Char Hammel scores biggest victory of her 26-year bowling career



    By Joe Lyou

    2007BowlExpoJoeLyou.jpgChar Hammel gets better with age. How else can anyone explain why, at 51, Hammel just scored the biggest victory of her 26-year bowling career.

    Hammel's impressive performance came in Jeanette Robinson's Golden Ladies Classic, which was held March 6-9 at the Orleans Bowling Center in Las Vegas, her hometown, having moved there from Whittier, Calif.

    It was the first time the popular righthander has competed in the 16th edition of the annual event, which Robinson, a Hall of Famer, originated in 1991 at the old Showboat Hotel.

    2006GLCCharHammel.jpg When Hammel accepted her first-place check for $2,250 and a handsome trophy, the attractive brunette promised she would return in 2007 to defend her hard-earned title. The awards were presented by Robinson and Mike Monyak, Director of Bowling Operations for Coast Casinos' four centers, all located inside of successful hotels in Vegas.

    L-R Tournament Director Darryl Smith, 2006 National Golden Ladies champion Char Hammel, and Coast Casinos Director of Bowling Mike Monyak. Courtesy of TenPin Alley.

    The Golden Ladies Classic attracted 75 veteran bowlers, three of them from England. That number would have been higher, had it not been for six late cancellations, including Florida's Shirley Levens, who won the GLC three times (1998, 2004, 2005). Also, for the first time, Jeanette Robinson did not compete because she has three torn tendons in her right foot sustained in an auto accident last January.

    "The tournament was a huge success," Robinson said, "and things could not have gone any better." She loves hosting the GLC, which she calls her "baby" and "a labor of love."

    The GLC tournament format consisted of a 15-game qualifying round (three 5-game blocks), an 18-game match play segment (three 6-game blocks) and a 5-woman stepladder finals.

    The qualifying round was led by 2002 GLC champion Sandy Postma of Lansing, Ill., who rolled 3387, a fine 225.12 average. Char Hammel was a close second with 3340 (222.10 average).

    As scheduled, Postma and Hammel met in the opening match. It was then that Hammel took charge of the tournament, firing a 300-game with 12 solid pocket strikes on lanes 3 and 4. The match was a war, as Postma pounded the pins for 259--and lost by 41 pins.

    Hammel went on to win 15 of her 18 matches and earned the top spot for the stepladder finals by 187 pins over surprise runner-up Debbie Christiansen, a feisty lefthander from Wichita.

    Rounding out the top-5 were 65-year-young Dee Price, a 3-time GLC titlist (1993, 1999, 2003) from Stockton; Lil Johnson, Lawton, Okla., and Kathy (McNaughton) Solowitz of Northridge. Both Johnson and Solowitz are former touring pros.

    Johnson captured the first two stepladder matches, defeating Solowitz, 213-178, and Price, 228-171. Johnson was then eliminated by Christiansen, who won 249-219.

    In the championship match, it was Hammel all the way as she beat Christiansen, 237-179. Hammel went spare, 3-bagger, a solid 10-pin spare, 3-bagger, and two more 10-pin spares. Meanwhile, Christiansen, troubled by the oil moving down on the lanes, could manage only two strikes, seven spares and a 7-9 split.

    Christiansen displayed her good sportsmanship by saying, "Char bowled great all week, and she deserved to win."

    Christiansen received $1,300, followed by Johnson with $800, Price $625, and Solowitz $550.

    Anita Pope, Silsbee, Tex., won the Super Seniors (60 and over) division, good for $650 and a trophy. Defending champion Fran Deken, Coweta, Okla., finished second for $500. Deken is the former PWBA (Professional Women's Bowling Assn.) tournament director.


    Before winning the Golden Ladies Classic, Char Hammel's biggest win was a regional WWPB (Western Women Pro Bowlers) title. Hammel attributed her GLC triumph to being in a "comfort zone" virtually the entire tournament. "I used the same (15-pound) ball most of the time, and I didn't have to move my feet or target more than three of four boards throughout the tournament," she said...

