"I bowled a little on weekends, made a little extra money, but basically it was just recreation," Smallwood said.
CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports Smallwood's dreams of bowling professionally were just that. A steady income as a Michigan autoworker seemed a much safer way to support his family.
"Make decent money, a pension, and great insurance - so yeah you think this is where I'm going to retire from," Smallwood said.
But just before Christmas one year ago, General Motors laid him off. He told his wife Jennifer, now home with their baby, that unless he got a new job in 6 months - he was going bowling. When we talked to her via Skype she said she was initially skeptical.
"A part of me was like 'no way we can't you know we can't do this right now'," Jennifer said.
But as fate would have it, nearby Detroit was hosting the next tournament to qualify for the pro tour. But making the tour wouldn't be easy, Smallwood would have to play 45 games and beat out 97 other bowlers. He did it, but even he couldn't imagine what would happen at his very first tournament.
At the world championship, Tom racked up win after win and made it all the way to the final game, where he faced his biggest challenge yet: the six-foot-five Player of the Year, Wes Mallot.
With his wife looking on, the match came down to the final frame. Smallwood needed seven pins. With a strike, he got all that and more.
He won the title and a $50,000 payday.
"It was surreal, I mean honest to God I was thinking please don't wake up," Smallwood said. "Honestly I was thinking that holding that trophy up there going just don't wake up - hopefully this will be true. Just let it be true...let me be awake."
It's finally sinking in ... Tom Smallwood has left the assembly line for life in the fast lane.