Horseshoes it isn't. But for Walter Ray Williams Jr., bowling is where the money is.
That's why a four-time world horseshoes champion nicknamed "Deadeye" is concentrating not on ringers, but on strikes and spares this week.
Williams was in 10th place among 24 finalists as match play in the $150,000 Fair Lanes Open ended last night in Randallstown.
The field, led by Pete Weber (6,195 pins) of Florissant, Mo., and including 13th-place Mark Bowers (5,767) of Aberdeen, will be reduced to eight beginning tonight at 6:15. The five-man championship round televised by ABC (channels 13, 7) follows tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Williams, with 5,825 pins, is 121 out of fifth place. He's not worried. "One game and you can change that with relative ease," he said.
Besides, he really would rather be outdoors.
"My first love is horseshoes. I actually enjoy it more than bowling," said Williams, 32, an 11th-year pro from Stockton, Calif.
"It's something I've been doing longer, and will be doing after I've stopped bowling," Williams said. But therein lies the rub. "It's just that you don't make much money -- if I could, that's what I'd do."
Williams said that despite winning four men's world championships (1978, 1980-81, 1985), his biggest payday in horseshoes was $3,500.
Bowling is another matter.
After a modest debut in 1980 when he earned $641 in regional tournaments, his career has taken off. Williams committed to the Professional Bowlers Association Tour in 1983 and has averaged $119,460 yearly since then.
Williams, PBA Player of the Year in 1986 when he won the Baltimore stop, was second in last week's $130,000 Flagship City Open in Erie, Pa. That boosted his 1991 earnings to $45,030, second-best on a tour he leads with a 220.74-pin average.
He is already the PBA Tour's 16th all-time money-winner with $734,419.
This is a far cry from the 11-year-old who took up bowling, but had to quit because his family was too large. "With three older sisters and three younger brothers, we couldn't afford it. It wasn't fair that I was the only one to be bowling," he said.
Hence, it was horseshoes through high school as Williams put his bowling career on hold until age 18. "But three years later I was averaging over 200," he said.
He is a consistent and accurate player despite an unorthodox delivery. "It's basically because I'm self-taught. In slow-motion, it looks like I should be breaking my left arm every time. But I explode at the line to get as much energy [behind the ball] as possible," Williams said.
"Just about everybody grows up dreaming of being professional in some sport. Most fall short," Williams said. "Even here, of 3,000 PBA members only 50 or 60 make a living. Only 15 to 20 make a really good living."
He is one of the few. But someday he may return to horseshoes. He already markets his trademark "Deadeye" horseshoes. That is, after all, his first love. "Obviously, the president thinks it's pretty neat, too," said Williams, who helped dedicate the White House horseshoe court in April 1989.
Competition followed. "President Bush is a decent pitcher. Not great by any means, but, for a president, he's pretty good."