I told the girls, 'You don't sell a steak, you sell the sizzle and that's what we have to do in bowling.' " The speaker was Bucky Woy, commissioner of the Professional Women Bowlers Association for the past 21 months and a sizzler himself. "I made the girls cognizant of their image," Woy said last week at the U.S. Open in the Garden City Bowl on Long Island, N.Y. "We had cosmeticians talk to the girls about how to fix themselves up, and when they needed it we loaned them money to buy blouses or to go to the hairdresser. There are a lot of girl watchers and now our girls are proving they're worth watching.
"I told them, 'This is a show. People like attractive girls. If you look attractive and shoot 150 they'll watch you. If you look attractive and shoot 250, then the game is on.' "
Well, the game is on, for as the girls' skirts have gone up so have their scores. Many have rolled 250s and one—June Llewellyn—recently rolled a 300. That perfect game was worth $5,000—$1,000 for her and the rest for the PWBA to perpetuate a policy Woy took out with Lloyds of London for 300 games.
Bucky Woy is 36 and his face is as round as a bowling ball. As sports commissioners go he may be the most upbeat one operating today. He claims he has to be. He uses a hard-sell sales pitch because he is trying to squeeze his girls into the already glutted realm of professional sports, and they started from way back there, behind the men in those now thankfully forgotten two-tone shirts with AL'S AXLE SERVICE on the back.
Woy once roomed with Masters champion Tommy Aaron at the University of Florida and even played briefly on the pro tour. When he spotted Lee Trevino in 1968 he knew, he said recently, "With his charisma and with his swing he had to make it big. I became his agent and told him he'd make a million dollars. No one else believed it. One day after Trevino got going good I went to my hotel room and laughed out loud for 25 minutes because I knew he was going to make it. The same is going to happen to women's bowling.
"Eddie Elias [founder of the men's bowling tour] told me I should take over the women's tour. I laughed at him. I had never seen women bowl, so I went to a tournament in Las Vegas. I was flabbergasted. The girls were drawing full houses—in Las Vegas, where there are show girls and so much else to see. Then I found out how good the men's TV ratings were and I decided women's bowling couldn't miss.
"I signed a 10-year contract with the PWBA and told 'em I had just one stipulation: 'I'm gonna be boss.' Now I'm always bugging people about women's bowling. Some tell me, 'Hey, quit banging on the door.' "
Others have braced themselves and with some trepidation opened their doors. What they have found is that women bowlers are no longer "performing pachyderms," as Joe Richards of the New York Daily News called them years ago. These days some people come to ogle them but often when they do they leave fascinated by their ability. Patty Costello of New Carrollton, Md. had the highest average on the tour last year, 205. And Millie Martorella of Rochester, N.Y. has had 42 sanctioned 700 series and in four of the last eight years has led all women bowlers in the nation with league averages ranging from 212 to 219.
Last week's Open came down to a struggle between Costello and Martorella, both of them 26-year-old lefthanders. Costello came to the Open with a PWBA high of 10 career titles, four more than Martorella. She insists that she bowls because "I hate to work. I used to work in a potato-chip factory, where my job was stapling packs of flower seeds to the bags and then putting them in boxes. I also sold encyclopedias. When people said, 'Those encyclopedias sure are expensive, aren't they?' I used to say, 'You'd better believe it.' Some saleslady."
As for Martorella, her father owns a bowling alley and she virtually grew up on the lanes. She has a 4-year-old daughter, is a whiz at playing gin and insists that the only interesting thing that ever happened to her on the tour was when she was thrown into a swimming pool after winning a tournament. What made that so interesting was that she could not swim. Millie wears a copper bracelet on her right wrist to try to cure the sciatica in her legs. The sciatica is still there but her wrist has turned green.
In Garden City two days of qualifying cut the field of 128 to 24 finalists. Midway through the two days of 24-game match-play finals Costello led Martorella by 78 pins.
Watching it all was Hall of Famer Andy Varipapa, 82, who is to bowling what Casey Stengel is to baseball. From the '30s through the '50s he taught more women to bowl than anyone in the world. As the finalists warmed up, he said: "Women at first were pathetic, but today I am so proud because they have proved they can bowl well. They call me the Toscanini of bowling because I am so critical, but here I have nothing to complain about. They're too good. Costello is the best woman bowler I've ever seen. Right now the pins are not falling for her. Tonight she will be much better. You'll see."
Just as Varipapa had forecast, Costello came on strong. While Millie lost two of her first three matches, Patty bowled beautifully and won three times, picking up 30 bonus pins for each victory and taking a 42-pin lead with just three games left. Then her game collapsed, all at once, completely and inexplicably. She rolled a 159 and a 173 and not even her final-game 247 could keep her from losing to Martorella by 49 pins.
After Martorella got her $4,000 check and Costello one for $2,000 from the $30,000 pot, both sounded off. They were upset, they said, by what they felt was the excessive publicity given to the "glamour girls" of the tour. "I'd like to see ability emphasized instead of the sex angle," Martorella said. Costello still rankled at the memory of 1971, when she had the best record of any woman on the tour yet was not chosen Bowler of the Year. That distinction went instead to Paula Sperber, who had just one win but gobs of sizzle.
The complaints are minor, growing pains really. With Woy at the controls the tour has increased from five to 20 events annually and the prize money has risen, though it does not yet approach that available in Japan. Even with her five wins last year, Costello earned only $14,600 on the tour. In Japan the top woman bowler in 1972 pocketed $38,000 at tournaments and, with exhibitions and an almost unending variety of TV bowling shows and numerous commercials, made $100,000.
One of the spectators at the open was Susie Reichley, who spent the past 12 months in Japan as an instructor. "I asked over and over in Japan why women bowlers are so popular there, but nobody could explain it," she said.
The answer probably is Japanese men, who like to look at pretty women. Patty Forbes, a statuesque 21-year-old blonde, bowled in Japan last year and was so popular she became a foldout (fully clothed) in a Japanese magazine. The Japanese and most anybody else would be just as pleased watching Sperber or Patty Forbes or Cheryl Kominsky or Doris Day-lookalike Carolyn Hallgren.
They all bowl superbly, too, mostly because they have learned to take their game seriously. Pat McNeill found out how much so when she bugged an opponent during a match and had a glass of water poured over her head. And determined Betty Morris won last year's Showboat Classic in Las Vegas despite being five months' pregnant.
Because of the many gaps in the tournament schedule and because of the relatively slim purses, many of the women have other jobs. Some are nurses, bookkeepers, secretaries, accountants, teachers and real-estate agents. One owns a restaurant, another operates a nightclub and one designs jewelry. And Toni Calvery is a dean at the University of Oklahoma. There are a Pat Kocinski, a Cheryl Kominsky and a Betty Kuczynski. And there are a Marilyn Clark and a Charlene Kent, who seemingly should do wonders as doubles partners.
Meanwhile, Woy sells on and predicts big time all the time. While in Garden City he got calls from bowling lane proprietors wanting to stage tournaments. He also received word from Japan that a $100,000 international event might be in the offing, and he showed off his troupe to a prospective sponsor and to TV officials. Where there's Woy there's a way. Ask him.