LeClair (above), the 2017 season’s only two-time winner, held off challenges by two of the PBA’s all-time greats – Norm Duke and Parker Bohn III – who took the PBA50 Player of the Year race into the stepladder finals of the DeHayes Insurance Group Championship presented by Pro Bowl West and Ebonite in Fort Wayne, Ind., the final PBA50 Tour event of the season.
“I honestly thought they were going to do it,” LeClair said, referring to Duke and Bohn’s late-season challenge for the crown. “I thought the handwriting was on the wall for another disappointment in my career. I didn’t even stay for the finals to find out what happened.”
LeClair, from Delmar, N.Y., spent nearly two decades competing regularly on the PBA Tour without a win but his lengthy career was finally rewarded when he won PBA50 Player of the Year honors on the strength of his wins in the Pasco County Florida Open and Johnny Petraglia BVL Open presented by Brunswick, and a runner-up finish in the Suncoast PBA Senior U.S. Open presented by Storm.
“The best thing about it is I finally have my name on something,” LeClair said. “I’m just as happy for my friends and family who supported me because I think they wanted it as bad as I did.”
Heading into the DeHayes Insurance Group Championship, LeClair held a substantial lead in player of the year points but because of the PBA50’s point structure which awards points for both qualifying and final finishing position, Bohn and Duke still had a chance to catch LeClair.
It was a tall order for the pair of hall of famers because one-or-the-other needed to win and qualify either first or second. If Bohn had won, LeClair would have to finish second to clinch the crown. If Duke had won, LeClair would have had to finish third.
LeClair left the door open when he finished seventh in the tournament and 19th in qualifying. But in the end, Bohn finished fourth, losing to Duke in the second stepladder match, 224-217, and Duke’s chances were then dashed when he lost to fellow hall of famer Pete Weber in the title match, 279-255.
“I was concerned heading into Fort Wayne because I was going to have to make the show at a center I really didn’t have a good handle on if I wanted to clinch it,” LeClair said. “Every time I bowled (in Fort Wayne) it seemed like I would come out of the gate just killing it in every round but then I’d lose it in the middle of the round. I could never figure it out.”
Competing on the PBA50 Tour has resulted in a resurgence of LeClair’s career. A big weight was lifted off his shoulders in his rookie season in 2015 when he won his first PBA national title in the PBA50 Fountain Valley Open. He had another quality season in 2016, without a title, but he was back in the winner’s circle right away in 2017.
“What makes winning (PBA50) player of the year so rewarding was doing it an era when so many of bowling’s all-time greats are competing,” said LeClair, who now owns three PBA50 Tour titles.
“Just look at the finals in Fort Wayne as an example – Pete, Norm, Parker, Walter Ray (Williams Jr.) and Amleto (Monacelli) – and then all the other great bowlers who bowl week-in and week-out. I think that’s what means the most to me.”
Five-time PBA Tour winner Michael Haugen Jr. (left) of Phoenix earned PBA50 Rookie of the Year honors. Haugen won the Senior U.S. Open defeating LeClair, 173-158, in the title match. He had three other top-five finishes including a third in the PBA50 Players Championship.
Ron Mohr (right) of Las Vegas successfully defended his PBA60 Player of the Year crown, winning the PBA50 South Shore Open for his first win against the 50-and-older generation in five years as well as winning USBC’s Super Senior Classic for 60-and-older players. He had three other PBA50 top-five finishes during the season and a second in the PBA60 Killer ‘B’ Open.
Finishing in the top eight in PBA50 competition points were LeClair, Duke, Bohn, Bob Learn Jr., Williams, Haugen, Monacelli and Mohr who earned the opportunity to compete in the PBA50 Challenge which will be held in conjunction with GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IX presented by Eldorado Reno Properties this November in Reno, Nev. All eight also earned paid entries into WSOB IX.
PBA50 players will vote on the Dick Weber Sportsmanship award at a later date.
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