Publish date:

It's pat-ently confusing

Two of the top winners on the women's pro tour happen to be named P. Costello

Several women bowling pros were sitting around the coffee shop at the Mundelein (Ill.) Lanes last week, laughing about the mother who worried over the lack of development of one of her twins—until she discovered she had been feeding the other six meals a day. Such small cases of misidentification are good for a big reaction among members of the Womens Professional Bowlers Association, because these days their tour is a source of similar confusion. Two of its stars—in fact, a case can be made for saying its two stars—have the name Pat Costello.

P. Costello vs. P. Costello is an identity crisis of the first order. They're not related, but both have the middle name Ann. They're both 33 years old. In the WPBA's seven tournaments this year, P. Costello and P. Costello—just two of about 80 entrants in each event—have finished next to each other three times.

The pinnacle of double vision came a few weeks ago when P. Costello won a $50,000 tournament in Rockford, Ill., and P. Costello came in second. Appropriately, the local newspaper ran a picture of a P. Costello with a caption identifying her as the winner. Wrong P. Costello. No big deal, though, seeing as pretty much the same thing had happened once before in Cranston, R.I. after a P. Costello had won a tournament.

Reading the results of a WPBA event can be mystifying. Says one P. Costello, "Most people think we're a misprint." When a P. Costello got married recently, it was thought that a hyphenated last name would, at last, end the chaos. No chance. Says that P. Costello, "I'm not letting 'em off the hook now. I'm keeping the confusion going."

When Pat Costello, the married one, who's from Union City, Calif., joined the WPBA tour in 1968, life was reasonably simple. Then, two years later, the second Pat Costello, from Scranton, Pa., came along. "Thank God they're not from the same state or we'd all slit our throats," says a WPBA executive.

California Pat was asked by tour officials if she'd like to change her name. She asked them if they'd like to drop dead. In a moment of pique not too long ago, WPBA Commissioner Roger Blaemire said, "The way you tell the Costellos apart is that Pat is the rude one."

Pennsylvania Pat, being new and with no real choice in the matter, was called Patricia during her first tournament, but she hated it. Well, what about Patsy? "I am not," she sniffed, "the Patsy type." So, Pennsylvania Pat reluctantly accepted Patty as a very poor second choice.

But for WPBA fans, the difference between Pat and Patty is a slim one. And the distinction is lost altogether on many bowling writers, for whom the next stop is obit rewrite. When California Pat (she is seldom called that) bowled the record series for a woman of 863 (games of 298, 266 and 299) in 1978, news of the feat was sent out across the land—only the writer's report credited Pennsylvania Patty (who's also seldom called that) with the accomplishment. P. Costello and P. Costello also suspect that when votes are being taken for various tour awards, the Costello who gets a vote is not necessarily the Costello the balloter had in mind.

Blaemire confesses that when he took his job 2½ years ago, "I couldn't get them straight." The tour's tournament director, Larry Swafford, estimates the two are mixed up "90% of the time." It doesn't help that California Pat is called Patty by some of her friends and that Pennsylvania Patty is called Pat by a lot of hers.

In truth, the Costellos are quite different in bowling style (Patty of Pa. is jerky; Pat of Calif. is smooth); in performance in the clutch (Patty tends to leave herself with splits; Pat is wont to squeeze the ball too hard and thus leave the 10-pin standing); and in manner (Patty is reserved; Pat is mouthy). Keen observers also note that Patty is lefthanded and Pat rolls right. Still, it seems that P. Costello has been dominating bowling twice as long as she really has and been winning twice as much as she actually has.

Patty's career—O.K., lip-readers, one last time, Patty's the one from Pennsylvania—already is legendary. She has won a record 19 tournaments; in 1976 she won seven of the WPBA's 14 tour events. Her lifetime winnings of nearly $123,000 are the second highest on record. During one span, in 1972, Patty won three tournaments in a row. All of which is heady accomplishment for the young lady who, while growing up in Maryland, could've been voted least likely to succeed by her classmates.

