Duane Mellinger, a recent inductee in to the Colorado State Bowling Hall-of-Fame, became the oldest winner of the New Mexico Open at Tenpins & More in Rio Rancho earlier this month.  Mellinger couldn't believe it, saying in an interview, "Wow! What a thrill! I never thought at my age I'd ever win a big tournament like this." Prompted further, he said he was 57 years old.  He didn't look it or act it on the lanes, qualifying with 1,673/8 on the demanding lane condition, 67 pins ahead of the cut from a large starting field of 196 down to 48 for elimination bracket play.

In the finals, which featured stars including Jakob Butturff, Francois Lavoie, Mitch Hupe and Steve Kloempken as well as previous winners here like David Haynes, Chris Klerk and Vernon Peterson, Mellinger rode out key shots and struck out on numerous occasions to become the unbeaten top seed going 5-0 prior the championship round.  In the process, he beat Zachary Schroeder of Colorado, 386-356, Ed Smaglik of Arizona 443-436, Michael Fitzgerald of Arizona 406-341, Kris Koeltzow of Colorado 431-367 And Toby Sambueno of Nevada 430-387, with Sambueno finishing fifth for $ 1,960.

The finals had one bowler each from the "four corners" states, with first up Matt Smith of New Mexico beating Rich Miller of Tucson, Arizona 462-401. Miller's first appearance at New Mexico netted him $2,300 in fourth place.  Kloempken, of Utah, hadn't bowled here since 2007. He looked fit, and sharp, putting Smith away with a 414-397 decision, after Smith had migrated a few boards too far left, trying perhaps to avoid Kloempken's similar path to the pocket.   Smith finished third for $3,125, the highest for a home state bowler since Tenpins' Pro-Shop operator Billy Grant took fourth in 2012. 

Kloempken was consistent in his opener against Mellinger with a pair of 220's for a 443-429 win, evening the pair now at one loss apiece in a high quality pressure-packed match, viewed so far by more than 30,000 people on the (archived) BowlStreamTV.com You Tube channel.  In the final match, Mellinger put his foot on the gas with a four-bagger and turkey to take a handy lead 244-203, after Kloempken had three splits, sparing the 2-10 but including a blow-out 7-10 that cost him a potential 235.  Kloempken threw seven strikes from the first eight but a 4-6-7 in the third kept a lone double by Mellinger in front by 17. It was enough after Mellinger threw a clutch turkey in the tenth for 218 to a gallant 231 by his opponent, who collected $ 6,570 as runner-up.  Mellinger averaged 213.2 over 14 games, proving that it still is "strikes for show and spares for dough" as he won $ 12,620 with only eight open frames in 22 games at an overall average of 211.7 and joining Vernon Peterson (2017) and Chris Barnes (2018) as three back-to-back winners over 40 in one of American bowling's hardest tournaments to win.

This 16th annual event attracted bowlers from Canada and thirteen states, including first-timers from North Carolina and Oregon. It paid out a record $65,075, much of it from corporate and local sponsors, bringing to more than $ 656,000 the total paid since Albuquerque's John Young won the opener in 2004 with a pay-out of $ 14,000 and 78 bowlers.

A new Buick Encore SUV offered for a 300 game by the top four never got going, as Kloempken's starting double in the last game was as far as it went.   

Next year's tournament is set for August 14-16, maintaining the third weekend of the month for the seventeenth renewal.


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