After Huntington North graduate EJ Tackett bowled a strike in his final frame to defeat Jakob Butturff on Sunday and win the PBA Tour Finals, he paused, pointed to the ceiling and said, “Grandpa Alex, I love you.”
Tackett dedicated the tournament win, the 13th PBA Tour victory of his career and first this season, to his grandfather, who died just a week earlier at the age of 90. After Tackett clinched the victory, he broke down.
“I couldn't keep it together, I started crying,” Tackett said. “All the emotions that were building up over the last week came flooding out in that moment. ... It was really cool because I know that everybody at home was watching. It was a cool moment. I was at a loss what to do and what words to say.”
In the eight-player tournament at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas, which matched the top eight players on the tour in points over the last two years, Tackett defeated Kris Prather and Bill O'Neill to reach the title match against Butturff.
In that final match, Butturff won the opening game 247-225, but Tackett evened the score with a 238-220 win in the second game, setting up a two-frame tiebreaker. Tackett took the lead in the first extra frame with a strike to Butturff's spare and then when Butturff left three pins standing in the second frame, Tackett needed only nine on two shots combined to win it.
“My thought process was, 'Just throw a good shot, don't do anything stupid, stay behind the foul line and just make a good shot, and you have it from there,' ” Tackett said. “When I threw it, I was 99.9% sure I was getting at least nine on that shot.”
Tackett did one better and finished off the tournament with a strike, pointing to the sky and then embracing Butturff as some tears flowed.
“(The win) means a lot,” he said. “I wanted to win this week maybe more so than I have any tournament in my career. ... I know (my grandfather) was with me the whole time and looking down over me. It's a great feeling and it's really cool to be able to dedicate it to him and my entire family.
“This is one of those events that's going to be special and near and dear to my heart probably for the rest of my life.”
In addition to being an important victory for Tackett personally, it was a needed triumph for his career, as well. He had gone nearly a full year without a win despite playing well and finishing in the top 10 and even the top 5 plenty of times.
Tackett felt he was close to picking up a victory and kept pushing, confident that things would fall into place.
“For quite a long time, I've been asked questions, 'Why haven't you won, why haven't you won?'” Tackett said. “Well it just hasn't come together yet. I've bowled really well. ... I knew that if I just kept performing well, eventually things were going go my way and it was going to work out and this weekend was that day.
“My confidence hasn't been lacking. ... I was giving myself plenty of opportunities (to get in the winner's circle).”
Tackett will be back in action starting Thursday in a mixed doubles tournament in Houston, the Storm PBA/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer.