Meet the Gen Z Hothead Burning Up Professional Bowling (from Rolling Stone Journal)

As bowling pushes nearer to cultural
relevance, 27-year-old Anthony Simonsen’s dynamic character and
record-shattering expertise are tailored for him to take the PBA to the following
degree and develop into its new face — whether or not he likes it or not. 

{Photograph} by Mikayla

JAN 19, 2024
9:01 AM

 “Simo’s on this?”

Pfft. Fuck.”

It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday in late July, and it’s 114 levels outdoors. I’m quarter-hour off the Las Vegas Strip at South Level On line casino, eavesdropping as I comply with two twentysomethings up an escalator — I’m right here to satisfy the man they’re fearful of.

South Level is what you’d name outdated Vegas. There are not any superstar cooks or pop-star residencies right here, the blackjack odds are higher than they’re on the Strip, the buffet line is lengthy, and the ornate pink and gold carpet will make you dizzy for those who take a look at it for longer than a second.

Up the escalator, previous the seniors choking down cigarettes within the hallway outdoors of the cavernous bingo corridor is the South Level Bowling Plaza, a 60-lane middle with stadium seating and a wall of large scoreboards. The Plaza routinely hosts Skilled Bowlers Affiliation and Skilled Girls’s Bowlers Affiliation title occasions.

The PBA schedule winds down over the summer season although, so at this time shouldn’t be a type of days. At present’s match is the Vegas Valley Open Staff Problem hosted by the Novice Bowling Tour, and tucked away on the far finish of the middle on lane 54, Anthony Simonson is Steph Curry in a slide sole pulling as much as a pickup run on the park, asking who’s bought subsequent. “That is just like the fourth time I’ve bowled in two months,” he says with a smirk. “You want Korean barbeque? I’ve bought a fantastic spot.”

Simonsen, a.okay.a. Simo, is a 27-year-old highschool dropout and, relying on who you ask, presently one of the best bowler alive. Raised in Mesquite, Texas, and now residing right here in Vegas, Simonsen is coming off some of the profitable years in PBA Tour historical past, the primary bowler ever to complete within the prime 10 in each match and crack the highest 4 in each main. Simonsen took house three match wins in 2023, together with a back-to-back victory on the Masters, certainly one of bowling’s 5 annual main tournaments, outdoors Detroit, culminating in a viral celebration that noticed Simonsen flex a pair of Buffs — Cartier Buffalo Horn sun shades, the holy grail of Motor Metropolis vogue — on dwell TV. The $100,000 Masters title added to Simonsen’s seven-figure PBA winnings complete, and made him the youngest bowler ever to win one, two, three, 4, and now 5 majors.

The PBA’s most polarizing professional, Simonsen has a well-deserved fame as a hothead. Along with his accomplishments this season, Simonsen additionally led the tour in fines, a distinction he’s held for the previous few years. Over his profession, Simonsen has punched himself within the head midgame; separated scoring computer systems from their stanchions; kicked ball returns; been turned in to match officers by associates on tour for slamming balls on the return, swearing, and customarily “appearing like an asshole”; instructed Fox producers that in the event that they wished him to cease cussing on dwell TV they need to take his mic off; and routinely complained in regards to the high quality of bowling-center tools and the competitors format.

As bowling pushes nearer to its subsequent excessive level on the curler coaster of cultural relevance, with a 15 % bump in PBA TV scores this yr, ink drying on a two-year extension with Fox, a brand new trading-card deal, a rising parasocial presence on-line, and wait lists for social and aggressive leagues throughout the nation, Simonsen’s mixture of brash perspective, youth, and dynamic character constructed from equal elements depth and apathy, paired along with his record-shattering expertise and explosive creativity is tailored to take professional bowling to the following degree. Love him or hate him — and there’s loads of hate, simply examine the remark sections — Simonsen is the brand new face of the PBA whether or not he likes it or not.

SIMONSEN WASN’T PLANNING on bowling at this time, by no means thoughts in an novice match, however his associates Ari, Jessica, and JP want a fourth for his or her squad, so right here he’s, ready till the final 5 minutes of apply to alter out of his Air Max 97s into his Dexters and throw a few apply pictures to check the lanes. They’re hooking greater than he anticipated, however a fast swap to a ball known as Pitch Black provides him extra management.

By the tip of the primary recreation, Simonsen has discovered his strike shot, placed on a large, toothy grin for a minimum of 10 photographs with followers, and irritated a minimum of a number of bowlers, certainly one of whom walked over to see what the fuss was about, noticed Simonsen, and threw up his arms in exasperated frustration, his physique language saying all of it: “If he’s right here, why hassle?” Simonsen is used to it. He’s been getting that response for so long as he can keep in mind.

