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Tragedy to triumph: Laid-off auto worker from Saginaw wins PBA World Championship


[Mike Godard | The Saginaw News] By Mike Godard | The Saginaw News 
on December 13, 2009 at 11:21 PM, updated December 14, 2009 at 2:14 PM

Saginaw’s Tom Smallwood showed the world Sunday he belongs on the PBA Tour by capturing the PBA World Championship at Northrock Lanes in Wichita, Kan.

Smallwood, 32, fell into the auto workers unemployed ranks one year ago.

Through a PBA Tour qualifier, Smallwood earned an exemption for the 2009-10 PBA Tour.

Sunday, Smallwood capped his rags to riches story with the grand prize - the PBA World Championship - one of the four Majors on the PBA Tour.

Smallwood defeated Wes Malott, 244-228, for his first PBA title and Major win at the same time.

"I really, really hopes this proves I belong," Smallwood said. "I feel that I do. I am just like everyone else with a wife, kid with a house and car payment. As long as I can keep making those, I am happy.

"Someone might be able to call this a fluke for a little time," he added. "But I have been bowling very well lately. If it is (a fluke), then I am a very lucky person. That’s absolutely OK with me."

With the win, Smallwood earned a two-year exemption for the PBA Tour and more than doubled his money that he had already earned on the Tour with the $50,000 first-place prize.

Smallwood, who had one earlier TV appearance, earned the right to bowl in the semifinals with his strong showing back in September during qualifying and match play.

"I was sitting good with points up to this point but this is a huge relief for me," he said. "It gives me a huge jump on the rookie of the year race. But it’s not going to stop the way I approach my bowling. I don’t ever want to fail.

"I will be mad at myself if I don’t bowl well," he added. "It will be never OK if I don’t bowl good. But being exempt for two years could help in the long run."

In his semifinal match, Smallwood started with a split in the first frame against former Saginaw Valley State University All-American Bill O’Neill. Then, Smallwood connected on six strikes in the next seven frames to defeat O’Neill, 211-159.

"I thought the first shot (split in first frame) was not great but okay," Smallwood said. "I asked my (Columbia) ball rep Chad Murphy what happened.

"He told me I had sea legs and the first shot in the match really doesn’t count. When you are in the TV show it is mass chaos. But today I was very focus."

Wes Malott, who defeated Rhino Page, 203-191, in his semifinal match, started with four strikes against Smallwood. But the Flushing native and current Saginaw resident kept it close with one spare and five strikes of his own.

Disaster nearly set in when Smallwood left a 4-6-7 split in the seventh frame. Malott failed to capitalized and couldn’t double the rest of the way.

"I just didn’t keep up with the moves with Wes on that shot," Smallwood said. "I just didn’t move fast enough.

Smallwood still had work to do.

He needed a strike on the first ball and at least a seven-count on the second to earn the win. Smallwood left no doubt as he doubled in the 10th for his historic win.

"I’ll be leaving tomorrow (Monday) for home and will stay until just after the first of the year," Smallwood said.

When Smallwood comes back to Saginaw, he brings back the PBA World Championship title - and a lot of memories.