is getting acclimated to all the traveling and being able to keep your game sharp, because you are bowling with the best bowlers in the world and they've been out there for years and they know how to acclimate themselves to do what they do and they've proven it time and time again," he says.
"It's all getting used to that and being able to go out week in and week out and perform at your highest level."
Various traveling partners have accompanied Tackett on the road for support, including Ed, his father, Eric, his cousin, and a friend from Indianapolis.
"I'm not by myself," he says. "I haven't been yet. I'm sure I will be in the future, because my cousin can't bowl every tournament because he has a job. When that time comes, I probably will be on the phone with my dad a lot."
Recently, Tackett bowled in the PBA Winter Swing in Detroit, in addition to tournaments in Michigan and Ohio. In February, he'll travel to New Jersey to compete in the United States Bowling Congress Masters, another one of the majors on the PBA Tour.
"I do think I can win, eventually, and I do think I can win multiple times," says Tackett. "It's just a matter of some good luck along the way and a lot of hard work."
While bowling may be Tackett's focus presently, he has even bigger goals for the future.
"My ultimate goal, still, is to play golf on the PGA Tour," he says. "I realize I have this natural talent in bowling and I really would like to do something that's never been heard of, and that's to win a professional title on two different tours."
As a competitor, Tackett identifies with the approach of one of his favorite athletes, Tiger Woods.
"There's one thing he said, he was asked about, I don't remember what the question was, but he said he never shows up to a tournament that he doesn't think he can win. And I'm the same way," says Tackett.
"I never show up to a tournament that I don't think I can win. Whether it be a local tournament or the U.S. Open. I don't show up thinking, ‘Wow, I'm probably going to finish 50th.' No, I'm going in with the mindset that I can win this tournament.
"It's just a matter of doing it."