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Published: Monday, 2/5/2001

Big finish helps Lizzi bridge lean times to success

Jeff Lizzi almost yielded to temptation.

The frustration and drudgery of living paycheck to paycheck very nearly drove Lizzi from the PBA Tour to the unemployment line.

Look at what Lizzi would have missed.

Yesterday's second-place finish in the PBA National Championship at Southwyck Lanes boosted Lizzi's yearly earnings to $26,310 through the first four tour events, not including incentives. In losing to Walter Ray Williams Jr. in the championship match, Lizzi took second place for the second week in a row.

Lizzi, 35, can see clearly now. The light at the end of the tunnel is no longer an onrushing train - but a pot of gold.

He has more than $400,000 in career earnings, which isn't as much as it sounds like when it is spread over 18 years.

There were some lean years. In fact, there was one year (1987) when Lizzi recorded zero earnings on the tour.

Lizzi won his only tournament in 1992, when he earned a career-best $80,919. This year, he is on course to reach $100,000 for the first time.

Sandusky's Jeff Lizzi had a three-game series of 667, which wasn't quite enough to win the PBA National Championship. Sandusky's Jeff Lizzi had a three-game series of 667, which wasn't quite enough to win the PBA National Championship.
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“I had some really, really good weeks last year. And then I came out this year and I'm doing it again,” Lizzi, a native of Sandusky, said after surviving Friday's cut.

Looking to win his first PBA title in nine years, Lizzi is finally achieving the level of consistency that has eluded him since joining the tour in 1984.

“It's like I got myself over that hurdle, going to the next plateau,” Lizzi said. “Things are coming easier now.”

In 1997 - when Lizzi thought seriously about quitting the tour - he earned $22,799.

Time to get a real job, eh, Jeff?

Lizzi always wanted to be an architect. He took a couple of classes and considered a career change. But he never wanted the dream to end.

“At that time I was thinking, `Is it ever going to get any better?' I was getting to that age where I couldn't stay out here breaking even or making a little bit of money when I could be doing something else,” Lizzi said. “I never quit, but I considered it.”

Lizzi redirected his frustration into positive thoughts after meeting Cathy Dorin, who bowls on the women's tour.

Both bowlers were struggling to locate consistency in their games and gained confidence from each other. They bowled as a team and won a regional doubles tournament. They were married on Dec.2.

Sandusky's Jeff Lizzi celebrates his defeat of Tommy Delutz, Jr., in a rolloff, the first ever in the PBA National Championship in Toledo. About 500 local fans helped in the celebration. Sandusky's Jeff Lizzi celebrates his defeat of Tommy Delutz, Jr., in a rolloff, the first ever in the PBA National Championship in Toledo. About 500 local fans helped in the celebration.
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“ I told Cathy I was thinking about quitting ... just bowling part-time and running my family's bowling center (Star Lanes in Sandusky),” Lizzi said. “She told me that as hard as she worked in the sport, nobody was going to suggest that she quit, including herself.”

Armed with additional financial support from Track, his endorsement company, and from two sponsors in Akron, Lizzi said he realized his destiny was to be a professional bowler.

Both of Jeff's brothers have bowled in PBA regional tournaments. Both parents and all three sisters are avid bowlers.

“I come from a big bowling family,” said Lizzi, who started bowling at age 4. “I've been bowling all my life. I grew up in our bowling center. I've worked in every aspect of it. I really love this sport. I love the business. And I love doing this professionally.

“If you compare our pay to other professional sports, it's a lot lower. To be able to do this for the money we're making, you have to love it.

“Every year, it keeps getting a little bit better.”

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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