Athletics & Recreation
The last pin of his sixth straight strike has just fallen, clinching E.J. Tackett’s victory in the 2016 Professional Bowlers Association World Championship. At just 24 years old, E.J. had his first major title, and the first person he turned and looked for was his father, bear-hugging the man who had taught him the game and had been the only coach in his life.
He was born Eddie Dean Tackett II, but has always been E.J. There was already a bowling legacy in his family. E.J.’s maternal grandfather, Alex Smart, earned a place in the Knights of Columbus International Bowling Hall of Fame. E.J.’s father, Ed, was a professional bowler and later owned Oak Lanes in Huntington. E.J. tells the story that he was two years old when he first rolled a bowling ball down the lanes, but he figures it was probably earlier than that, as soon as he could walk and hold a ball.
By the time he reached high school, he had already competed in the top junior bowling tournaments in the country. As a sophomore at Huntington North in 2009, he won the state high school individual bowling championship, and also took the state youth tournament title. In his junior year, he was also one of the best young golfers in Indiana. He was named the Pepsi Indiana Junior Tour player of the year, and competed in the Junior PGA National Championship and in the USGA Junior Amateur.
His multi-sport excellence was exemplified in a two-day stretch of June of 2010, when he won the Indiana Junior Masters bowling tournament on a Sunday, then played in the state high school golf finals on Monday, where he was named to the All-State team.
Tackett capped off his high school career by winning the individual state bowling title and leading Huntington North to the team championship. In the spring of 2011, he helped guide the Viking golf team to the state finals, and Tackett finished fifth as an individual, earning All-State honors for the second straight year. Along the way, Tackett twice won the Huntington County Amateur golf tournament.
As a fan of Tiger Woods, Tackett set his sights on a career in golf and joined the college team at IPFW. He had a solid freshman season, but soon felt that college and golf were not for him.
Back in 2010 at the Junior Amateur, he was in a field that included more than a dozen golfers who would eventually make it onto the PGA Tour, including three — Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau — who would go on to win major titles. One evening during the event, Tackett went out to the driving range, where there was just one other golfer, who was launching one perfect shot after another. It was Spieth, and for the first time in his career, Tackett had doubts about his ability to compete with the top talents on the golf course.
But it also marked the moment when Tackett thought he could still follow the path of Tiger Woods, just in bowling instead of golf. It didn’t take him long to get on the same championship track of his idol with the goal of becoming one of the greatest in the history of the sport.
At the age of 18 Tackett went through the grueling qualifying rounds of the 2011 U.S. Open, one of bowling’s major events. From more than 1,000 bowlers he kept advancing, eventually finishing 20th. That same year, he made Junior Team USA and represented his country in the Dominican Republic, earning two gold and two silver medals.
After deciding to leave IPFW, his bowling successes earned him a PBA Tour card and he began playing in tournaments, where despite his small stature his powerful form and style got him noticed. In the 2012-13 season, he took part in 16 events, finished in the money in 10 of them, and earned the PBA Rookie of the Year award. Tackett picked up his first PBA Tour victory in 2015 at the Lubbock Sports Open.
That opened the flood gates, and in 2016, he won four times, including his first major title at the PBA World Championship. At the age of 24, Tackett earned the Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year title, an honor that took on added significance to Tackett, since Schenkel, the legendary sports broadcaster, is also a native of Huntington County. The major victory also made Tackett automatically eligible for the PBA Hall of Fame and established his place as the best bowler of his generation.
Tackett had an even better 2017, winning four times, including his second major in the PBA Tournament of Champions. Tackett picked up three more wins in 2018 and a second straight runner-up finish for top player honors.
In 2019, Tackett had top-10 finishes in three of the five majors and earned a victory in the PBA Tour Finals for the second time in three seasons. That win, his 13th overall, was an emotional one for Tackett, as it came just days after the death of his grandfather, Alex, who had helped develop in him the love of the game.
In 2019, Tackett married Natalie Goodman, who was also a state champion high school bowler in Illinois. The couple settled in Bluffton, where his parents purchased the EZ Bowl bowling center.
E.J. and Natalie have been active in philanthropic efforts. Tackett’s brother, Zac, who was also a junior bowling champ and now competes on the PBA Tour, lives with a form of epilepsy, and E.J. and Natalie have worked to raise money and awareness of the disease. In 2020, they partnered with bowling ball manufacturer MOTIV and sponsor BowlerX to produce an E.J.-signature ball, the sale of which raised $10,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation.