Haggerty’s life in the fast lane

Colfax grad traveling the country, trying to make it as a professional bowler
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
-A +A
Time has flown for PJ Haggerty. The 2003 Colfax graduate is already gearing up for his second year as a professional bowler, chasing the Denny’s PBA Tour in search of his first career exemption. Haggerty is in Oregon this weekend for a regional competition near Portland in preparation for the start of the PBA Tour in October. “As I was flying out of Sacramento I’m thinking, man, I graduated high school five years ago,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that long ago. It was a fun stage. I kind of miss it here and there.” Professional bowling has proven far more ruthless than the baseball and basketball Haggerty played in middle school and into high school. Only 58 bowlers in the world out of thousands earned exemptions last year for the 08-09 season. Simply put, “exemption is a guaranteed paycheck every week,” Haggerty said. But for Haggerty and others chasing the tour, the earnings are practically nonexistent. “It’s a tough road because everything is going up; gas, hotels and food expenses,” he said. “Everything’s going up except the prize money. It makes you sometimes second-guess what you’re doing.” Haggerty took up bowling as a kid, following in the footsteps of his parents, uncle and grandfather. “Bowling’s been a part of our family for a few generations,” he said. “They got me started and I just never stopped.” Haggerty bowled four years with the Fresno State team. He was named Collegiate Bowler of the Year in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and graduated in four years with a Criminology degree. “I had to make a decision if I wanted to go pro or get a job,” he said. “I didn’t want to get a job.” He landed a sponsor for the 07-08 season and went out on tour. “I had a lot of success in college. My coaches were great,” Haggerty said. “They made me a lot smarter and turned my game around. They didn’t really change a lot with my game but they took me to the next step. It made it pretty easy to go on tour.” Haggerty began chasing Tour Qualifying Rounds, which he likens to poker satellite tournaments. “Every week I had to bowl a tournament,” he said. “You have to win or place to get to the next round and I had to do that every week for 19 weeks.” At the end of the year, the bowler with the most points earns one of the six exemptions awarded through the TQRs. Haggerty finished third last year, narrowly missing the exemption. “It’s pretty cutthroat. It’s no joke when guys’ jobs are on the line every year,” he said. “It’s not easy. I didn’t make money last year but I kind of had to pay my dues and get kicked around a little bit.” Haggerty’s tournament this weekend is only his sixth event of the PBA Northwest Region tour. Entering the event he sat in eighth place. Don Allen III and Corey Husted sat second and third, respectively, but each had bowled 13 total events. The tour points leader is Chad Uyehara of Fresno, Haggerty’s former Fresno State teammate and roommate when they bowl regionals. “I’m in pretty good shape for only bowling five events,” said Haggerty, who recently finished a summer league with a 245 average. When the regional point list ends Sept. 30, the top 25 bowlers on the Regional Players Invitational will be invited to the 2008 RPI in Reno in December. The top five RPI point leaders in the region receive an expenses-paid trip to the RPI and the chance to bowl for a PBA Tour exemption. “I just have to earn that status,” Haggerty said. “If I do well in that weeklong tournament and finish at the top, I’m exempt.” Exempt bowlers receive $1,800 each week for the year. Haggerty said a week on the road costs up to $1,200, “so you’re finally making a little money.” He’s currently on the road three days a week during the regional tour. His travel will increase during The PBA Tour season, which runs through April. During the seven-month tour Haggerty will only return home during a three-week break for Christmas and another week during March Madness. The tour begins in Wichita, with the December hiatus occurring in Baltimore. A West Coast swing will follow before bowlers trek back across the Midwest and conclude the season in the East again. “Last year I pretty much had to drive the entire United States back and forth twice,” Haggerty said. When he’s not on the road Haggerty practices in Clovis, where he lives in a house owned by his mother, who averages around 200, and father, who recently got back into bowling after taking eight years off. Haggerty lives down the street from Fresno State bowling coach Chris Preble. “PJ is the most talented player we’ve had come through the university,” Preble said. “He has the combination of being blessed with talent and having the desire. He’s making his dream come true right now, getting used to the lifestyle of living out of your suitcase and traveling from one spot to the next.” Preble was the assistant coach under Glenn Carlson, who passed away earlier this year after leading Fresno’s bowling program for four decades. “He was pretty much the reason people went to Fresno State,” Haggerty said of Carlson. “It wasn’t because of the school or the city. It was because of Glenn. It was really hard to see him go, but it was nice to be a part of his program.” Preble continues to serve as a mentor to Haggerty, who assisted Preble and traveled to nationals with the Fresno team. “I would be really surprised if PJ doesn’t find his way to an exemption for the following season,” Preble said. “I hope he does because his personality is infectious. He’s not afraid to have fun.” Only time will tell when the finances outweigh that fun. “It’s year-to-year. I want to do it until I get exempt and I want to keep my exemption, but if the numbers don’t add up and it’s not worth it, then I can’t sacrifice losing money every week to bowl,” he said. “I have a degree to fall back on, but I don’t want to fall back on it. I want to be one of the best bowlers.”