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Hardwick joined the PBA Tour in 1961, and amassed a total of 18 PBA titles during his career. He was the first player to capture the PBA career "Triple Crown"—which is achieved by winning the three primary PBA major tournaments: U.S. Open, PBA National Championship, and Tournament of Champions. Hardwick captured all three between 1963 and 1969. There have been only five other Triple Crown winners since: Johnny Petraglia, Mike Aulby, Pete Weber, Norm Duke and Chris Barnes.
Hardwick was named PBA Player of the Year in both the 1963 and 1969 seasons. A 22-year old in 1963, Hardwick is still the youngest bowler to ever win PBA Player of the Year honors. In 1969, he matched Dick Weber's 1961 PBA record by winning seven titles in one season. The record would stand until 1978, when it was broken by Mark Roth's eight titles. Another record, which still stands even in this high scoring era, is the 2165 for an eight game block achieved in Japan in 1968.
Billy was ranked #12 on the PBA's 2008 list of "50 Greatest Players of the Last 50 Years". He retired relatively early from the PBA Tour after developing arthritis. Billy's final PBA title came in April, 1976 at the Monro-Matic Open in Toledo, Ohio when he was still just 34 years old. He was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 1977, and was the proprietor of Billy Hardwick's All-Star Lanes in Memphis.
Billy injured the third finger of his right hand in a machine shop accident while in high school. As a result, this finger would not bend, making it impossible to use a conventional bowling ball grip (thumb, third finger, and ring finger). Instead, he used his thumb and first two fingers.
Billy was a Full Roller. A Full Roller rolls the ball over the full circumference of the ball with the ball track going through the palm of the bowling ball at an angle between the gripping holes. Billy was unique in that he rolled a very straight ball with little side turn or hook. Billy also rolled the ball much slower than most other players. With his straighter, slower, Full Roller roll and his pin point accuracy (Billy rarely missed a spare and often converted most of the splits he was faced with), Billy was able to lay the ball tightly into the pocket again and again and consistently carry the strike.
For this seemingly contradictory ability to roll straight and still carry strikes, he was nicknamed "The Magician" when he was competing on the 1965 "Championship Bowling" TV show. During the 1976 Firestone Tournament of Champions title match, where Billy faced a young Marshall Holman, analyst Nelson Burton Jr. remarked to Chris Schenkel on seeing Billy throw his second opening strike in a row with his slow straight shot, "How does he do it Chris?! Everyone wonders how Hardwick does it." After his third strike in a row Nelson further commented, "It is almost unbelievable the control and accuracy of Hardwick. He does not depend on the power strikes like Marshall Holman, he depends on splicing a small target out there at the arrows. When Hardwick is right, he can hit a half-board, consistently, 20 feet down the lane, Chris. Put it right in the pocket."
After his career, while living in Florida, he was an important mentor to Glenn Hannigan, who he groomed to be "the best bowling writer in the county". Hannigan later became a leading writer and editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and authored many books on the Olympics. Hannigan credits Hardwick with making him comfortable asking the tough questions to elite athletes.
According to his son, Chris, speaking on the Opie & Anthony Show on August 12, 2010, Hardwick was the last athlete to film a beer commercial profiling athletes. Chris added that his father originally had lines in the commercial but, "got a little intoxicated after so many takes that they cut out his lines for the commercial." A decision was made after that commercial that it would make a bad impression on the youth to give the message that if you want to become a champion, you should drink.
Billy Hardwick died on November 16, 2013. He was preparing to return from Sarasota, Florida to Memphis, Tennessee, with his wife Rebecca, when he suffered an apparent heart attack and died shortly afterwards. He was 72 years old.
- Vint, Bill (February 5, 2016). "Tackett Wins GEICO Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Award; Canada’s Lavoie Named Rookie of the Year". Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- "PBA History" at www.pba.com
- U.S. Bowler, Spring 2009 issue, p. 7.
- Slotnik, Daniel E. (2013-11-18). "Billy Hardwick, Hall of Fame Bowler, Dies at 72". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-03.
- "Hardwick, professional bowler and owner of East Memphis bowling alley, dies at 72", commercialappeal.com; November 16, 2013; accessed May 9, 2014.
- Professional Bowlers Association and Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour website; accessed May 9, 2014.