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Hayden Proves Mentally Tough in Winning VIA Title in Orlando

Feb. 17, 2003

Chris Hayden, a non-winner who lived in Florida for several years, overcame his mental demons and home-town favorite Jason Couch to win the VIA Bowling Open championship Sunday at the new Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando.

Hayden demonstrated tremendous poise under extreme pressure by striking in the eighth, ninth and 10th frames to pull out a 236-227 victory over Couch, a 10-time tour champion from nearby Clermont.  It was obvious Couch had the home crowd in his corner, but it didn't seem to bother Hayden, who was making his first appearance in front of the live ESPN-TV cameras this year.  "It's such an unbelievable feeling to win a title," said Hayden, who moved to Greenville, S.C. last year.  "To beat a champion like Jason for my first title makes it that much better."

Hayden picked up a check for $40,000, which was $3,077 more that he earned all last season.  "I guess this takes a monkey off my back," Hayden said.  "For a long time I thought my mental game was not strong enough to win on tour.  "In previous tournaments, my mind would go in all directions and I had a hard time controlling my emotions.  "With the help of a sports psychologist I became aware that I was afraid of what could happen, afraid of the outcome."

Not this week.  Hayden became only the second bowler in two seasons to go unbeaten during the high scoring tournament that started Thursday.  Hayden beat right-hander Paul Fleming in his first TV match, 265-185, before beating fellow lefthander Couch.  "I was relaxed in the first match and it carried over to the Championship match," Hayden said.  "I sped up my game to make sure I didn't get fined for exceeding 25 seconds on my deliveries, but when it came down to the big shots in the ninth and 10th frames against Jason, I took extra time to make sure I was mentally ready.  "I was willing to pay the $500 fines if the extra time was going to help me win $40,000 and my first title."

Hayden brought his A game to this tournament that drew 165 bowlers to this new 80-lane center that was built inside an old Wall-Mart on Colonial Drive.