By John Bassetti
The appearance of 2012-13 PBA Tour rookie-of-the-year E.J. Tackett should put some punch in the quality of field expected for the Hubbard Open this weekend.
The 21-year-old who finished fourth at the 2013 Hubbard Open is fresh from a runnerup finish to reigning PBA Tour player-of-the-year Jason Belmonte at the USBC Masters in North Brunswick, N.J., which was held Feb. 17-23. According to PBA.com, the Belmonte-Tackett showdown was the first time that a reigning ROY and POY competed in a major championship match, which Belmonte won, 221-177.
In doing so, the Australian became the first bowler in nearly 50 years to successfully defend a United States Bowling Congress Masters title.
The Masters finish was a Tour career-best for Tackett, who is also reigning Central Region player-of-the-year. In two events so far in 2014, the Huntington, Ind. resident currently has earned $27,600. Since joining the Tour in 2012, his career earnings are $69,972.22.
Tackett’s fourth-place finish in the Hubbard Open last year followed a semifinal loss to inaugural HO champion Ryan Ciminelli.
Since then, Tackett’s ascension has been meteoric.
“Everything came pretty quick,” said Tackett, of welterweight stature, who was competing in a small sweeper back home earlier this week. Following Hubbard, Tackett competed in the Summer Swing in Milwaukee, where he finished fourth in the Wolf Open — one of three tournaments that culminated in the PBA Milwaukee Open in which Tackett placed in the top 24.
“I didn’t bowl very good in matchplay in the Milwaukee Open,” Tackett of the event that was a week after the Wolf Open.
Following several regional tournaments, Tackett placed sixth in the U.S. Open in July at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl. After another series of regionals, Tackett bowled in the World Series in Las Vegas in October.
“It had five tournaments over a long week-and-a-half, so it was draining,” said Tackett, who didn’t make any “shows,” but did have three top 10s and placed 10th at the World Championships.
About a month later, he bowled in the Japan Cup and made the show and finished fourth. In January, Tackett reached matchplay of the Tournament of Champions in Detroit, but failed to advance to end 18th.
Of his career highlight in the Masters, Tackett said that the worst part of the pressure came while waiting.
“I handled it OK,” he said of the live ESPN coverage. “I think could have done better, but for my first time on the stage that big, I thought I did OK.”
In the first round of matchplay, Tackett beat Dom Barrett, then Mike Fagan, then two non-PBA Tour bowlers, Brian Goebel and John Janowitz. After beating Tom Smallwood, Tackett met Mike Haugen Jr. in a match to decide the No. 1- and No. 2-seeded qualifiers.
Belmonte, who had qualified fifth, worked his way up the stepladder, while E.J. waited.
“He beat Nos. 4, 3 and 2 while I waited, although I could practice,” Tackett said.
“That was kind of nerve-wracking. I was getting pretty anstsy waiting to bowl. I didn‘t care who it was. I just wanted to get the championship match going.”
The Hubbard Open will be Tackett’s first PBA event since the Masters.
“I’ll treat it like any other tourney, whether it’s a regional or the Masters, and prepare for it and try to win,” he said.