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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. He was named PBA Player of the Year in both the 1963 and 1969 seasons. 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.
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. Because of 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 Marshal Holman, the commentator Nelson Burton Jr. on seeing Billy throw his second opening strike in a row, with his slow straight shot, commented, "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 Marshal 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 foot down the lane Chris. Put it right in the pocket."
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.
Hardwick had been married 5 times and had four children, two of whom died in infancy. He also has two stepdaughters. He is the father of comedian and television personality Chris Hardwick.
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.
- "PBA History" at www.pba.com
- U.S. Bowler, Spring 2009 issue, p. 7.
- "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.