    Asked how she planned to celebrate her big win, Hammel said, "I'm not sure, but I know I'm going to turn the ($2,250) check over to my husband (Mark). He's my treasurer, my coach, my everything. He takes very, very good care of me"...Mark indicated that he "cracks the whip" in order to keep his wife aggressive on the lanes...

    Char's 300 was her 11th perfect game, but she has a long way to go before catching up with her husband. Mark, once a promising Southern California bowler, had 26 perfectos before he was stricken with multiple sclerosis and had to give up bowling about five years ago...Char has an interesting occupation; she deals poker at the plush Green Valley Ranch Hotel & Casino...

    Char and Hall of Famer Virginia Norton are close friends, perhaps because they both grew up in Whittier...

    Another Hall of Famer, Pam Buckner of Reno, competed in her first GLC. She couldn't enter previously because she was on the road so much as the top western regional sales rep for Ebonite. Pam surprised herself by firing 1191 (a 238.10 average) and leading the opening 5-game qualifying block. A southpaw, Pam had a very sore right knee that made it difficult to slide at times. But she gutted it out and eventually placed 10th...Pam and hubby Steve planned to stick around until the following Sunday for the NASCAR 400-mile race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They're both huge NASCAR fans, of course, as is Karen (Crowther) French, who drove over from Modesto to join them. Pam and Karen were former WWPB members many years ago...

    Before the end of the tournament, Jeanette Robinson, thanks to never-ending help from husband Dick Porter, distributed flyers for Golden Ladies Classic '07. The dates are March 5-8. For early reservations or more details, call Jeanette at 1-888-365-7111, Ext. 6442...

    According to the final GLC figures, the 75 entries, at $150 per bowler, generated an income of $11,250; however, the total prize fund paid out was $14,320, or a difference of $3,070, thanks to added monies from The Orleans and cosponsor Storm Products...

    Coast Casinos' Mike Monyak provides some amazing statistics

    Hall of Fame writers Dick Evans and John Jowdy, along with this veteran pin scribe, had the opportunity during the tournament to sit down with Coast Casinos' genial Mike Monyak, who has been in the bowling business since he was 12. The 47-year-old bowling executive still refers to himself as "a longtime pin chaser."

    Monyak provided the trio with some amazing statistics about the status of bowling at The Orleans, which opened in December 1996. "We're averaging 47 lines per bed (70 lanes)," Monyak said, "and that's for every 365 days."
    "I estimate that, in almost 10 years, there's been 20 years of wear on the bowling equipment," he said. "We've already replaced all 70 pinsetters and we'll soon replace the lane beds and automatic scorers."

    As much business as the Orleans Bowling Center is doing, Monyak said that the new 64-lane South Coast establishment has already surpassed it. "South Coast is averaging 48.5 lines per lane," he pointed out, "and they already have 4,500 league bowlers in spite of being open only three months."

    Although The Orleans has fewer league bowlers than South Coast, the former does more open play and hosts more special events, like the semiannual Mini Eliminator and league sweepers, most of them from Southern California.

    When The Orleans conducts a tournament or league sweeper, Monyak estimates that each visiting bowler will spend an average of $600 to $800 at the tables. "So, it's the job of the bowling department to attract people," he said. "We're no different from the gift shop (at The Orleans) as we are all working for the good of the whole properties (Coast Casinos)."

    In addition to The Orleans and South Coast, the other Coast Casinos bowling centers are located at the Gold Coast (70 lanes) and Suncoast (64 lanes).

    Monyak, by the way, is an excellent bowler. He is averaging 220 in a league at the Suncoast. And last year, Monyak was inducted into the Southern Nevada Bowling Hall of Fame.

    As a final question, Dick Evans asked Monyak why he hosts the Golden Ladies Classic at The Orleans, especially since this event attracts only a fraction of the number of bowlers that compete in the two Mini Eliminator tournaments each year.

    "Why?" responded Monyak, rhetorically. "Because it (the Golden Ladies Classic) is so much fun. And besides, it's important to Jeanette, and we enjoy having the ladies here. But the bottom line is, it's a fun tournament; if it weren't, we wouldn't have it."