Another Interview with the first ever back to back Masters Tournament Division Men's Singles National Champion, Aaron Arndt. Conducted by Tim Wiseman.
Tim: Tell us a bit how your bowling career got started.
Aaron: When I was younger, my parents put me in basically every sport I showed interest in. Bowling was one of the first ones. Both my mom and dad were bowling league at Mountain View in Calgary at the time, and they enrolled me in the YBC program, and the rest is history.
Tim: Aaron, many don’t realize, but in your Youth career, you were a relatively late bloomer. What turned your game around in your last year or two of YBC?
Aaron: I was a bit of a late bloomer for sure. I didn’t have an average over 200 until my first year of YBC Seniors. One of the things that turned it around was actually getting taller. I was 5’0 until the end of grade 9, then grew to nearly 6 feet in one summer. It took some adjustment, but the next year my average shot up almost 30 pins, and I started feeling more confident at the tournaments. What really started to push me was losing the Four Steps team event in Calgary my second last year. We ended up losing to Toppler by 46 pins, which was a hard loss, but it pushed me to strengthen the competitive side of my game.
Tim: Looking back, what are some of your YBC Highlights?
Aaron: One of my highlights was winning Calgary and Alberta for the Youth Challenge in my last year. Also winning singles for 4 steps the same year for Calgary was definitely a highlight. Representing my province at Nationals for the first time was an exciting experience, and although we came back with a silver, it is still one of my favourite nationals, and nearly everybody from the Alberta team that year is still bowling competitively, which is a testament to how strong our team was that year.
Tim: There were many youth Calgary players about your age who have gone on to success in the adult ranks. Who were some of your rivals back then, and how much do you think it helps having lots of competition growing up?
Aaron: Brad Wilton and David Sanderson were definitely rivals back then, and both turned into my mentors when I entered the adult ranks. They were a year ahead of me in YBC, and they made it really easy to transition into the next level my first few years out of youth. Stevan Loertscher, Grant Desroche, and Eric Christensen were always competing with me in every tournament we were in as well. Kurtus Graville and I had a great internal rivalry at Mountain View, which pushed us both over the 260 average mark regularly when we were on the same team for tournaments
Competition is essential to improving your overall game. It’s true what they say, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Practice is great, but if you have don’t have enough tournament experience to gain the mental edge, than you won’t hit that next level. I can honestly say, if I didn’t have the competition and mentorship that I had in Calgary going through YBC and my first few years of adult, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have.
Tim: Any notable out of towners have the same effect?
Aaron: Kevin Halliwell and Mike Hirsche always had a similar effect. We tended to be near the top in a good amount of tournaments growing up.
Tim: Growing up in Calgary, as you hit the adult ranks there were many great players to learn from. Who, in particular helped to positively influence your career?.
Aaron: You know, there really isn’t one person I can pick for this. There are so many that have helped me, and continue to, positively help my career. I will always remember the Monday nights after league, heading to the Stonegate for a few drinks, and just relaxing after a good (or bad) night at the lanes. I was able to pick the minds of so many great bowlers from that league, and I’ve also been fortunate to go to nationals with many of these people that I still look up to.
Tim: You mentioned those who have helped you with your career, but simply as a fan, who do you enjoy watching?
Aaron: Anyone that has a passion and drive for the game, I definitely enjoy watching. In the game today, you need to put everything of yourself on the lane to win, and those are the most exciting people to watch.
Tim: For those who haven’t see you play Aaron, could you explain your shot?
Aaron: Basically, my shot is a slight backup, right up the gut, one or two boards to the right or left of the head pin. I’m a feel bowler, meaning I don’t have a spot I try to shoot for on the lane. There are a couple different spots I start on the approach, which I am able to use depending on the conditions at the bowling center.
Tim: You've always had to compete in some of the deepest and most talented Open zones in Alberta Do you resent this, or do you appreciate the fact that every time you DO qualify, you'll be on a great team with a chance to win?
Aaron: I appreciate every time I make an Open team. It can be easily frustrating, and as people have likely noticed, it is my tournament I have had the least success in. But I know that making any team from Alberta has a great chance to succeed at nationals. I appreciate it greatly, as I know how it feels to not make it, and how great it is to break through and make it on to one of the teams.
Tim: Aaron, you are one of the few that have been able to capture a WBT title. Not only have you been able to capture a title, but you have been a contender in multiple tournaments, and a regular “cut” bowler. Can you explain our viewers how you are able to be able to compete at such a high level at these tournaments at a regular basis?
