When the book on the storied career of PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia is closed, it will note that one of the 73-year-old’s greatest competitive feats came with the least amount of fanfare. In fact, Petraglia himself had no idea what he had accomplished by cashing a $620 check for his 11th-place finish in the PBA50 Timber Lanes Open at Timber Lanes in Oxford, Pa., on Oct. 19.
“One of the bowling fans sent me the message, Bill Moore,” Petraglia told BJI. “I did a grand opening for him. He put two lanes in his house. He came down to watch the tournament, and then he sent me an email. He checked it out.”
What Moore had checked out was this: By finishing high enough to cash in a PBA regional in 2020, Petraglia had cashed in a PBA event, be it national or regional, in each of seven decades. Petraglia, who was ranked 16th on the PBA’s list of 50 greatest players in PBA history and is among six to win the Tour’s “Triple Crown” of majors (Tournament of Champions, U.S. Open, PBA National Championship), previously had set a record as the only bowler in PBA history to win a national title in each of six decades.
Petraglia achieved that six-decade feat at age 66 with his victory in the PBA Senior Dayton Classic in 2012. The passage of time, Petraglia said, has only amplified his appreciation for the longevity he has enjoyed in his career.
“I found out a couple years ago how lucky I am,” he said. “There was a charity golf tournament where they brought in 18 athletes for the 18 foursomes that were going to play for charity . . . The emcee is announcing my stats, and then he says, ‘And he’s the only bowler to win a national title in six decades.’
“And O.J. Anderson, the running back for the [New York] Giants who had just retired, he goes, ‘Wait a minute. What?’ The guy says, ‘He’s won in six decades.’ And O.J. Anderson yells, ‘I want to live six decades!’
“That’s when I realized how lucky I am, because he was 38. For 10 years, he was on top of the world. But now, he can’t really do what he loves anymore at the age of 38; I can do what I’m doing until I’m gone. Okay, I didn’t make the money he made, but I certainly have had as good a life as he’s had.”
Being able to continue doing what he loves at age 73 is one thing; notching milestones such as the one he recorded in Oxford last month at that age is quite another. For Petraglia, that is all about timing.
“I won when I was in my teens, in 1966 [at the PBA Ft. Smith Open in Arkansas]. Something like that has to happen,” Petraglia said. “You pretty much have to win in your teens because winning in your 60s is tough enough; winning in your 70s is almost impossible.
“If I were to look into the future, I would say that because of his competitiveness and his heart and everything else, Walter Ray [Williams Jr.] would probably have the best shot, but I think he’s got to win a national title in this decade and then in the 2030s to tie it, and that’s a long way down the road. And very long down the road you would look at somebody like Anthony Simonsen or Kyle Troup.”
While 2030 may be a long way off for Williams, there is another record that is a long way off for anyone alive.
“I was talking to [Dave] Soutar, and there’s a group of us who have won in so many consecutive decades, and consecutive centuries, and consecutive millennia,” he says through a laugh. “That can’t happen again for another thousand years.”
There are many things to which Petraglia could attribute his longevity. Talent. Determination. Hard work. What he credits above all is something simpler than any of those traits.
“I think a lot of it has to do with love of the game,” he said. “And the love of competition. I’m still my happiest when I’m bowling in a tournament.”