Levitt Is Ready for the Senior Tour

Steve Levitt has made no secret of his desire to become a good-enough golfer to someday play the Champions Tour, for players 50 and older. 

After watching his amazing performance last week, I now believe Levitt does stand a chance of landing on a senior professional tour. But not in golf.

I was out in Chicago for a couple of days to work with Levitt. After a long day, we went out for dinner at a place called Seven Ten. It has food, beer, and bowling alleys — just a couple of them and nothing fancy. Old-school bowling.

After the meal, I tried to get Levitt to bowl a game or two. He wasn’t interested. Said he was worried about hurting his golf swing. (Puh-leeze.) He said he’d watch me bowl. I can’t think of anything less fun than bowling alone except having someone sit and watch you bowl alone. So I lied and told him that bowling would probably be good for his golf swing — the heavy ball could loosen up his joints, yada-yada, etc. 

He finally agreed when I suggested the loser pay for dinner.

He somehow found a 10-pound ball that fit his fingers and in his first practice frame he rolled it as if it were a duckpin ball. It missed everything. I was feeling pretty good about the bet. Out of friendship, I suggested he try a heavier ball. He moved up to a 12-pounder. And then he proceeded to bowl a 158, which he told me was about 30 pins above his average. He won.

There was nothing impressive about his form: even though he’s a righty, he delivered from left to right and he put no movement on the ball. But he knocked the pins down.

So of course I suggested we bowl a second game. He said he wasn’t interested but, again, he came around.

He opened with a spare and then a turkey — three strikes in a row. Amazing! Then two open frames. His luck had seemingly run out. But it hadn’t: he now rolled four more consecutive strikes. It is hard to describe how unlikely this seemed, and was. He wound up with a 222. A 222! I took bowling as a P.E. requirement in college, and my career high is only 184.

When we got back to his house, Levitt looked up the current top PBA bowlers: a 222 average would put you firmly in the top 20. And he bowled his 222 cross-lane, with a 12-pound ball, after a big dinner, a beer, and a day of work.

My best explanation is that Levitt’s maniacal devotion to golf, especially his thousands of hours of short-game practice, may have unwittingly turned him into a bowling dynamo. Either that, or he was lying about his existing average and he simply sandbagged me into buying dinner.

In either case, it was a pretty impressive feat. Unfortunately, his appearance on the PBA’s Senior Tour is unlikely: wanting to go out on top, he has vowed never to bowl again.

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  1. Shane L says:

    I am reminded of Bruce Willis’s character, David Dunn, in the movie Unbreakable. There is a great scene where Dunn is beginning to come to terms with the fact that he is exceptionally strong. Weight-lifting at home, he and his son keep piling on ever-greater weights to see how much he can carry. It’s a kind of turning point as Dunn’s superpowers are gradually revealed, and Dunn finds that when he tries, he is inexplicably powerful and able to carry insane weights.

    So that’s what we’re seeing now! This isn’t about golf, Steve Levitt is a SUPERHERO :-O

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  2. Andrew says:

    I believe that PBA lanes are very different than how they oil lanes at typical bowling alleys. I don’t think you can compare directly a 222 to a PBA 222.

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    • Ian M says:

      Bowling lanes are oiled? Who knew?

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      • DaveyNC says:

        Bowlers. I believe that the newer pro balls also have glass and other abrasives embedded in them to make them bite harder and get a better break on the pins. The PBA had to regulate that particular feature.

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    • nil says:

      Yep, it is all about the oil patterns. Most neighborhood alleys oil their lanes to funnel the ball toward the pocket which the PBA uses an assortment of far more difficult patterns to challenge the pros. The pros would all bowl 275-300 game constantly on a regular lane if they didn’t have the difficultly of adjusting to the various PBA sanctioned oil patterns (http://www.pba.com/OilPatterns/).

      So the difference between a PBA 222 game and a casual bowling 222 game is like the difference between a golfer shooting a 79 teeing off from the white tee on an average municipal course and a PGA golfer shooting a 79 at Augusta or Pebble Beach while hitting from pro tees and aiming at pin placements that are designed to challenge them.

      I guess the Freakonomic viewpoint would be around the economic incentives that neighborhood bowling alleys have to create high scoring conditions that they believe will encourage patrons to come back more frequently, or at least possibly have an extra beer to celebrate their good score. I don’t golf much, but do golf courses have similar incentives to set up easy pin placements or make fairways wider, lower the height of the rough, or make sand traps more forgiving to lower scores and make their casual players happier?

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  3. Max says:

    Much of golf is repetition. I hardly bowl, but I would say a lot of bowling is repetition as well. This ability to repeat the same swing is what I would attribute to Levitt’s success in the bowling alley. I would think the transition from bowling to golf would be much harder though.

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