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Talk about baptism by fire. In his first tournament after deciding to try his hand on the PBA tour, C.K. Moore, a Presbyterian minister, competed on national television against bowling superstar Parker Bonn III at the Columbia 300 Open in Austin. In the opening frame of the match, Moore scored an improbable strike when the headpin rolled around on the back of the deck before finally clipping the last pin standing. After that stroke of luck, Moore threw 11 more strikes to become the first rookie to bowl a televised 300 game. In addition to collecting $22,000 the next day for winning the tournament, Moore earned a $25,000 bonus from the Highland Lanes in Austin for bowling a perfect game on TV.
"I was in such disbelief that I really don't remember the 300 game that well, even when I watch it on tape," Moore says. After the tournament he misplaced his wallet and had to use his picture from the local newspaper as identification when he boarded his flight for the next tour stop, in Reno.
Moore recovered his billfold and subsequently proved that his initial success as a professional was not mere luck. At year's end the Rev, as his colleagues on the tour call him, came within one strike of winning a second tournament. His prize money for the season totaled $67,945, a rookie record, and he qualified for Brunswick's World Tournament of Champions. Moore was the tour's 1996 rookie of the year.
Not bad for a 39-year-old late bloomer who had spent the previous five years delivering sermons and working with youth groups at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in sleepy Chehalis, Wash. (pop. 7,000). "I had been bowling competitively since junior high and had been thinking about turning pro for a long time," says Moore, who also played baseball in high school, in Sacramento. "In the end, I didn't want to always say, 'Woulda, shoulda, coulda.' "
He credits his wife, Rebecca Kirk, the daughter of his piano teacher and a self-employed international education consultant who is fluent in four languages, "for encouraging me to follow my dream."
Before the official job change, Moore passed the collection plate, so to speak, to raise money to cover his expenses. He sold $1,000 shares in his career to 17 community business people. It wasn't just because he is a pleasant fellow that he had little trouble finding investors. In 1995 Moore took his youth group to a bowling alley and reluctantly filled in when one of the kids took ill. Using a house ball and wearing hiking boots, he rolled a 300 game, the "20th or so" of his career, he says. So last January, four weeks after marrying Rebecca, C.K. resigned as an associate pastor and hit the road. "Life on the tour is pretty much what I expected," he says. "You just need to treat it like a job that you take seriously."
When Moore is home in Chehalis, which is halfway between Portland and Seattle, he plays basketball and lifts weights at the gym and bowls six times a week. (You can guess on which day he rests.) Standing 6'3" and built like one of the Douglas firs at the timber yard down the street from his house, Moore does not want for power. But synthetic surfaces give him trouble. "I have a long swing, and the ball skids down the lane faster than it does on wood," he says. "Mostly, though, I need to work on overall consistency."
In competition, Moore, whose initials stand for Charles Kenneth, bowls with a somber visage. He takes a deep breath and wipes his 16-pound ball before letting fly. He is without spiritual pretensions. "It's hard to be superstitious and be a minister," he says. "Besides, I don't think God plays favorites."
Moore leads Bible study for other holy rollers on the tour but otherwise avoids waxing evangelical. "I don't go around preaching to the guys, and they're not trying to shove drinks into my hand," he says. "I just happen to be a pastor who bowls."
Bowling's rookie-of-the-year distinction doesn't bring with it a long-term contract, a windfall of endorsements or many other guarantees. "I know that winning an award in 1996 doesn't do a thing for me in 1997," Moore says. "I have goals for this year, and in December my wife and I will sit down and ask ourselves where we go from there. Right now, though, we're still in a state of wonderment."