It’s that time of the year again. 19 years Martin Luther King Jr day has been marked on bowlers calendars. A new year, and a new Storm Northwest Tour season comes upon us and with it comes one of the toughest tests in bowling. What started out as a tournament to find the next Storm staffer, has evolved to much more. It’s history is filled with moments we will never forget, most recently, an emotional Josh Link winning after a significant loss in his life and completing the repeat, Randy making the 4-7-8-10, then striking in the 10th to win, Josh Blanchard being the first to repeat since Scott Norton in the tournaments first 2 years, Clay winning a record setting third title, and the list goes on. The most prolific names in the northwest and some from all over the country sit at the table of champions here at the Storm Utah Open. Norton, Flynn, Kinney, Turner, the late Bob Scadden, Rees, Hackleman, the late Jeff Conradi, Harrington, Groat, Blanchard, Link, and Miles. Now, bigger than ever, what moments will we witness this year? Who among the 600 plus who will test their might and come out Sunday night a champion? Who will add their name to the exclusive list of Storm Utah Open champions? Someone new? Or a name we already know.
I know I say this a lot, how stacked the field is and how hard it is to pick just 13, but I mean it this time. Never have I had a roster where so many names have resumes like this event. Surely I will snub someone, but this time, I have no choice. Some names to look out for that did not make the list are past champion Chuck Groat, Mike Sagers, Carolyn Dorrin Ballard, KT Simpson, Rob Lund, Brandon Smith, and Riley Woodard. As our biggest event we have covered to date, we here at Championship Bowling hope you enjoy it as much as we will. Let's dive into the bowlers I think have the best shot at winning the biggest iteration of this tournament ever.
4. Clay Rees - Clay comes into the 19th edition of the Storm Utah Open as the only 3 time winner. That kind of experience can only be earned through years of grinding qualifying squads and elimination finals. He knows the feeling of being the man. He has so much step ladder experience the moment never gets too big for him. Even at the Championship Bowling Masters He showed his mental fortitude. He split the first title match and lost it in a roll off after some issues with the crowd. Split the next match to force another roll off and sealed the deal in the 3rd round by tripping a 4 pin. He can bowl in this center. He understands the crossings, he can play anywhere on the lane. Clay knows what it takes to win this event more so than anyone else in this field. He looks to break his own record and become a 4 time champion here at the Storm Utah Open. Honestly, the bowlers in this top 4, any one of them could win. I have now cause for concern for any of them. That’s the exciting thing though, that we know come Sunday evening, we are in for one hell of a show.
3. Josh Blanchard - Josh Blanchard is another one of those bowlers who returns after a multi year hiatus. The last 2 times he has bowled he has won and he is looking to tie clay as a 3 time champion. Josh as we have seen in some of the events we have covered can bowl regardless of the amount of time he spends away from competing. He doesn't miss a step. His game is super versatile and that is going to be crucial as this pattern transitions. This one again comes down to who the bowling gods decide to grace come Sunday evening. The stage will have been set for the handful of bowlers who make it that far into this test. Josh has a real shot of making history at this event and we can't wait to watch it.
2. Alex Hoskins - Where do I begin with Alex. His reputation precedes himself. We are watching a legend in the making with what he has done in his competitive life. No one is more consistent than Alex. Seriously, when was the last time he missed a cut? I’m sure Alex could tell you, that's just who he is, but man, it must have been way back in the junior days. One thing that has eluded him thus far in his career, is the Storm Utah Open. I want to say he has made the last 4 step ladders at this event. He’s made the last several step ladders on the SNWT going back to last season too. This event though, he hasn't sealed the deal on. Why is that? Was it just luck, or mistakes, or maybe the bowling gods just wanted to give me something to write about. Whatever the case may be the simple fact Alex hasn't won this event yet holds him out of my number 1 spot. No one has a better resume than he, other than this fact. I really hope we see Alex make a run, and I really hope he can finally eclipse this mountain. We may even see a little emotion come out too! However, we just simply can't deny our next pick the number 1 spot.
1. Josh Link - Josh Link. The baddest damn man at this event as of late. The last three years of this event Josh has finished first, first, and second. There are many reasons why Josh seems to dominate this event. Even when he has had to bowl 5 or more qualifying squads. There is no one better at hooking the ball than Josh Link. When the pattern breaks down after 6 or 7 games the electricity begins to flow through his veins. He has put on some very memorable moments in the past, and was just as gracious in defeat to an unbelievable performance put on by Randy Miles last year. One thing I do worry about with Josh is his back. We have seen a few times now his back flare up and he just isn’t 100%. One thing I can guarantee you all is that come Sunday, and all the chips are down, you are going to see just how important winning is to these competitors. With all of that said, my prediction for the 19th edition of the Storm Utah Open is that Sunday Panda comes out in full force and the baddest man in the bowl Josh Link will join Clay Rees as a 3 time champion.
The 2023 Storm Utah Open begins at 3 PM Friday January 13th with the first of 10 qualifying squads LIVE on Championship Bowling’s YouTube page! For the full schedule check our pinned post on Facebook and Instagram.