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December 18, 2014

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Ron Kantowski talks with Wendy Macpherson of Henderson, who just outbowled everybody in the country

Wendy Macpherson was sitting in an office at the Sam's Town Bowling Center last week when she received a phone call from Corpus Christi, Texas, informing her that the 812 series she had rolled just days before had held up as the winning score at the United States Bowling Congress Open.

This was big news. It was the 103rd time that they had set 'em and knocked 'em down at the Open, a tournament so large that it takes five months to complete. The USBC Championships began on Feb. 11 with 63,000 bowlers. When it ended on July 3, Macpherson, who has made her home in Henderson since 1991, was the only one standing.

Oh, one more thing about those 63,000 pretenders to the title. Most were men. Macpherson is the first woman in 103 years to win the open title.

Take that, Danica Patrick. Eat your heart out, Michelle Wie. Macpherson's victory was more remarkable than Bill Murray's comb-over in "Kingpin," and that's saying something.

"Unbelievable," Macpherson, 38, said Tuesday at her home "office" at Sunset Lanes as old friends and casual acquaintances congratulated her.

The magnificence of her performance can be summed up by three numerals:

812.

That's an outrageous total for a three-game series, even for somebody who has been bowling for dollars since 1986.

"I'm a 600, 620, 650 player," Macpherson said. "I bowl my average. Nothing more."

Yeah, right.

Macpherson started with a 248 game. That got her in the hunt. Still, this wasn't the Tuesday night Quarry League at Bedrock Bowl; she knew she would have to do better.

So she did. She rolled a 300.

That's right. A 300. A Don Larsen. A perfect game. Twelve strikes in a row.

Forget about being in the hunt. Macpherson was now well on her way to the brush to pick up the pheasant.

"Now I've got a 300. I'm shaking. I'm excited," she said. "And then I'm thinking, 'Oh gosh, I've still got another game to bowl.'

"Now I'm worrying about putting one foot in front of the other."

She felt like a Weeble. Or like that stubborn 7-pin in the eighth frame of her final game that wobbled but wouldn't fall down.

But by then she had already rolled seven more strikes in succession and was flirting with yet another 300.

She finished with 264. As it turned out, she almost needed that 7-pin. Runner-up Norm Titus of Columbia, Tenn., had previously put an 811 - one pin shy of Macpherson's total - on top of the score sheet.

Beating all those wannabe Earl Anthonys to capture one of the most prestigious titles in bowling (and a relatively modest $5,000 first prize from the $4.3 million purse) is one thing. Doing it with a heart as heavy as a 16-pound Hammer bowling ball is another.

A week before Macpherson went to Texas to bowl the three games of her life, her father died. Christian Macpherson had moved to Southern Nevada in 2006 to be close to his daughters Wendy and Blair. When he became ill in March, he moved in with Wendy and Nick Papanos, her husband of 17 years.

Before the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour capitulated in 2003, Wendy Macpherson might have been the most bubbly, optimistic person making her living on it. But the person I talked to Tuesday was neither bubbly nor optimistic.

"It's been tough," she said. "I'm parentless. I find that hard. My mother (Elizabeth) died in 1992. I felt cheated. She should have been older. I felt cheated that my father should have been older."

In 17 years on tour, Macpherson won 20 titles and was its all-time money winner with $1,238,960. But she has pretty much been on an emotional roller-coaster since the tour folded, leaving her without a steady source of income.

"I was rockin' and rollin' and wasn't ready to retire at 35," she said.

She was able to sock away some of her winnings, which she supplements by giving lessons and taking the occasional odd job, such as working the desk at Sunset Lanes, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

But then her dad got sick and she stopped giving lessons. Her heart just wasn't in it. And now she's wondering if bowling will even be part of her future. She talks about going back to school and changing careers, perhaps to study forensics, which fascinates her.

"It's sad," Macpherson said with a thin smile. "My (background) is 100 percent in bowling, but I am interested in a new career or a new field. But I'm old and I don't know if I have enough time to go back to school."

But by winning perhaps the biggest tournament of her life she proved she still has what it takes if she finds going back to school is not up her alley.

"I sit here and talk like this now," Macpherson said. "But if I get going and bowl a tournament and my heart beats a certain way, and the excitement and the competition and all that's involved, it really rejuvenates me.

"It almost makes me want to get going and do it all over again."

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