Three-peat Champions Crowned at NSW Open

By Matt Stevens
September 11, 2023

The 40th NSW Open turned a new page in its illustrious history, with Sam Cooley and Rebekah Martin once again emerging as champions at iPlay Tenpin City in Lidcombe, New South Wales.

A glance through the forty-year history of NSW Open champions gives insight into its esteemed reputation. Laden with stars and Hall of Fame members, the NSW Open is a prime event for bowlers each tournament season.

With their 2023 victories, Sam Cooley and Rebekah Martin join an exclusive group of multi-time champions since 1982, a list now comprising six men and six women.

NSW Open Multi-time Champions – Open Division:

  • Colin Hunt (SA)
  • Jason Belmonte (NSW)
  • Mark Ramsay (QLD)
  • George Frillingos (QLD)
  • Sam Cooley (NSW)
  • Andrew Frawley (NSW)

NSW Open Multi-time Champions – Women’s Division:

  • Ann-Maree Putney (NSW)
  • Bec Whiting (VIC)
  • Carol Gianotti (WA)
  • Cheryl Munson (NSW)
  • Rebekah Martin (VIC)
  • Sue Cassell (QLD)

The championship weekend was packed with intense competition, notable highlights, and a glimpse into the future as junior stars took centre stage.

Both divisions had unique formats, with ten games of qualifying preceding the final stages. The top 8 female qualifiers advanced directly to matchplay finals, while men had an additional round with the top 24 qualifiers.

Open Division

Spectators were treated to an impressive showcase by some of the nation’s most promising junior bowlers as the qualifying rounds commenced. Topping the qualifiers in the open division were Seth Gray, Blake Walsh, Sean Lam, and Jackson Buckingham, all of whom recently returned from representing the Australian junior team in Singapore.

Victorian Seth Gray, who secured two bronze medals in Singapore, emerged as the top qualifier. Over the ten games, he averaged an impressive 225.8, culminating in a total score of 2,258 and achieving a high game of 278 in the 9th round.

The leaderboard remained relatively consistent in the second stage, with Gray and Blake Walsh retaining their leading positions.

Fresh from a successful stint in the USA’s regional PBA events, Sam Cooley began his journey in the 7th position post-qualifying. He dazzled onlookers with a near-perfect score of 299 in the second game of the phase. As the second phase progressed, Cooley ascended to finish joint 4th alongside Australian junior representative Jackson Buckingham. If Cooley’s 299 from the qualifying rounds was a conversation starter, he shifted gears with an astounding perfect score of 300 in the fifth game of the stage.

As the competition intensified, Cooley’s momentum was unstoppable. Securing victories in six out of his seven Matchplay games, he bagged a bonus of 120 pins, averaging a remarkable 232.14 in this pivotal stage.

Blake Walsh, the prodigy from Ballina, came close to mirroring Cooley’s extraordinary performance. Walsh also achieved six victories in his seven games, setting up a thrilling title match against Cooley with an average of 221.57 during the Matchplay phase.

In their title clash, Walsh clinched the initial match with a 204-179 win. However, Cooley invoked his right to a rechallenge as the top seed. The rematch saw Cooley’s experience come to the fore as he triumphed with a 235-200 score, clinching his fourth NSW Open title in the process.

With this victory, Cooley has now secured the title on four occasions (2017, 2019, 2022, 2023), joining the ranks of Jason Belmonte (2007, 2013, 2014, 2015). Together, they are the most decorated bowlers in the event’s illustrious history, paralleled by two female counterparts.

Blake Walsh, showcasing consistent brilliance, finished as the runner-up in another open division, while Adam Hayes showcased his formidable form by securing the third spot. This achievement comes on the heels of his 2023 Australian Masters title.

Kudos to TBA board member Ryan Edgar for his commendable performance. The Brisbane-based executive showcased his skills, advancing to the matchplay finals and finishing in the respectable 7th position. Well done, Ryan!

Women’s Division

Rebekah Martin’s triumph in 2023 was no ordinary feat. Not only did it mark her third consecutive win, but it also elevated her above several NSW Open luminaries on the all-time winner’s list.

With this win, Martin surpassed TBA Hall of Famers Sue Cassell, Carol Gianotti, and Cheryl Munson, each of whom has secured two titles. This victory places her amidst some elite company, not far behind the all-time leaders.

The pinnacle of the NSW Open All-Time women’s winner board features Ann-Maree Putney and Martin’s close friend, Bec Whiting. This top-tier duo parallels the men’s division champions Belmonte and Cooley, each with four NSW Open titles.

Despite her past successes, Martin entered this year’s tournament with anxiety and self-inflicted pressure. But she overcame these jitters to clinch her third title in a row. Sharing her feelings with tournament director Dion Alexander post-qualifying, she remarked, “I was quite nervous… I felt alright after the first or second game once I settled my nerves.”

True to her words, Rebekah settled into her groove. Dominating from the get-go, she secured the top qualifier spot with an average of 213.7 over ten games, peaking with a 256 high score in the final round. She was in top form, finishing 155 pins ahead of her next closest competitor and good friend, Bec Whiting.

Samantha Clifton, another rising junior, secured the third qualifying spot. The competition was intense, with only a 266-pin gap separating leader Rebekah Martin from eighth-place Dena Buxton, who narrowly made the matchplay cut.

During the matchplay phase, Martin continued her reign, securing victories in four out of seven matches, amassing a total score of 3,552 pins. This remarkable performance ensured her third consecutive title.

Madeline FitzRoy was hot on Martin’s heels. Despite finishing 87 pins behind, FitzRoy boasted the highest win rate in the matchplay phase, securing six out of seven matches. In the title match, Martin emerged victorious with a 212-183 score against FitzRoy. This silver-medal finish came after her bronze win at the Australian Masters.

Western Australia’s shining star, Siarn Ottaviano, clinched the third spot, finishing just 34 pins shy of FitzRoy. With a final tally of 3,431 pins, Ottaviano showcased her prowess in the division.

Tenpin Bowling Australia warmly congratulates Sam and Rebekah on their outstanding achievements. Our sincere appreciation goes to Dion at iPlay Tenpin City for orchestrating yet another successful event and for the captivating photographs—a big salute to everyone who participated in this year’s event.



High Game
Open Division: Sam Cooley – 300
Women’s Division: Dena Buxton – 268

Top Stage Performances

Women’s Division: Rebekah Martin – 2,137 (213.7 avg.)
Open Division: Seth Gray – 2,258 (225.8 avg.)

Stage 2:
Open Division: Stephen Cowland – 1,794 (224.25 avg.)

Women’s Division: Madeline FitzRoy – 1,438 (205.42 avg.)
Open Division: Sam Cooley – 1,625 (232.14 avg.)


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