In all the 56 years that the Bowling World Cup ran, the UK had only one male winner. Bernie Caterer conquered the World way back in 1973 in Singapore and almost did not even get in the country.
In 2023 it is 50 years since this feat, so time to catch up with the man himself and ask about how he won the AMF Bowling World Cup.
Let’s talk about you nearly not even getting in the country, what happened?
I still can’t believe it’s 50 years since winning the World Cup in Singapore. I was warned before I left the UK that long hair was banned in Singapore because the police associated long hair with drugs and were at the time in conflict with all young people and they would pull them off the street and cut it off, very badly. So I had 2 inches cut off the length but it obviously was not enough as I was ushered into a room with Kambiz Kiani the colourful bowler from Iran to await our fate. Fortunately after some time we were allowed in to play.
Once there, you made it through qualifying and onto the finals. at any point in the week did you feel you had a shot at winning and what do you remember about qualifying
Qualifying started with a block of games to cut the field to 20. The 20 played a block of games to cut to 8, I can’t remember how many games these blocks were but I know it was a lot. The scores were put back to zero after each block so you just had to make sure you were in the top end.
I qualified 8th into top 8. In the round of 8, I was sitting in 8th place but Kiani had yet to finish. His opponent asked Kiani to miss so he could win (Kiani was already eliminated). Kiani went up and struck, turned around at the foul line, pulled out two imaginary pistols and fired. Came back off the approach and said ” Bernie is my Buddy”. So final 8 was a round robin with bonus points for a win. Qualified 4th into final 4.
Final 4 was a round robin played over 2 pairs of lanes. 1 pair was magic for me shooting 236 and 279 backed up with 400 over the other pair qualified me in 1st place for the final against Glen Watson of Canada, one of the pre tournament favourites.
And so to the final. Are the memories still as vivid as they were and how did the final go in your eyes?
The final, Glen kicks off with 258 against my 227. Second game I pulled some back with 215 against 204. So I’m 20 down going into last game. Neck and neck through the last game, I’m just in front but not enough. In the 8th frame Glen misses a spare and at this point I knew I was just in front.
I was not someone who suffered with nerves where the legs go and you can’t move but what did happen was my stomach came up into my throat and I could have willingly leaned over the seating area and thrown up. Didn’t though and got back to work (There was an estimated 3 million TV viewers watching so that would have been embarrassing)
Glen finished first with a score of 180. I needed 18 in the tenth frame. First ball a little tight left the 3 10. Spared ok, got up for the last ball thought to myself ‘you know where it is’ and took the shot. In this event all the other bowlers where seated along the adjoining lanes and as my ball was going down just at the headers, I heard Dez Murphy of Ireland shout out ‘He’s there’ the ball was a perfect hit but it left the tenpin, but it was enough to win by 1 pin. If you look at pictures I was on my knees but the first one to me was Mr Murphy.
Champion of the World, please describe that feeling and how it was when you got home to a proud Great Britain?
No doors opened for me only personal pride. I wasn’t expecting anything, so I wasn’t disappointed.
In the years to follow Kambiz came to live in England and bowled in the DBA team. Also I would say that getting through the UK qualifying tournament was very hard the way it was set up with Centre rounds then centre finals and then UK final with only one spot available. Many good bowlers didn’t get through Centre final. And that was every year.
This is what made this Tournament special. I started bowling in 1963 but never set out to become world champion. In those days through the 60’s and 70’s, it was all team bowling and I practiced hard because I wanted to play for a top team, that was my goal. Personally I think this was the best time to be bowling as I have played with and against some great people all I count as great friends. I have played all over the World and I have memories you couldn’t buy.
Winning the world Cup was a personal achievement after all the work I put in. I never gained any riches from it but never expected any. I just loved to bowl. I must add that winning the World doubles two years later with Brian Michael was a different feeling again. Brian and I have been friends since the 60’s bowled together, bowled against each other, made our Great Britain debut together, so it was great to be paired up together at the World Championships in the doubles. On the day Brian was on fire and I was a little slow getting started. but we got there winning at the time with a record score. We had talked 4 years before in the USA after watching the Puerto Ricans winning the gold, saying how great that must feel. Then four years later to do it was very special.