Aaron: I have been able to build up my confidence over the years, and focus on one frame, one game, one shift at a time. I also have fun at the events on the WBT. There is little point in coming to these events if you can’t enjoy it. Finally, I have learned to look past the money aspect of it. I put value on winning the title more than anything, and I think that has helped my game the past few years.
Tim: There was a point after your WBT Red Deer title that you were hard pressed to make a cut. Can you explain the difficulties you had? What made you get out of the funk, and persevere through the struggles?
Aaron: After I won in Red Deer, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, and in the end I lost a bit of my edge, and got too angry and disappointed. After Open Nationals in 2012, I started devoting myself to strengthening my mental side of the game. Read a few books on the subject, and it got me focused on the process once again. I also gained a greater appreciation for the sport, and that has propelled me the last couple years on the cash tour.
Tim: If you had the opportunity to change the points system or add in a final WBT tournament for the top bowlers over the year, what would you do?
Aaron: I do like the points system, and I would tweak it that much. I would like an overall ranking system, going back a few years at least, to show who has been the most consistent bowlers at the WBT events. For a year end tournament, I would have the top 32 ranked bowlers from the WBT standings, compete in a match play tournament in a central location, to decide a year end champion, similar to the FedEx Cup in the PGA.
Tim: Now, to what all our readers want to know. Aaron, you are the FIRST bowler ever to win back to back Tournament Master Singles EVER. How the heck does it feel?
Aaron: There certainly are words to describe it, but I just don’t have that many. I still can’t describe how great of a feeling it is. One of my favourite parts was the reaction of everyone after I won. Seeing the looks on everyone face, the tears (I was tearing up as well). It still gives me chills every time I think about it. It also puts a smile on my face. The words from everyone, young and old, the text messages, phone calls, handshakes, hugs, Facebook posts….all of them meant a lot, and still mean a lot. Thanks again to everyone for their support!
Tim: Each single title means something. Can you explain how the first one felt, and how the second one felt.
Aaron: The first one was such a blur, as I had never experienced that level of success before in bowling. After the round robin, I was happy with just being guaranteed a medal. I went in with a loose attitude, still wanting to win, but would not be too disappointed if I came up short. I had a lunch with Dianne Violini right before our matches on the last day, and listening to her talk about the singles medals she had won in her many years at masters nationals, gave me a little more of a push for the win.
The second one was very different. I went in wanting the win, and no matter what I wasn’t going home without it. I was bowling singles with someone as hungry as me to win in Jennifer Baker, which was a big help as well. The competition level seemed even higher than the year before, and during the stepladder matches, I started hitting that level where everything starting slowing down, and I started shutting all the other noise out. I hadn’t hit that confidence level before. The first year, I definitely felt nervous in the final match against Brad Holfeld, but the second year I didn’t have that same feeling of doubt. I had more confidence, and I used what I had learned in the first one to be better in the second year.
It was also very special to win the first one in front of my parents and my home city, and to win the second one with my mom in the crowd again was a great feeling as well.
Tim: Your last match against Connor Dorion was incredible; most notably the last game. Aaron, I have seen you throw a ton of strikes over the years, but those last 5 frames, was probably the best 5 frames I’ve ever seen you play. Can you explain your thought process in that scenario and what you were thinking?
Aaron: After the first frame of the 3rd game, where I missed the corner spare, I got the mentally of “its now or never, get yourself back into the match. Trust your shot, you’ve done it before”. Any positive thought kept going through my mind. I knew that Connor was going to put up a fight, cause he’s a great shooter. The only way either one of us was winning was going to be in the 10th frame of the final game, and I think we both knew it. By the time that 6th frame rolled around, the only thing I remember hearing was Lynn Howell, my coach on the lanes, saying every positive thing he could. I knew there were people supporting me in the crowd, but I was just in “the zone” so to speak. It wasn’t until after the second ball in the 10th frame, when Lynn told me I had won, that I finally looked up again at the crowd. I tell ya, keeping that last ball on the lane was one of the hardest things to do!
Tim: After winning back to back Single Nationals, we all want to know, what did you do to celebrate!?
Aaron: Well, I can’t remember who, but I know that I had a double rye and coke waiting for me after. I chugged it, trying to calm my nerves once again. Tried to soak in everything on the bus ride back. Then after the ceremonies were over, I was able to have a great party with a ton of friends at the hotel. It was a night I will never forget…..(I remember some of it at least!).
Tim: When winning these titles, you can always look back, and thank someone for getting you to the opportunity of winning these titles? Looking back, who comes to mind first? You have been fortunate enough to play at Nationals as a single and as a team. Can you please explain how competing at singles can be very different than on a team?