"School doesn't teach you things you need to learn," she says. "When was the last time you had to order at a restaurant in Latin?"

By the time she was 15, the only thing Patty cared much about was bowling. And thanks to the encouragement—and coaching—of her late father, Bill, she came to excel at the game. Meanwhile, she drifted in the rest of her life. For three months she vainly tried hustling encyclopedias door to door, and later found herself selling ads for a nonexistent newspaper. In the winters she gravitated to beautician's work.

But bowling remained Patty's love, and when she kept winning side bets of a few dollars in local competition, she decided to become a pro. "Most people work when they are young," she says, "then try to play when they get older. I'm playing first. I'll work later." Despite such disclaimers, bowling is also a business to her. "I'm out here to make money," Patty says. "Winning is only part of it. Second is better than third, and third is better than fourth."

"Patty should be the best-known woman bowler ever," says Swafford. "She's earned it." Patty—twice Bowler of the Year—agrees. But she has rarely had any endorsements or commercial tie-ins, and media attention has always been slight. Her best deal was with an Akron sports-equipment firm that contracted to pay her bonuses for winning tournaments; in two years Patty earned $10,000 in bonuses. In time, the company came up with a check for $3,500. It bounced four times. And Patty still has it. "I think companies go by looks," she says, "which is nice for those who look nice."

Patty declines to name names, but an obvious case is Barbara Thorberg, who has never won a pro tournament but does well in terms of outside income. Recently, Patty received a call from a man who said he wanted to be her agent. "I said fine. After all, I figured that 80% of something was better than 100% of nothing," she says. Later, the agent reported back that Patty couldn't be marketed.

Even back home in Scranton, where she moved six years ago, Patty don't get no respect. Why, for example, hasn't she been voted into the local Hall of Fame? "I guess," she says, "that I'm just not good enough to get into the Scranton Hall of Fame."

Nobody sympathizes with Patty's dismay over her lack of fame and endorsements more than Pat. She doesn't have any either. "Patty and I are the athletic-looking type, not the cutesy type," she says. But while a P. Costello isn't likely to find herself on a poster anytime soon, Pat—California Pat, righthanded Pat—may be on the brink of dominating the sport.

Last year she was the WPBA's leading money-winner, with $25,060 in 18 tournaments; she was second four times, third three times and fourth three times, but had no wins. A pin here and a pin there and she would have lapped the field—and everyone knows it.

Three months ago, Pat went to work at a bowling center in Dublin, Calif. that is operated by the PBA's Bowler of the Decade, Earl Anthony. The money was good, and so was the opportunity to practice. "I never used to practice," she says. "I just bowled on instinct. I remember watching the women pros bowl once, and I thought, 'My God, I can beat these women with only 10 days' practice.' "

With 12 tour victories, she has proved her point, but after her performance in '79 it occurred to Pat that she could be really good, so she sought Anthony's advice—and it seems to have helped.

Already this year, with the heart of the schedule still ahead, Pat has won two tournaments. She has also helped herself by getting her temper under control. "I have fined Pat for kicking ball returns and kicking out foul lights—but I love her for it," says Swafford. "I want these women to be themselves." There have been no tantrums and no fines this year.

Pat took up bowling as a Girl Scout, when she and her friends went for merit badges in the sport. She averaged 135; the next best was 70. In 1965 she became the first junior girl ever to bowl a 300 game. Throughout her career, however, Pat has not been given her due; she has never been voted Bowler of the Year, an honor bestowed by the bowling writers. "She's been her own worst enemy," says one pro, referring to her short temper.

But what may be hurting her most of all is that the voters can't figure out if she's P. Costello or P. Costello.


If all else fails, there's one sure way of telling the P. Costellos apart: Pennsylvania Patty is the lefthander, California Pat the righthander.


You can call her Patty (left) and you can call her Pat, but don't dare call either one of them Patsy.