When Simonsen was six, his dad, Benjamin, heard a few charity bowling evening hosted by an area Dallas sports-radio station and reached out to the organizers, placing his son up as a challenger towards DJ Dan McDowell within the remaining match. Simonsen beat the shock jock so badly that on the subsequent yr’s charity occasion, McDowell changed the first-grader with a blind lady. “I wanted to win one,” McDowell later stated on air.

Simonsen’s mother and father labored an excessive amount of and by no means made sufficient cash. Benjamin offered diesel elements, and Simonsen’s mom, Teresa, labored at a grocery retailer. If Simonsen wasn’t in class, the bowling middle performed babysitter. Lifelong league bowlers, Teresa and Benjamin spent most nights on the bowling alley, both on the lanes or on the bar.

“It turned, ‘We’re within the bar, he’s bowling, everybody within the bowling middle is aware of if we’d like one thing right here’s the place we’re, and if we’d like him that’s the place he’s,’” Simonsen says.

Between Jupiter Lanes, Plano Tremendous Bowl, and Rowlett Bowl-a-Rama, Simonsen clocked extra hours on the lanes as a child in East Dallas than he did at college or house. He jokes that he was fired from his first job, restocking rental sneakers, on the age of 5 as a result of he bought in hassle along with his kindergarten trainer. Simonsen’s mother and father have been already struggling to self-discipline him at house, so like with all the things else of their lives, they turned to the bowling middle for assist.

Throughout the summers, Teresa would drop elementary-aged Simonsen at Jupiter Lanes on her method to work, after which cease by after her shift for Miller Lites and too many cigarettes. Simonsen’s brother Bobby, 10 years his senior, Teresa’s son from a earlier relationship, and a gifted aggressive bowler in his personal proper, slowed and finally stopped bowling as he developed a years-long battle with opioid dependancy.

Simonsen’s childhood was spent operating across the facilities, hanging out behind the counters and annoying older bowlers. He would arrange store one lane over from the home locals, match bowlers 20 years his senior who spent their nights bowling pot video games for money, and apply nonstop, catching rides house at two or three within the morning when the older guys have been too drained to throw or ran out of cash.

By 12, Simonsen was coming into tournaments towards bowlers on the nation’s greatest school groups, together with Wichita State — the Duke basketball of faculty bowling. Two-time PBA-major winner Kris Prather, then a bowler at Wichita, remembers it clearly.

“We’re bowling with different school guys, and I’m bowling subsequent to this child who’s bowling two-handed — he was one of many first two-handers I noticed,” Prather tells me. “He’s putting like each single shot and strolling round like he owns the constructing. I want I had that sort of confidence once I was that age.”

At 15, 5 months into his freshman yr, Simonsen dropped out of highschool. Nicely, he by no means formally dropped out — in Texas, you must be 17 with a mother or father’s signature to try this — he simply stopped displaying up.

“There’d be days we’re driving to highschool, the gasoline gauge is damaged, and it’s, ‘Nicely, we put 5 bucks in yesterday, however then we drove round some,’ so I don’t know if they will drive me there after which decide me up later,” Simonsen says.

Plano Tremendous Bowl was once open 24 hours, seven days every week, and by his sixteenth birthday, Simonsen was working the 9 p.m.-3 a.m. shift, studying methods to repair each inch of the middle and sleeping on couches at associates’ homes or in visitor rooms on the homes of older bowlers. He nonetheless stopped house a number of instances every week, however he wasn’t residing there anymore. He gave up his novice standing and moved as much as grownup competitors at 16, bowling in as many tournaments as he may, his entrance charges staked by the identical bowlers he’d grown up working towards subsequent to — for a share of the winnings in return, in fact.

Simonsen’s mother and father cut up for good when he was a teen. Teresa moved in together with her mom, and Benjamin was laid off, failed to seek out one other job, and fell into what Simonsen describes as a deep, lasting melancholy. When his dad was evicted from their household house, Simonsen moved him into an residence and began paying his lease with match winnings. Simonsen continued to help Benjamin financially till his demise in 2021.

