How to Join the PBA Tour

Becoming a Professional Bowler

Professional Bowlers Association
Image courtesy of PBA LLC

Many amateurs have bowled good games and thought, “I just bowled a better score than the pros did on TV this week—I should become a pro bowler.”

It’s not nearly that simple, but it is possible.

Qualification Requirements

Before you can even consider applying for membership, you must fulfill at least one of three qualifications:

  1. Average 200 or better, with a minimum of 36 games bowled, in your most recent league season.
  1. Average 190 or better in a sport league sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).
  2. Cash in a Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) regional tournament as a nonmember.

Joining the PBA Tour

Let’s assume you averaged 210 in your most recent league season, thus meeting the minimum qualification requirement.

This does not guarantee you a spot in every tournament going up against Chris Barnes and the other exempt bowlers.

Bowlers want to earn exemptions because it means they can bowl in all PBA events for the length of their exemptions without having to go through the Tour Qualifying Round (TQR). An exempt bowler can pick and choose any and all PBA Tour events and is guaranteed a spot. You will still be subject to the TQR.

If you select a standard membership, you’ll be eligible to bowl in three regional tournaments and three PBA Tour Qualifying Rounds, plus three or more open PBA events.

If you select a full membership, you’ll be eligible to bowl an unlimited number of regional tournaments and PBA Tour Qualifying Rounds.

The Tour Qualifying Rounds

PBA Tour events have a set number of spots available. Exempt bowlers grab those spots at will, and any spots left over are available to the winners of the TQR.

You and your fellow competitors will compete in the TQR, which can be thought of as a pretournament tournament. The top bowlers from this round make it into the real event. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you have just as much opportunity as Walter Ray Williams Jr. to pull out a victory.

The goal of all pro bowlers is to earn an exemption. You get to choose which events you want to play, and you don’t have to go through the grueling TQR to get in.

There are a number of ways to earn an exemption on the PBA Tour.

  • Win a major championship (U.S. Open, Tournament of Champions, USBC Masters, PBA World Championship), which is worth a multi-year exemption.
  • Win a PBA Tour standard title.
  • Place in the previous season’s World Point Ranking list, minus those who already earned an exemption, up to a maximum of 42 bowlers.
  • Lead non-exempt members (among bowlers who regularly bowl in the TQR) on the World Point Ranking list.
  • Finish in the top 7 of the previous season’s PBA Regional Players Invitational.
  • Resume a previous exemption after a medical or hardship deferment.
  • Receive a Golden Parachute exemption from the PBA, awarded to one non-exempt player by PBA leadership.

Your best shot is to get through the TQR enough times that you either win a tournament or rack up the points. Beating Norm Duke for a tournament title is obviously not going to be easy, but becoming a professional athlete never is.

Being a PBA Exempt Bowler

At this point, you can enter any PBA Tour event you want, and are guaranteed a spot in the tournament. However, you have to earn an exemption every year (unless you win a major, in which case you remain exempt for two or three years, depending on the tournament).

Becoming a professional bowler is much more difficult than most people realize, and remaining a professional bowler is likely almost as difficult.

However, if you’re good enough, and you really want it, the possibility is there. Good luck.