Tom Klepac bowled his first perfect game in September 1980 when his hair was as thick, dark and as round as the 16-pound ball he used to knock down those 300 pins.
Hair is clipped a little closer these days and Klepac's once dark mane is peppered with gray. But the pins are still falling for him at West Park Bowl in Columbia.
The 62-year-old soft drink salesman bowled 300 games Nos. 49 and 50 on his home lanes June 20. That’s 24 throws, 24 strikes, 240 pins and the sport’s best possible score times two.
"You think to yourself about what you've done and, as you get a little bit older, you wonder if you lose some of that skill or ability," Klepac said. "But you set goals for yourself and I was really happy when I bowled my 40th 300 game.
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"I was sending out texts and leaving messages that I was on No. 49. An hour later I was telling everybody I got to 50."
Hair styles aren't the only things that have changed in the nearly 38 years between Klepac's first and 50th perfect game.
Some veterans of the sport, Klepac among them, will tell you that a 300 score isn't exactly what it used to be. Technology has produced livelier pins, more consistent lane conditions and bowling balls that get better grip on the oily wood alleys.
Klepac averaged slightly more than one perfect game each year for more than three decades before getting to 40 for his bowling career. He's averaged two-and-a-half during the last four years to reach 50.
"That should tell you something. I'm not saying the game is easier, but there is more opportunity for good bowlers to score higher," he said. ""It's like golf. You can hit the ball 350 yards off the tee, but if you don't know what to do with the lie what's the point?
"Technology has touched bowling the same way it has golf, but the bowler still has to find the pocket. I've got 50 300 games, but I've never hit a hole-in-one."
According to the U.S. Bowling Congress, the record for most sanctioned 300 games in a career is 200 by Andrew Neuer, of Lewisburg, Pa.
Klepac rolled his latest two perfect games in a Monday night trio league at West Park Bowl. Instead of teams of four bowling three games, teams of three bowl four.
For sake of the record books, the United States Bowling Congress sanctions only the first three games of the series. Had the final three counted, Klepac would also have notched his 17th 800 series, too. As it is, he says he hasn't managed to pair any two of his 50 300s into the same series.
Aggregated across three winter leagues, Klepac completed a 227 average. His best season, he said, was in the early 1990s when he averaged 233 through 35 weeks. Through four events this season, Norm Duke leads the Pro Bowlers Association with a 227.98 average.
Has Klepac ever thought of taking his game to the PBA?
"I used to get asked that question a lot," he said. "I like to bass fish, and I've participated in a few bass tournaments. But I think when you have the deadline of weigh-ins or trying to do something to earn your income, it changes the dimension of the game. I may not enjoy bowling as much as a job."
Klepac says the attention he gets for reaching his milestones also draws some good-natured flak from long-time friends at the area's alleys. He's serious, though, when he says he couldn't have reached those bowling benchmarks without them.
Namely, Klepac credits his wife, Patti, a retired sales manager from the Belleville News-Democrat, and his daughter, Kelli, for supporting a passion they don't necessarily share.
Long-time teammates and chief chops-busters Boyd Ahlers and Todd Badgley also warranted a shout out from the Columbia kegler.
“I appreciate all the people that have helped me reach this personal goal — a tolerant spouse and daughter, all teammates that have coached me from time to time, Mike Harrington for drilling all of my bowling balls," he said. "Most of all, I appreciate the continued encouragement I have received from my two biggest fans, Boyd Ahlers and Todd Badgley.”
Record 300 games
- First: Canadian Frank Young, 1881 in Hamilton, Ont.
- First in U.S.: George Wadleigh, January 1890 in Jersey City, N.J.
- Most Career:200 by Andrew Neuer, of Lewisburg, Pa.
- Most Career by a Female: 49 by Altramese Webb, of Detroit.
- Youngest Ever: Hannah Diem, 9 years, 6 months, 19 days, November 2013, in Seminole, Fla.
- Youngest Male: Chaz Dennis, 10 years, 2 months Dec. 2006, in Columbus, Ohio.
- Youngest on Professional Tour: Pete Weber, 15, 1978 in St. Louis.
- Oldest Ever: Name withheld by request, 90 years, 9 months, 13 days, August 2012 in Fullerton, Calif.
- Oldest Female: Ollie Harbin, 81 years, July 2009 in Overland Park, Kan.
- Longest between first and second: Joe Norris, of San Diego, 1927 and 1994 (67 years).
- Most in One Day: 4 by Troy Ockerman, December 1993 in Owosso, Mich.
- With Lowest Series: 476 (89, 87, 300) by Reed Townley, January 1989 in Gadsen, Ala.
- First by Ambidextrous Male: Neil Bayes, December 1963 (right-handed) and June 1970 (left-handed), both in St. Louis.
- First by Ambidextrous Female: Lesley Boczar, May 1997 (right-handed) and July 2003 (left-handed), both in Sunrise, Fla.