Driving his dad’s truck and not using a license, Simonsen began racking up tickets when he was 15. “If there was a bowling match inside seven hours, I used to be bowling the match, there’s no query about it. I gotta work out methods to get to the tournaments or else I’m not gonna make any cash.” Finally, he began utilizing his bowling winnings to purchase low-cost used vehicles. After a disagreement over his fixed journey and odd hours with a supervisor at Plano, Simonsen took a warehouse job stocking cabinets and filling orders at Traditional Merchandise, a nationwide bowling distributor.

In 2015, shortly after Simonsen’s 18th birthday, his mom handed away unexpectedly. “I believe she labored herself to demise,” Simonsen says, after which, with out flinching, “I get my work ethic from her.”

In December of that very same yr, Simonsen gained his first PBA Tour title, lacking Norm Duke’s report for youngest title winner by two days due to a months-long delay between the occasion’s qualifying spherical and finals. The subsequent yr, at 19 years outdated, Simonsen gained the 2016 Masters, taking house a large novelty examine for $50,000, one other five-figure incentive examine from his ball sponsor, Roto Grip, and a spot within the report books because the youngest major-title winner in PBA historical past. He bought his first driver’s license shortly after.

“Bowling is what I’ve bought. It’s what I do know,” Simonsen says. “If I didn’t have bowling or the bowling trade, I don’t know the place I’d be.”

Two-handers are recognized for
their energy, however Simonsen has discovered success with finesse.

SIMONSEN HAS ALWAYS BOWLED with two fingers. Two-handers are typically recognized for his or her energy, however Simonsen has discovered success with finesse. He assaults the lanes with extra versatility and guts than anybody on tour, throwing straight up the best facet of the gutter one recreation, and lofting it over the left gutter cap with a boomerang hook the following, tricking the ball like a Cy Younger winner, taking gambles with tools and lane play that will by no means even happen to most experts.

Listed on-line at a beneficiant 5 toes 9, with a stocky construct and a child face hidden behind a bushy beard that provides a number of years, Simonsen’s five-step strategy to the foul line drifts barely to the left. On the third step, he does a fast shrug, cocking his forearms like a shotgun as his higher physique drops close to parallel with the lane. His fourth step crops with energy because the ball swings behind him. His fifth step slides to the foul line as his coiled physique springs ahead, uncorking like a jack-in-the-box because the ball explodes out of his fingers.

PBA Commissioner Tom Clark describes Simonsen as a “genius” and not using a single weak spot in his recreation, apart from his famously brief fuse. With regards to enjoying the lanes, although, Simonsen’s creativity, bag of methods, and talent to adapt aren’t simply unmatched, they’re downright outlandish. When he was 21, Simonsen gained the primary PBA title utilizing a backup ball — that’s, bowling a reverse hook to roll the ball clockwise on the left facet of the lane as an alternative of his pure counterclockwise from the best. He bowled backward. Within the championship recreation, Simonsen defeated lefty Matt Sanders 216-194 on his personal facet of the lane.

Oh, yeah, and due to a drunk prank the evening earlier than by Kyle Troup, a 10-time PBA title winner well-known for his Bob Ross-like Afro, Simonsen was with out his personal gear and bowled the second half of the match, together with the title match, in a pair of borrowed sneakers two sizes too large. “He does issues that different folks do after they’re goofing off to win [PBA] occasions,” Clark says.

In an period {of professional} sports activities outlined by helicopter mother and father, pressured specialization, and personal coaches for preteens, Simonsen’s self-taught savant — and the daring creativeness that comes with it — is a breath of contemporary air.

ON THE WAY OUT of the shock journey to South Level, Simonsen stops for 2 extra photographs, joking with a thirtysomething bowler decked out in full Raiders gear who freaks out and fumbles his phrases in entrance of his girlfriend as quickly as he sees Simonsen.

Simonsen moved to Vegas in 2020 for a chance to personal and function the bowling alley within a video-game-themed bar on Fremont Road known as the Nerd. Flying house between tour stops, he spent the previous three years rehabbing and fixing the lanes and operating the middle. Earlier this yr, Simonsen offered his portion of the Nerd due to a conflict of personalities along with his enterprise companion.

The departure gave him extra time to work at Traditional’s West Coast warehouse in Henderson, Nevada. Working the identical job he had when he was 17, Simonsen clocks in at $15 an hour to unload skids of bowling balls, redesign shelving models, and assist construct absolutely practical pin decks and lane machines contained in the warehouse. Technically, Simonsen has been employed by Traditional for the higher a part of a decade. When he put in his two-weeks discover at Traditional’s Texas warehouse in 2015 to affix the PBA Tour full time, nationwide gross sales supervisor Jimmy Land, a Dallas native who, alongside along with his spouse Jan, has recognized and cared for Simonsen “since he was knee excessive to a grasshopper,” by no means took him off the payroll. Simonsen’s bowling household has at all times been there.

