The Man Who Broke Bowling


His YouTube channel, including tournament footage shot by a professional videographer, has endeared him to a younger generation. At the Players Championship, held the week after the World Series in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a 15-year-old from Allentown named Daniel Schiffer waited for a chance to meet his hero. “That’s a living legend right there,” said Schiffer, who was a one-hander before discovering Belmonte on YouTube, and in two years has progressed from a 130 to a 200 average in his league. After scoring an autograph and selfie, he scampered off like a Swiftie who had just scored a private audience with the queen herself.

According to Baker, who earned four PBA titles before becoming a coach, more and more juniors are adopting the two-hander because it’s cool, because it’s easier initially to hook the ball. (The first two-hander he coached, Wesley Low, became, at 15, the youngest regional PBA Tour winner in history.) Far from being a “cancer to an already diseased sport,” Baker thinks the opposite may be true: “I think the two-hander may have well saved the sport,” he says, “because it brought in so many more players.”

At the dawn of the millennium, the PBA Tour had faced bankruptcy, the sport itself becoming shorthand for the crack-up of American society thanks to Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone. But there are now reasons for optimism beyond the junior ranks. Bowlero purchased the tour in 2019, went public on the New York Stock Exchange two years later, and has increased prize purses slightly. And according to the PBA, ratings on Fox Sports are up 20 percent this year compared to last.

Still, Belmonte has never achieved mainstream recognition. His career earnings on the PBA Tour total just over $2.5 million—respectable, yes, but less than Jon Rahm collected for winning the Masters earlier this year, and only about a fifth of the career total of Ronnie O’Sullivan, history’s most successful snooker player. Belmonte’s celebrity is situational: He can order his doppio with sugar at Starbucks incognito, but when he enters a Bowlero, he may as well be Chris Evans at Comic Con.

Even as he’s assumed the role of elder statesman, Belmonte remains a polarizing figure on tour. “It’s love-hate,” says E.J. Tackett, one of his main rivals, who falls into the former category. “It’s either, I get along with him perfect. Or, I absolutely despise him. There’s not much middle ground.” In 2011, Sean Rash, one of the top bowlers on tour, charged that Belmonte was crinkling his plastic water bottle as a distraction during his approach (Rash’s outburst will be forever enshrined in bowling lore: “Take that you bottle bitch!”) Belmonte maintains there was no malicious intent, but the fall out endures.

Once obsessed with converting the haters, Belmonte has concluded it’s a Sisyphean task. “That has changed my mental health on tour,” he says. “You do realize there are a lot of people in your corner. It’s been very lonely, but when you actually stop and pause, you realize there’s an abundance of love there.”

Spending nearly half the year away from his family—that remains a challenge. “Week one and two, I’m mentally fresh,” Belmonte says. “Week three, someone falls and has a sore knee: I wish I could give you a hug. And the stories turn into, You know, dad, I had a fight at school with someone, one of my friends, and you’re just away. It just builds and builds and builds. And you feel incredibly alone. Coming to the last few weeks, it’s a very heavy and emotional time. Because you’re like, Hang in there, you’re almost home. And so you’re battling these demons.”

The Man Who Broke Bowling

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