by Fred Eisenhammer
So said ace bowler Troy Gibson about Matt Jones, who has generated considerable buzz because of his distinctive two-handed style. Jones, a 29-year-old Winnetka resident, is one of the area’s elite bowlers with a prolific 235 average. But what really separates Jones from his peers is his head-turning bowling style.
Said top woman bowler Alyse McCown: “The way he throws the ball, you think he’s joking. And then you see him shoot 250 and 300 and you know he’s not joking. I’m just in awe of the way he throws the ball.”
The bowling world has been getting a lot of attention these days because of the increasing number of two-handed bowlers, who all seem clones of pro superstar Jason Belmonte. But Jones is no clone of Belmonte.
Unlike Belmonte who tosses the ball from the side, Jones flings from his chest. He’s been doing it since he was 2 – decades before anyone knew who Jason Belmonte was.
“When you’re 2, you can’t swing the ball so I just started shoveling it,” Jones said. He’s stayed with it and the results have been nothing less than spectacular – and a spectacle to behold.
Jones’ first 300 came when he was 16 in 2003. Three weeks later, Jones rolled another 300. He now has 24 sanctioned perfect games and 13 800 series and is well on his way to collecting many more. One of his biggest highlights came when he crushed an 847 series (268-300-279) at a tournament in 2004 at AMF Carter Lanes in Fullerton.
He recently competed in his first Professional Bowlers Assn. regional, which took place last month in Las Vegas. He narrowly missed the cut in the singles competition, but he and teammate Shawn Tamjidi of Newport Beach reached match play in doubles. Jones and Tamjidi were ousted in the first round, but they still walked away with $600 each.
Asked to describe his release, the affable Jones simply called it “unorthodox.” Pressed to elaborate, Jones says his style is “like a two-handed shove pass from the chest.”
McCown, who’s known Jones for almost 20 years, said she’s never seen anyone bowl the way Jones does. “And I’ve bowled a lot of tournaments – and a lot of them are out of state. Matt’s just amazing,” McCown said. That seems to be the feeling among Jones’ colleagues.
Siena Cawelti, who has bowled with Jones on a league championship team, said “the first time I saw him, I thought he was going to fall. He just blows me away. And he’s very down to earth and a very nice guy.”
For the record, Jones says he’s fallen only once – and that was more than a decade ago when he slipped on some powder on his approach.
Jones works hard at his game and has earned the respect of his bowling colleagues, who frequently coax him into subbing on their league bowling teams.
But Jones is well aware that two-handed bowlers have their detractors. PBA Hall-of-Famer Brian Voss stirred up the pot last month when called for the elimination of two handed bowling. Voss said two-handed bowlers gain an unfair advantage because they can create more revs, more power and, as a result, more pin action.
It was a not-so-subtle swipe at Belmonte, a three-time PBA player of the year. Belmonte reacted quickly to the criticism on his Facebook page: “There is no intended or proper way to bowl the ball, there are just different ways to do it while staying behind the foul line,” Belmonte wrote.
“Consider bowling a ball similar to the high jump and how Dick Fosbury changed that sport. Was jumping over the bar backwards normal? No, but the object of the high jump is how high you jump, not how you jump. Bowling is about how many pins you knock over, not how you do it. There are no extra points in bowling for correct and proper technique. It’s just who knocked over the most pins.”
Jones, not coincidentally a friend of Belmonte’s, is sensitive to some of that critical talk. “What gets me going is that people feel that if you’re a two-handed bowler, you’re an automatic 230 bowler,” Jones said.
“You still have to put in the work and put in the practice and repeat shots and it’s not easy. It gets me going when people have bad things to say. Don’t disrespect my game and the work I put in to get to where my game is.”
And he added: “To me, it doesn’t matter how you bowl. The whole point of the game is to repeat shots. I don’t care if you kick it with your big toe. As long as you knock down 10 pins, then you’re doing pretty well.”
Jones, who sometimes bowls left-handed, acknowledges that he’s “really competitive – really at everything, even flipping a coin. Whenever I get involved, I put in a lot of work.”
To that end, Jones utilizes the coaching of Mark Baker, the manager of the two-time defending-champion Silver Lake (Calif.) Atom Splitters in the PBA League.
Jones said Baker “took me to the point of being a 210 bowler on a house pattern to where I’m at 235.” Asked about his goals, Jones said he would like to win a PBA regional championship. He also hopes to make a splash in the PBA World Championship, which will be contested in November in Reno, Nev.
In the meantime, Jones will continue to try to improve his two-handed marksmanship. He knows he’ll continue to hear chatter. “I’ve heard everything,” said Jones, adding that the most repeated comment is that he resembles a video-game street fighter who throws a fireball from his chest.
“I’ve been hearing things positive or negative since I was 7. If I hear something new, I’ll give them credit,” Jones said with a laugh.