Blake Earnest didn't go to his Intro to Online Development class Monday.
But he's got a pretty cool excuse.
The Hastings College senior was at Sun Valley Lanes practicing for the biggest tournament of his life, the U.S. Open.
Earnest earned his ticket to the major after finishing in 12th place at Sunday's 64-player pre-tournament qualifier.
Starting Tuesday, the Wood River native will be bowling alongside the Jason Belmontes, the Walter Ray Williams, and the Peter Webers — the best the Professional Bowlers Association has to offer.
"I don't know if words can really describe it, I guess," Earnest said just before his practice round Monday. "It's a dream come true, to say the least."
Earnest called this a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." But don't get the idea that he has a just-glad-to-be-here mentality. He said his goal is to hopefully reach Friday's cashers round, and learn from the overall experience.
The Nebraska native has something bigger in mind, too.
"My ultimate goal is to make the Tour, so this will be a good stepping stone to see where I stand," said Ernest, who was one of two state college bowlers to qualify for the U.S. Open, the other being Midland's Kristopher Yadao.
A family friend sponsored Earnest for the $500 entry-fee pre-tournament qualifier at Sun Valley Lanes, a center that Earnest knows well through high school and college tournaments.
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Earnest started to bowl competitively when he was a sophomore in high school. He soon had a desire to bowl at the collegiate level. His Hastings team is ranked No. 3 in the NAIA.
Earnest watched the PBA bowlers on TV on Sundays, and looked for ways to emulate their games.
He looks up to three-time PBA winner Kristopher Prather.
There is Kyle Sherman. "Everything he does for the sport is what I want to do in the next couple of years."
Then there is Belmonte. "The best in the world," Earnest says.
Though he'll be among bowling's top stars, Earnest said he plans to keep it low-key around the lanes this week.
"There won't be a lot of conversation going on amongst me and the pros simply because I'm trying to stay in my own head, stay in my own game plan, and they're trying to do the same," Earnest said.
Earnest is one of 23 amateurs set to compete this week. The qualifying rounds (8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.) are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Earnest will be in the C squad, so he'll go at 6 p.m. Tuesday to start. There are 108 bowlers in the field.
By the end of the week Earnest will have gained a wealth of bowling experience. He'll have some homework to catch up on, too.
No complaints when you're on the bowling world's biggest stage.
"There's always going to be a little bit of nerves when you're doing something like this; it's not necessarily nervous because I don't know if I can do it, it's more nervous because I'm excited," said Earnest, who will soon turn his focus to helping get Hastings to next month's NAIA nationals. "I know I can compete out here, I know I can compete with the best in the world. This is my chance."
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.
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