HAMMOND | Billy Oatman has a unique way of keeping his concentration on his game while bowling -- by playing pinochle with his wife Annette between frames.
That's what Oatman did on his way to a 779 series in Saturday's qualifying round of the Times Classic co-sponsored by Pepsi at Olympia Lanes.
"See, when you're playing pinochle, you can't worry about the other guys striking," he said. "I can just bowl my game and stay in the flow."
Oatman, Class A champ both last year and in 2005, rolled a 183 in his first game. That was before his parents, Bill and Joyce, were in the building.
"My father wasn't here (during the first game). I was worried and kept looking at the door and couldn't concentrate," Oatman said. "When he got here, I started striking."
The 2006-07 PBA rookie of the year made a ball change for the second game and watched his scores rise.
"Bowling on the PBA kind of gives me a slight advantage," Oatman said. "You start to see things and recognize things that you probably wouldn't as the average bowler."
John Lahori had the opposite problem. The fourth-place finisher in 2002 started with a 277 game but finished at only 707.
"I was kind of lucky (in the first game). I had a good ball reaction and a lot of carry," Lahori, of Chicago, said. "Then, I kind of lost my reaction a little bit."
Ron Nelson hasn't bowled in The Times Classic since it moved to Olympia from Bowl Era in 1995. The Bridgeview resident's 751 series will put him within striking distance of qualifying in Class A but he won't even be back for the semifinals June 3.
"I've got a big tournament that day because I've got a big tournament that I usually do well in," Nelson said. "It's a cool tournament and I didn't realize it was this big, but I can't make it."
Other notable scores include Aria Kamula's 773, Jesse Lane's 738 and John Lubash Jr.'s 727. In Class SA, Jerry Vogelgesang rolled a 729 while Jim Latta Sr. notched a 712.
Next weekend marks the final two days of qualifying.