FROM ASSEMBLY LINE TO UNEMPLOYMENT LINE TO
THE PBA CHAMPIONSHIP
Since being handed an unemployment slip at the Pontiac East Assembly Plant two days before Christmas 2008, Tom Smallwood has gone from an auto-industry statistic to modern day fairy tale. Tom Smallwood had been laid off from a $16-an-hour job installing seat belts in Chevy Silverado’s to upsetting the reigning PBA player of the year to win a major title, $50,000 and a two year tour exemption.
Although Smallwood had spent a season on the pro tour five years earlier and continued a lucrative amateur bowling career before requalifing for 2009-2010 tour. Smallwood qualified for the four man PBA World Championship final more than three months earlier at Thunder bowl lanes in the Detroit metro area. After he earned his PBA card in May and made his first pro final in November. A phone call came from the General Motors job bank to let him know that there might be something for him, but he said, “ with all due humility no thanks, I got a new job and you can watch me do it on Sundays on ESPN.
First Smallwood attended Saginaw Valley State University but soon dropped out. He was going to be a bowler. He went to Las Vegas as a 19 year old for his first high roller amateur tournament, and won $10,000 on the second day. Smallwood guesses he made at least $200,000 in 12 years as an amateur. He guesses he would bowl for $800 to $4,000 on weekends at home. Even on bad years he would pocket $10,000 to $15,000 bowling.
Later Smallwood bowled so well in regional events that he qualified for his PBA card in 2003-2004. He struggled his way through 19 of 20 events, missing cuts. He was trying to finish in the top 50 money list so that he would make the tour as an all-exempt player, he finished 53. His soon to be wife Jen, a commercial scheduler for a group of radio stations, told him she was in no rush to marry a man who was not bringing home a regular paycheck.
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