Iowa may be known as being home of “The Field of Dreams” but there is a guy who lives there who has been focused on the “The Lanes of Dreams.”

For Tom Hess, the dream has always been to bowl for a living. In 2021, he’s been living his dream.

“It really is a dream come true,” Hess said. “What I did this year. To make 5 finals, win two majors, be named PBA50 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. It feels unbelievable.”

What if…

Everyone in their life has some “what if” moments. What if I had taken that job? What if I had made that move? What if I had talked to that person? What if I had chased my dream?

Hess doesn’t focus on the “what if.”

“I’m bowling against all the guys I would have bowled against 10 years ago, and I won,” Hess said. “Makes me feel like I was good enough all along. It’s a great feeling but I can’t look at it like that. You don’t know how it would have been if I had been out there full-time then. I was a different person, and it was under different circumstances. All I know is right now, it’s the right place and right time. I want to keep taking advantage of these opportunities.”

For Hess, it was always about supporting the people who supported him. In every interview, he will always share that he couldn’t have done any of the things in his career without his wife, Sue, who stayed home to raise their children and keep everything going in their home.

“It takes support at home to do what I’ve done and to be gone as much as I’ve been gone,” Hess said. “Bowling has always been a provider for us, but it takes a lot of determination to keep doing it when things aren’t going well. It takes a lot of heart. It’s not always easy.”

Tom and Sue have been together for 32 years and married for 21 of those years. Sue didn’t know much about bowling before she met Tom, but she started traveling to watch him bowl tournaments on the weekends, and she enjoyed learning more about the sport. She quickly saw the passion he had for it.

“I’ve always known that it’s his dream,” Sue Hess said. “It’s what he’s wanted to do his whole life. In the early days, as much as I wanted to, I knew that it was just something that we couldn’t give him at the time. As much as I wanted him to go out and bowl, we just couldn’t make it happen when our kids were young.”

Though it wasn’t in the cards to bowl full-time on the PBA Tour, Tom and his family found ways to allow him to compete locally, regionally, and at as many of the PBA events as possible while he maintained a full-time job to support his family.

“We knew it was a gamble,” Sue said. “Every time you step out on the lanes, you’re taking a chance. So, we found ways to support his dream while sustaining our life. It was hard but we always made it work.”

Tom continued to compete as a “weekend warrior” and bowl in events all over the country. He won numerous events locally and regionally. He earned his first PBA title in 2004 at the Midwest Region RPI Qualifier and then in 2011, the world got to see what Sue had seen all along. Tom won his first major title, the 2011 USBC Masters.

The Dream

After a series of top finishes and the win at the Masters, Hess qualified for the PBA Exempt Tour and finally felt like he could live his dream and go bowl for a living. Unfortunately, the Exempt Program was cancelled prior to the 2011 season.

“This was it, I was going to quit my job and go bowl,” Hess said. “We knew we could make it work but then it all goes away. It was just heartbreaking.”

Even though the situation changed, Hess didn’t give up. He bowled as many PBA Tour events that he could fit into his schedule while still maintaining a job to support his family. He’d fill in the other weekends with regional and local events.

“I’ve never just been a bowler, I’ve always had a job,” Hess said. “If we bowled for three weeks in a row, I’d come back and go to work.”

Though he continued to compete every weekend and find success there is a difference that many professional players discuss about the PBA Tour. Hess has always felt it too.

“I’ve won lots of regionals, lots of local stuff but the only place to practice the Tour is on the Tour,” Hess said.”

In the back of his mind, he still felt like something was missing. He still felt like he had more to prove, and he made a commitment to himself and his family, to go and chase his dream. Once eligible, Hess was going to go bowl full-time on the PBA50 Tour.

“I believed I could do it,” Hess said. “I knew I was going to be competitive. You never really know until you go do it.”

Though he made the commitment, Hess was faced with another setback. His first year eligible for the PBA50 Tour was 2020. Though the year started normal and Hess was able to compete in some PBA Tour events, things changed dramatically at the end of the World Series of Bowling.

“Originally I was planning to fly straight from the WSOB to Smyrna to watch my daughter, Megan bowl in the Intercollegiate Team Championships and Intercollegiate Singles Championships,” Hess said. “Since bowling went so poorly for me at the WSOB, I wanted to leave early and go home. I met Sue and we were planning to drive the following day. We got a late start and when we were about 30 minutes into the drive, Megan called to tell us it had been cancelled.”

