Bowling Legend Johnny Petraglia Talks About The Annoyances of the PBA Stepladder Final Format

I’m going to put aside a memoir this month and write an op-ed. I’ve become more and more annoyed with the stepladder finals. When the PBA was formed there was no stepladder, for that matter there wasn’t a stepladder in any other tournament either. When the PBA acquired TV it had to figure out how to have a format that would crown a champion in an hour and a half, and the stepladder was born. Everybody pretty much went along with it because if you were the leader and now had to win the tournament twice, at least there was a bigger prize fund because of TV and there were TV incentives for ball, shoes etc. But now every tournament has a stepladder with no TV and no added incentives.

I just recently watched a state HS tournament for the state singles title. The leader after waiting 3 games got 1 practice frame on each lane and ended up losing the title by 2 pins, and to make matters worse they bowled on a pair that wasn’t used in the tournament. There’s only one other sport that’s like ours. It’s golf… in both sports you’re an individual against the elements with no defense. Team sports and tennis have defense. Olympic sports don’t have a leader. Only Golf and bowling are the same.

So let’s take golf and use the stepladder like they do in bowling. The Masters is coming up this week. So let’s say Dustin Johnson after 4 days and 72 holes is the leader. The officials say, as leader you get to play the 18th hole for the Masters title against the survivor of the 4 golfers 2 thru 5. But you’ll be playing the 18th hole at Atlanta CC not Augusta because we have to use a hole that hasn’t been played on in the tournament.

So they go to Atlanta CC and Dustin plays a golfer who has played the 18 hole,2,3, or 4 times. Dustin gets one or two practice swing off the tee, but doesn’t get to play the entire hole. And the winner of the hole is the Masters Champion. ..Pretty silly isn’t it? This is my solution. The stepladder isn’t going to go away. So when there is no TV and no time restraint… If you have to win the tournament twice, you have to be beat twice!! On TV where there is a time restraint the cameras have to be set up for 4 lanes and the leader gets to choose which pair they want to bowl on.

One final example of how the stepladder affects someone’s career. Marshall Holman’s record in title matches when he was the leader is 9 and 21. Assuming he won 6 times from another position, if there was no stepladder Holman would have 35 titles instead of 20. In my case I have 14 tour titles and 8 Sr tour titles. I’ve lead 35 times and won 4 times from another position. I would have 31 titles instead of 22. On the other side a bowler who will remain nameless had 6 titles before he lead a tournament.

All I’m looking for is fairness, cento anni’…Johnny Petraglia

4 thoughts on “Bowling Legend Johnny Petraglia Talks About The Annoyances of the PBA Stepladder Final Format

  1. Jamie Wehner says:

    I agree with you on this totally. I joined the PBA in 1981 and prior to that I read there had been National stops that were decided totally on pin fall after so many games and I think you meant that at the first of your article. I have never thought it was right a person who sometimes had led by as much as 500+ pins had to win it again. My thought which is a little different also is the money that is won now isn’t really different than when I joined except now instead of 85.00 entry for regionals its 225.00 and the prize fund has not gone up one dollar from then. One or two regions such as the Southern may for a select few tournaments because they have larger fields but the others still pay 1500.00 to maybe 2500.00 average for first and that’s what it was in 81. The bowlers are having to win it twice in most regionals to still win only the same money as back in 81. Im a senior and enjoy the friendship of those tournaments which eases the pain of low winnings having that included in the tournaments. Just wanted to put in my 2 cents with your great article and I do agree with you.

  2. Justin Gartner says:

    I have felt this way since I first learned that they did it this way when I was a kid. While I rarely bowl tournaments anymore, I still think the stepladder format is terrible for finals, however one thing not often considered is the other side of the spectrum where, in a standard bracket, the leader could be knocked out in the first round, such as tennis or the infamous March Madness. Stepladder at least guarantees a 2nd place finish. So, while I hate it and think it is a huge disadvantage to the leader, I know there isn’t a perfect solution.

    The biggest negative does come down to practice and experience. The leader gets practice to figure out a pair sure. However, they didn’t bowl the previous matches to experience just HOW the lane changes. So, a few shots in practice might show you a strong look that can quickly disappear and now, you don’t know how to adjust as easily while your opponent who has already bowled does in fact have a better idea on how the lane is tending to change.

  3. Christopher Pynes says:


    I agree that the high school situation doesn’t seem right, but the rest of your argument is lacking in my view.

    First, bowling and golf aren’t the only sports where there are no defenses. All shooting sports have this feature: darts, archery, rifle, pistol, and shotgun. And the sports that are judged lack defenses and have leaders: diving, gymnastic, and figure skating (but forget these for now.) And many track events and all the racing events lack defenses and have leaders, but I will explain more how this is relevant to your argument below.

    But let’s unpack your argument a bit since I think you have conflated regular tournaments and the Masters. The Masters is a match play format, and if the winner of the winner’s bracket loses one the show, I think they should get a second chance since every other bowler had the opportunity the have a second elimination. If you want to make that rule, I am fine with it. What I would rather see, is the last three game set for the loser’s bracket and then a three game set between the winner of the loser’s bracket and the winner of the winner’s bracket, with the winner of the loser’s bracket having to win twice. But I digress…

    The Master’s situation is not the same as your leading a tournament argument. You mention the Olympics. Shooting sports do have rounds that cut to a top group where totals aren’t carried over in a manner very similar to bowling. You can read the Olympic rules about shooting sports here:

    Let’s imagine a race like the 200 meters. You could break the world record in a heat and make it to the finals and lose the gold medal. You had the fastest time in the heats (in the world actually), but you lost the final race and didn’t get gold. You could not medal at all in this case.

    But here’s the thing, we accept this kind of sports outcome in all our sports all the time. Often the best team during the regular season doesn’t win the title. Just ask the 2007 Patriots. Was Villanova the best team in 1985? Hardly. But they won the tournament.

    The pre-TV standard was total pins. TV changed the game by adding a “playoff of sorts” and like with any rule changes, it changed who won.

  4. brenda cowand says:

    I have an old navy vet who remembers the 60’s when there was no stepladder finals. he say the greatest bowlers of all time. you won by a few pins an he cannot remember who you bowled against do you recall?

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