He holds the American Bowling Congress record with 43 sanctioned 300 games.
But Bob Learn Jr. said all of them combined "never felt as good as this right here" yesterday after winning the $150,000 Fair Lanes Open at Fair Lanes Woodlawn.
It was the first national title of Learn's checkered career, which has been interrupted by illness, often confined to regional tournaments and always promising, but never totally fulfilling.
Top seed Learn, of Erie, Pa., culminated a smashing week in which he was the leading qualifier or closely chasing the leader by defeating Dave D'Entremont, 253-163, in the only game Learn had to bowl.
The victory was worth $31,000 to Learn, who finished sixth here two years ago when Dundalk's Danny Wiseman rose from obscurity to win his first national crown. The check was larger than Learn's total earnings for 1991.
D'Entremont, of Parma, Ohio, had parried the charge of No. 5 qualifier and defending champion Pete Weber, who rolled past Dave Ferraro, 203-182, and Curtis Odom, 231-214, in the first two matches.
By beating Weber, 204-169, D'Entremont guaranteed himself at least the $16,000 runner-up purse, plus a shot at his first national title.
But D'Entremont was never in the final match of the nationally televised show, starting with an open frame and coming back in the fourth with a 9 after two strikes. The smallest margin enjoyed by Learn was 13 pins after two frames.
That was in contrast to their battle during the match-play segment of the tournament, when D'Entremont prevailed, 289-278.
A power player who gets excellent action on his ball, Learn said he "felt comfortable" undergoing the 75-minute wait until his match.
"The scores weren't that high. They were making strikes, but they weren't showing up in the scores," Learn said. "Then, when he [D'Entremont] opened early, it loosened me up. Every time I've been on national TV, I've lost with 246 or better."
The turning point, if there was one, arrived in the fifth frame when Learn struck from the Brooklyn side and went on to a 44-pin advantage.
"When I threw the Brooklyn coming out of the commercial, I felt I was in pretty good shape," said Learn, 29, whose best previous finish this season was 15th at the Flagship City Open in his hometown two weeks earlier. "In every single show I've been on I've thrown a good shot after a commercial."
Learn underwent an operation in 1987 to correct an inner ear problem that affected his equilibrium. He rejoined the tour part time two years later and had finished as high as second only once in the interim.
"At the last minute, I switched to a duller ball," he said. "I was having trouble on the right lane with hooking early."
D'Entremont, 30, said he "threw a bad shot in the fourth, so I moved another two boards and my eyes one board. But it was too little too late."
Learn has won 16 regional titles, including four last year and three straight in the East. He had been in three previous national telecasts, with a 2-3 record.
"All I've ever asked is to be able to win a title," he said. "This is the first time I've really had a chance. I've bowled Dave a lot in our region, so that helped me look at this as a regional."
But a regional crown doesn't send a pro bowler to Akron, Ohio, for the $300,000 Firestone Tournament of Champions. Yesterday's victory got Learn an invitation.
"I never ever thought about that," he said. "I've heard Akron is nice in April. I'll be there."
(5) Pete Weber, Florissant, Mo., defeated (4) Dave Ferraro, Kingston, N.Y., 203-182; Weber defeated (3) Curtis Odom, Winston-Salem, N.C., 231-214; (2) Dave D'Entremont, Parma, Ohio, defeated Weber, 204-169; (1) Bob Learn, Jr., Erie, Pa., defeated D'Entremont, 253-163.