Aaron: I have to thank my Dad for this. He was my coach throughout my youth career in bowling, as well as my baseball and soccer coach. We won a lot together, and he still coaches me to this day. I can always ask him for help, and he knows just what to say to get me back into the game.
The main difference is the format. Singles are finished very early at Masters, almost 4 hours before the teams finish. You get to unwind, relax, and prepare for the next day of the tournament. On the team, it can be very draining, as some days can turn into 9 or 10 hours with delays. On a team though, you can depend on them to pick you up if you have a bad game. In singles, if you have a bad game you need to rebound quickly. Even though you are bowling with the other Alberta single, their score doesn’t help yours, and vice versa. Even so, you need to be a teammate and support your partner, as momentum for both of you is key in succeeding in the singles.
Tim: Having being able to compete in the Masters & the Open, can you explain from your own personal views that difference and the pros about each one?
Aaron: My favourite will always be the masters. The best of Alberta, no matter what zone they come from, make up the teams, and it is the consistent bowler throughout a year of events that gets to represent the province. It is a grind, and takes most people longer to make a Masters team than an Open team.
I enjoy the Open. I really like the team aspect, and having the bench player adds another aspect to the match. Many times, the bench player is the most valuable in a tight match, and it is very exciting to watch someone come off the bench and win a game for the team. I hope to make more teams for the Open in the future, and have the same type of success that I have had so far with the Masters.
Tim: Aaron, you carry around a few different sets of bowling balls. Can you explain to the average bowler, why you have so many, and in what situations you would use one over the other.
Aaron: I have been using my Starlines more and more the past year or so. They have been my most consistent set. I also have my Softrolls that I will use when I am not confident in my primary set. For me, its what I feel is best for my game on that day. There are some days where I will try using one Starline for my strike shot, and a Softroll as my spare ball.
Tim: Aaron, you have had the opportunity to play across the country in a vast amount of centers. What is your favourite centre(s) to play at?
Aaron: My favourite center in Alberta would have to be Heritage Lanes in Red Deer. I also like Sherwood a lot, as well as Golden Mile out in Regina.
Tim: Speaking of your favorite centre(s), what about this center puts this on top of your list?
Aaron: All 3 centers look clean and are well run, with great cash tournaments each year, and are all normally high scoring. When I walk into all 3 of the centers, I already get a good feeling about the day ahead.
Tim: You’ve had played in many different tournaments over the years. What is your favourite tournament, and why?
Aaron: My favourite tournament is the Regina Classic on the WBT. It is the biggest of the bunch, and always brings out so many good matches. Also, a lot of good people make the trip out for this, which is a bonus to the weekend.
Tim: With you just winning back to back Master Tournament Single titles, winning a WBT title, and with such a vast resume of other accomplishments, what else do you have on “your bucket list”?
Aaron: I definitely want to win a National Team Gold, either in the Masters or the Open. That has been on my bucket list for some time
Tim: We have been talking about the good, but what about the ugly? Do you have any embarrassing bowling moments if any? Can anything top your ball from Lane 11 going into Lane 12 at Heritage?
Aaron: Haha, I don’t think anything will ever top that moment. That was probably the most embarrassing shot I have taken, and will likely be that way for life. I’m still trying to figure out how I did that…
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Well, I like to golf as much as possible during the summer. I also enjoy playing ball still, and I like to go camping/hiking, which I don’t do as often as I want to.
Tim: What are the main concerns you have with 5-Pin and what can be done to improve our game?
Aaron: I think the competition has to be introduced again at the youth level. When I was competing to make the Youth Challenge teams, there was a genuine drive by everyone to make a team, as it was difficult to make it unless you averaged over 240 in the tournament. Now with the two “contigents” being sent from each zone, the competition has gone down, to the point that there are bowlers who come to the tournament, bowl below their level just to make it on any team, than compete seriously at provincials. The general sense is that there is nothing on the line until provincials, and I think that needs to change at the zone level to encourage that it is an accomplishment just to make the team.
Tim: With this information so readily available now a days with social media, text messaging, and the internet, in what way could we further expand our sport for the good using it?
Aaron: More of the tournament finals need to be streamed live, with a video archive system as well. I know I’m not the person to do this, but I think this would greatly expand our reach of the sport.
Tim: And finally, what advice would you give to bowlers who are looking to improve?
Aaron: Focus on the mental side of the game. There is no one who has the same style as another person, so don’t focus on throwing the ball the same as anyone. Be mindful of how a competitive bowler carries themselves in a tournament, a pressure situation, etc. You can learn a lot from just being in more tournaments as well. The only way to become a good tournament bowler is from bowling tournaments, plain and simple.