By Matt Cannizzaro and David McCord
LAS VEGAS - For AJ Chapman of Lewisville, Texas, and Richard Eighme of Waterloo, Iowa, the path to the Regular Doubles title at last year's United States Bowling Congress Open Championships was fueled by a hot start.
They returned to the biggest stage in bowling this week knowing it would take an even bigger performance if they were going to leave the South Point Bowling Plaza with a shot at becoming the first back-to-back doubles champions in 116 years of USBC Open Championships competition.
Prior to the start of their 2019 tournament campaign Sunday, Eighme and Chapman were honored with a special march to the lanes, where they were presented with their championship watches.
Eighme, a 51-year-old pro shop and bowling center owner, was able to celebrate the moment with friends and family, including his father, Fran, who competed in his 54th Open Championships.
"It was a dream come true" said Eighme, who made his 34th Open Championships appearance this year. "Especially for someone that has been bowling as long as I have. To be able to share that moment made this tournament the most special one so far."
For Chapman, a former Team USA member and past collegiate standout at Wichita State University, the moment was special as well.
"It was a great feeling being presented with an Eagle, and now the special watch, and having that moment feel as prestigious as it is," said Chapman, a 25-year-old aspiring member of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour who also had friends and family on-hand for the moment. "My parents, my brother and my girlfriend all were able to come out and see us being presented with our awards."
Duplicating their performance from the 2018 event in Syracuse, New York, proved to be a tall task, however, and they were never able to regain their championship momentum.
"There was a little bit of added anxiety this year," Eighme said. "It didn't really affect our bowling, but it did add just a little bit to the moment."
Chapman led the way in the title defense with games of 214, 164 and 197 for a 575 series, and Eighme added 189, 139 and 191 for a 519 set and 1,094 total. Cotie Holbek of Burlington, Wisconsin, and Steven Fisher of Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, lead Regular Doubles this year with 1,478.
On the way to their 1,457 winning total at Syracuse's Oncenter Convention Center, Eighme opened with the highest game of his tournament career, a 296 effort, while Chapman added 257 to the explosive start.
Chapman added games of 245 and 235 for a 737 series, which also propelled him to a fourth-place finish in Regular All-Events. Eighme finished with 190 and 234 for a 720 set. They edged Justin Neiman of Macomb, Michigan, and Alex Ouellette of Linwood, Michigan, by a single pin.
Regular Doubles features teams with combined entering averages of 351 and above.
Chapman, who made his sixth Open Championships appearance this year, finished his 2019 event Monday with a 667 singles series. His 569 team set gave him an 1,811 all-events total. Eighme had 672 in singles and 590 in team for 1,781.
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