Hayley White struck her first perfect game in a major tournament as she claimed the Irish Open in style.
The Cosham-based tenpin bowling star rattled off 12 consecutive strikes to register the maximum 300 score during the qualifying stage of the Dublin event, before going on to win the title and collect the biggest cash prize of her career.
The 22-year-old eventually held off the challenge of local favourite Hannah Cullen by just 19 pins over the course of 23 gruelling games to land her four-figure winner’s cheque.
But it was her 300 – the fourth of her career but first in a major competition – that she felt was the springboard to her success.
White explained: ‘It set me up for the rest of the weekend.
‘It meant I was leading after the Saturday morning session and was never behind again after that.
‘It was the fourth time I’ve bowled a 300 but the first time I’d done it in a major tournament and I went away winning it, so it was an amazing weekend.
‘After a 300, the only way is down but I knew I had to keep pushing, even though I did fall away a bit.
‘I just had to be a bit more positive.
‘It seemed to be a turning point for the weekend.’
Even though it is not uncommon to see the perfect game bowled at top-level tenpin bowling, White revealed there is a change in atmosphere when a bowler is on target to achieve the feat.
She said: ‘You try to block it all out but you can’t. The pressure is pretty big any time but at a tournament, it becomes huge.
‘People start gathering to watch as you get closer to it and the people around you stop bowling so they don’t put you off.
‘When you go up for those last three shots in the final frame, you’re on your own and it actually makes you more aware that everyone is watching.
‘Even though I’d done it three times before, it never gets easier.
‘For those last three, I got the first one, the next one was a bit dodgy and I was shaking.
‘But then I got the final strike and let out a big shout and there were a lot of people clapping. It was a great feeling to do it.’
White then maintained her lead for the remainder of the tournament and dealt with the increasing pressure as she tried to keep Cullen at arm’s length.
She said: ‘I won by only 19 pins and there was a lot of pressure – especially in the final round.
‘There were a few hundred people there watching and that all adds to the pressure.
‘Everyone was shouting for the home favourite but they all congratulated me afterwards.
‘It was nothing personal – I would want the English supporters to want me to win.
‘It’s my first major cash win. I’ve won championships but those are medals and this was my first title with a cash prize.’
While there are events in Surrey and Scotland coming up over the next few weeks, White, who is in the running for sportswoman of the year at the 2011 The News Sports Awards, is already focused on the European Women’s Championships in Holland in the summer.
She said: ‘It’s a big event. They are making a custom-built arena in a theme park, so it’s a big deal and it’s pretty exciting.’