This was the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic and in the following weeks and months, the world would be faced with closings and cancellations of most activities to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It was a great disappointment for me,” Hess said. “I gained some time at home with my family, but I missed out on an entire season of the PBA50 Tour and the other events I was planning to bowl due to the pandemic. Who knows what would have happened if 2020 would have been a normal year?”

It didn’t stop him though. He focused on staying mentally sharp and knew he’d be ready when the events returned.

“More than anything it gave me another year to be more anxious,” Hess said. “I just wanted to go chase my dreams.”

Finding A Community

The PBA50 Tour is filled with legends and Hall of Fame bowlers. In a given week the Top 5 can be filled with hundreds of titles and pages of achievements in the sport of bowling. To win on this tour, you must be on the top of your game. When the PBA50 Tour finally started it took Hess a little time to develop his process.

Even though I bowled pretty good in the first couple of events in 2021, I really pressed,” Hess said. “I was trying way too hard. Chris Schlemer came out to a couple of the events, and he had been the Ball Rep on Tour when I won the USBC Masters. We worked well together, and I started to settle in. I made a few finals and started to get comfortable.”

For Tom, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy to compete on the PBA50 Tour, but what he didn’t know was the community that he would find.

“It’s as competitive as the regular tour but it really is a community,” Hess said. “After bowling is over, people hang out. There are some bowlers who have motorhomes and barbeque. There will be groups that go out to go golfing during the down time but when the lanes turn on, everyone is out there to win.”

Major Couple of Weeks

At Storm, whenever we had a Tour Representative or an expert on to discuss the Rookie Class on the PBA 50 Tour on The Morning Bolt, Tom Hess was always in the conversation. Entering the final events of 2021 Hess had already had a successful season, but there were a few things that were within his reach that could make it better. After his performance in events throughout the tour, Hess was not only in contention for the PBA50 Rookie of the Year Honor but also PBA50 Player of the Year.

Things started falling into place when he earned the top seed in the stepladder finals at the Senior U.S. Open. He faced fellow Chris Barnes in the final match and took home the title defeating Barnes 256-209. This title gave him his second career national major title.

“Some people always called me a one-hit wonder,” Hess said. “Winning this title showed that I belong there.”

The year honors would be decided at the final event of the season, the USBC Senior Masters.

Knowing what was at stake, Hess started the event as the tournament leader and maintained that lead through qualifying to be the number one seed in the bracket. He went on to survive his matches in the bracket and earned the fourth seed in the stepladder final. To win the title, Hess would need to win every match and due to the double elimination format, he would need to beat the top seed, Chris Barnes twice.

That was exactly what he’d go on to do. In the end, Hess defeated Barnes 278-226 and 237-203 to win the USBC Senior Masters title and lock up the PBA50 Player and Rookie of the Year Honors.

According to the USBC Records, earning this title made Hess the fourth player in history to win both the UBSC Masters and Senior Masters and third to win both the PBA50 Senior US Open and Senior Masters in the same season.

Representing The Red White and Blue

For Hess, 2021 was everything he dreamed it would be and more but there was one more item that Hess hoped to add to his season. That was the opportunity to represent the United States at the IBF Masters World Championships in Dubai. He had submitted his application and eagerly waited for the official announcement. A few weeks later, he was informed that he had been chosen for Team USA.

“To be chosen by a group of my peers to represent the United States, that’s the cherry on top,” Hess said. “Once I get to Dubai, I know it’s going to be the best feeling I’ve ever had throwing a bowling ball. I hope to be able to stand on the podium and listen to the National Anthem with my teammates with a gold medal around my neck. I think it’s going to be really good.”

Though Hess followed his dream and certainly had the dream season, he’s still setting some big goals for next season.

“I want to build on this year,” Hess said. “Last year was a dream season but that doesn’t mean next year can’t be better. There’s no quit in this guy. I always want to try to be better than I was the last time.”

At Storm, we’re proud that Tom Hess continues to choose to be a member of Team Storm. He’s a great representative for our brand on the lanes and at events. As for his support system at home, they couldn’t be prouder of everything he’s accomplished.

“What he has done is amazing,” Sue Hess said. “It’s been a roller coaster but it’s worth it. Even when he’d have a bad weekend and tell me he was going to quit, I always pushed him to bowl. I’d say, ‘Don’t quit. Keep trying. Keep going.’ Putting yourself out there is the only way that you can learn and get better. We’ve always tried to teach our daughter that. To have the season that he’s had, it’s so cool. This really makes it worth it.”