Finally, the folks in Indianapolis have made a tangible concession to Mike Aulby's bowling ability. When he comes home during the breaks on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, he doesn't have to worry about getting lane time.
"I just go and bowl in my old leagues," the 19-year-old Aulby said yesterday at Fair Lanes in Adelphia, where he qualified 11th for today's match play in the $90,000 Professional Bowlers Association Fair Lanes Open. "It's great for me, because I can relax and have fun. And they always save a spot for me."
They ought to save a whole team for him. Last year, he became the youngest bowler to win a major championship when he defeated top-seeded Earl Anthony, 245-217, in the final of the PBA National Championship in Las Vegas. The victory, in the 11th tournament of his career, was worth $15,000 and numerous votes toward his eventual selection as rookie of the year.
He finished the season with $29,013 and a No. 35 ranking on the money list.
Not bad for a guy six months out of high school. Even better for someone who had to be convinced by a Hall of Famer that he was a legitimate talent and who joined the tour because he had nothing better to do.
Aulby first became acquainted with his current vocation by following his sister to the lanes. She was bowling in a high school league while her 12-year-old sibling was wondering what she was doing.
Six years later, Aulby's talent was enough to take him to a second-place finish in the 1978 All-American (Youth) Bowling Championships (AAYBC). To reach that tournament, he had to win home alley, state and regional titles. tBut the pro tour: No way. That was for guys who could bowl.
"I didn't think I was bad, I didn't think I was that good," Aulby said. Fortunately for him, Billy Hardwick disagreed. The two met at the AAYBC, and after hearing Aulby's philosophy, the Hall of Famer volunteered to take on a reconstruction project.
"I told him that if I finished second, it wouldn't be too bad," Aulby recalled. "He told me that I had no killer instinct, and that that would hurt me if I went on the tour.
"I still didn't think I was good enough, but Billy did. He told me to call him if I wanted any help and that I could work out with him anytime I wanted to."
By November 1978, Aulby wanted to, enough so that he and his parents drove from Indianapolis to Hardwick's home in south Florida.
There, Hardwick and colleague Butch Gerhart introduced Aulby to a new experience.
"They had me bowling for money," Aulby said, lauging. "Prior to that time, I had never bowled for more than 50 cents a game. They had me out there shooting for $20 a game."
Hardwick and Gerhart were shooting for much more. The team of Hardwick, Gerhart and Aulby destroyed south Florida opposition. "They must have cleaned up $2,000-3,000," Aulby said. "Yeah, they gave me a few hundred," he admitted.
Actually, the two had given Aulby much more. The money was just a tangible reward. The confidence and knowledge he had gained were far more important. Two months later, he was on the tour.
"I was sitting there at first looking at guys I had seen on television, and I couldn't get used to actually bowling against them," Aulby said. "By the end of the winter tour (April) I was used to it."
But he wasn't -- and still isn't -- accustomed to the other side of a bowler's life.
"This is nothing like people on the outside think it is. "You have to do everything -- travel arrangements, reservations, you name it -- yourself. It's a tough job to do that and bowl, too.
"And the pressure is intense. It's sad to see guys outhere grasping for a place in what you know are their last two or three tournaments. You don't want to get too close to someone, because they might not be here next week.
"The key is not to talk about bowling when you're not doing it. Otherwise, you'd go nuts. So far, though, it's worked out real well for me."
Especially when he goes home. After all, they don't save league spots for just anyone.