Focused on his play, bowler Merwin Tan was oblivious of the fact that he was poised to make history at the underground Royal City Mall Bowling Center, site of the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games bowling tournament, early Monday morning.
After all, Tan was bent on coping with his struggles midway through the final game of the six-game series of the men’s singles event in a sport that used to be a SEA Games gold mine for Filipino keglers but had remained in the doldrums for over a decade in the regional sports showcase.
But lo and behold, with a change of lanes, ball and timely adjustment, the 22-year-old southpaw showed nerves of steel in racking up a “6-bagger” – six strikes in a row – from the sixth frame onwards in fashioning an incredible come-from-behind win.
Tan snatched the gold medal with a final score of 1262 pinfalls, 6 pins better than Thailand’s Yannaphon Larphapharat, who saw imminent victory slip from his hands and had to settle for the silver medal with a score of 1286.
Thus 11 years of futility ended for the Philippines, whose last bowling gold was won by Frederick Go also in the men’s singles event in the 2011 Indonesia SEA Games held in the capital of Jakarta.
“Sobrang saya and shocking din po na nanalo ng gold sa Pilipinas (I am extremely happy and shocked that I won gold for the Philippines,” said Tan in disbelief following his improbable triumph that got the country off to an auspicious bowling start.
A member of the four-man team that won a bronze medal in in the world tenpin bowling meet in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates last November 2021, the bowler revealed that concentration on the last game was “frame by frame. I did not even realize I was behind.
“I was just trying to execute well, make good shots and maximize every frame. It was only after we tallied the scores after the match did I realize I had won,” Tan said.
He added that lanes 3 and 4 and a ball change during his final game complemented his left-handed playing style, a fact that national men’s coach Biboy Rivera confirmed.
“Because Merwin is a southpaw, he had more room to maneuver in these lanes so it worked well for him, unlike if he was a right-handed player,” Rivera said.
“I am so overwhelmed. After 11 years, I cannot thank the Lord enough. Talagang come from behind si Merwin (Merwin really came from behind). We prayed he could recover and he did,” said Philippine Bowling Federation secretary-general Bong Coo with joy over the bowler’s clutch performance.
Tan said one of his thoughts after winning his first SEA Games gold was his late grandfather Mersal Tan, who died in 2019 and had brought him to the bowling lanes and taught him how to bowl as a child.
“Nung maliit ako si lolo Mersal ang nagyaya sa aking mag-bowling at sa kanya din ako natuto hanggang naging member ako ng national bowling team in 2016. (It was lofo Mersal who brought me to the bowling lanes and taught me how to bowl until I became a national team member in 2016),” Tan reminisced.
“So I dedicate this victory to my lolo since it is very memorable to me.”
But Tan had little time to relax and relish his victory since he was scheduled to be back in action in the men’s doubles event on Tuesday, hoping that his own golden contribution would spark a bowling revival for the rest of the squad.