Tommy Hudson, 28, a leading money winner on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, underwent four major stomach operations during his youth. Twice, his condition was so grave he was given the last rites of the Catholic Church.

"That's the main reason I turned to bowling," said Hudson, one of 24 match play qualifiers at the Springfield air Lanes Open tournament yesterday. "I loved sports but couldn't compete physically because of my operations. I'm real lucky to be alive. But I began to heal and by the time I was 20, I was averaging 200."

Hudson, from Akron, Ohio, and one of 144 pros who began the competition at Springfield, has struggled through 18 games to qualify for a chance at the top prize of $8,000.

The top 48 participants receive a check, but for the other 96 pros it's a long drive to the next tourney on the 14-stop winter tour. For many, the next stop won't be much different from the last.

Fortunately for Hudson, the long drives have been profitable.

"It's not easy, traveling each weekend, struggling to get a check," said Hudson, currently the third-leading money winner on the tour with $35,143 entering this tournament. "I used to go up and down some. You just have to realize some months you'll do well and other months you won't."

Like many of his fellow colleagues, Hudson is lucky enough to have a sponsor who picks up the expenses for an entire year, taking 40 per cent of the bowler's earnings.

"It takes a lot of pressure off, knowing you have someone backing you," said Hudson, selected the Bowler of the Year in Akron in 1971 and PBA Rookie of the year in 1972. "It's very expensive being on the tour."

Expenses begin with $125 fee for a yearly PBA card. It costs $155 to enter each weekly torney (36 in a year) along with hotel, food, gas, clothing and equipment costs.

Hudson and 14 other bowlers ran into a different sort of hassle this week. To save money, many of the pros travel in motor homes. When they arrived early this week they were informed of a Fairfax County ordinance prohibiting motor homes from being used for living purposes.

Several of the bowlers were enraged, but Hudson and his wife, Barbara, took it in stride.

"We were a little shocked at first. We had never run into anything like this before," said Mrs. Hudson. "Luckly, one of the area bowlers, Charlie George, has a large parking lot in Alexandria and let us stay there for nothing. Before that, we didn't know what we were going to do."

Hudson's stay could have been a shortone had he not rallied yesterday to bowl games of 238, 227 and 213 to finish with a total pin fall of 3,887, good for 10th place. He had started slowly with games of 203, 196 and 204.

"I was struggling a little but I felt I'd find the reins soon," he said. "Every lane is different and you have to adjust. My ball is almost the same each time but I might change my speed or even get a new, harder ball. One thing, you never want to get depressed or let down. The head is the key."

"My next two games were pretty good and the final one, I just went through the motions," he said. "I started rooting for my buddy (Dave Heller) then. I wanted him to make it, too."

Heller, from St. Petersburg, Fla., chalked up the only perfect 300 game of the tournament Wednesday but fell off drastically during his final qualifying games yesterday. However, he finished with a 224 game for a total pin fall of 3,836 and 20th place.