A variety of PBA professionals have began spending extra time within the gymnasium currently, rejecting the beer-and-bratwurst picture of professional bowling’s previous and treating their athletic careers like, nicely, athletic careers. However Simonsen will get his power coaching in on the warehouse, shifting pallets of bowling balls. His deep data of bowling tools, discovered over years working at Plano, Traditional, and the Nerd, at instances contributes to his frustration on the lanes. Skilled tournaments performed in the identical facilities that host limitless Wednesday specials only a few days earlier typically lead to off-center racks and clogged hand driers. Simonsen is usually the primary and loudest individual to name out PBA officers. “When he does complain, I at all times say we have to take heed to him as a result of he’s normally proper, I’ll admit that,” Clark says. “The time and place he goes about expressing it may not at all times be one of the best, however he’s normally not mistaken.”

Like John McEnroe, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and professional bowling’s most well-known face, Pete Weber, Simonsen’s mood and the depth that it takes to win are two sides of the identical coin. “There are occasions the place as a result of I’ve bought a little bit heated I’ll bowl higher, I’m extra targeted on what I’m doing,” Simonsen says. The PBA has been on an upswing currently, however the tour nonetheless has a protracted method to go to even sniff the cash at stake in sports activities like golf and tennis. At this level, pro-bowling stadiums are nonetheless a pipe dream. With the Nerd out of his fingers, Simonsen wanted a brand new place to apply in Vegas. South Level is the favored alternative for native PBA and regional professionals, however Simonsen has discovered a house on the Compound.


Twenty minutes off the Strip, previous the sun-soaked strip malls and the empty gravel tons that may finally develop into strip malls, the Compound is a mansion owned by skilled poker participant Chris “Huni” Hunichen. The property has a house gymnasium and indoor basketball courtroom, indoor pool, out of doors pool full with grotto, and a separate coated sizzling tub, and that’s all earlier than you get in the home. Inside, previous the house theater, the place we cease for 5 minutes and watch Hunichen lose $42,000 playing on an early-morning UFC battle dwell in London, subsequent to the kitchen and behind the large fish tank are a pair of bowling lanes. Simonsen and Hunichen have develop into quick associates since his Vegas transfer, and after Simonsen offered his portion of the Nerd, Hunichen urged he begin working towards right here.

We bowl a few video games, Simonsen kindly humoring my futile but insatiable need to check my expertise towards one of the best. He beats the brakes off me, bowling over 240 rolling his pink spare ball backup on the left facet of the lane. The show is equal elements humiliating and awe-inspiring. On the best way out, one other UFC battle is ending up, so we sit for a second and watch Hunichen win again all 42 grand plus extra.

After we discuss Simonsen’s childhood and teenage years, he speaks about his mother and father with reverence and understanding. Life is tough and so they tried their greatest, even when their greatest didn’t at all times reduce it. Simonsen has by no means lacked for chosen household although; he drives his girlfriend Morgan to work each morning, and so they lately despatched their canine Snoop to a coach to repair his behavioral points. And he nonetheless repeatedly sees the faces that helped increase him in Dallas bowling facilities. Land and his spouse nonetheless run issues at Traditional, and so they go to the Henderson warehouse usually. Simonsen’s brother Bobby has been clear for years, he’s again bowling significantly, and they’re one another’s largest followers. They speak usually, and Bobby boasts a photorealistic tattoo of Simonsen elevating his PBA Finals trophy on his leg, with the phrases “Bowl to Kill” written on his arm as a tribute to his brother. “I’ve lastly began to slowly transition out of survival mode,” Simonsen tells me. “To, I don’t need to say discover extra enjoyment in life, however to know ‘Cool, I’ll be all proper,’ and now I would really sit down and attempt to set some targets — like shit to look ahead to, as a result of earlier than it was simply day-to-day. I believe I had simply been caught in that mindset.”

On the drive again to the Strip from the Compound, I ask Simonsen if he has any targets for the 2024 PBA season. He thinks about it for a second. “Not likely,” he admits. He doesn’t care about Participant of the 12 months, he simply needs to win extra. I ask about long-term plans. “The Corridor of Fame,” however he is aware of the résumé is already there, so now he simply wants the 20 years on tour to be eligible, and that ought to are available in due time. Hell, he’s already developing on 10 years in, and he’s solely 27. Apart from that? “Simply preserve putting.”

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