ORLANDO, Fla. – The road to the U.S. Women’s Open finals is long and tedious, especially if you start back in the pack.
Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, in 64th place after the opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open, completed an epic climb Saturday with a 218-196 victory over top-seed Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, to capture her first major title.
Kuhlkin used two big games in the final round of qualifying to make the first cut, and a 299 game in the final round of match play to make the finals, televised live on CBS Sports Network.
As the fifth seed, Kuhlkin had to win three matches for the chance to bowl Johnson for the title. She then would enter the final frame with the chance to close out Johnson, and finished the climb with a strike and a 9-count.
The emotion of knowing what she had accomplished was evident.
“This is the U.S. Women’s Open, the top event of every sport,” Kuhlkin said. “It’s the biggest major of the year. A lot of prestigious players have worn this jacket, have stood in this spot – hall of famers. It’s just an incredible feeling. Everything you work toward, you practice hard, go through the 56 games, and it’s just a big relief. You are overcome with emotion.”
Johnson, who bowled and worked at Boardwalk Bowl while attending the University of Central Florida, was seeking her first major title. She led after qualifying and, despite a brief hiccup in match play, grabbed the top seed.
“At this moment it’s tough, but I can’t hang my head over this week,” Johnson said. “This is the major of our tour stops, and I battled my way to be the No. 1 seed. All you can do is put yourself in position to win.”
Johnson said it’s one game where anything can happen, on either side of the equation. Kuhlkin said that’s why she actually likes being a lower seed.
“I think being the fifth seed or the fourth seed is actually an advantage,” Kulhkin said. “You’re out here, you’re bowling, you know the lanes, the adjustments … I’ve been in this position before. My first title in Topeka in 2015 (PWBA Topeka Open), I ran the ladder just like I did here. I think it’s beneficial.”
In the semifinal match, Kuhlkin and Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, each had open frames in two of their first three frames. Kuhlkin, however, strung together strikes in frames 4-8 to take a 213-186 victory.
Kuhlkin produced her biggest game of the day against No. 3 seed Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York. Kuhlkin struck on her first five shots and nine times overall in a 246-172 victory.
In the opening match, Kuhlkin faced Shannon O’Keefe of O’Fallon, Illinois, who was seeking her third consecutive major title. O’Keefe opened with a trio of spares while Kuhlkin struck on five of her first six shots. A missed 10-pin in the seventh frame by O’Keefe allowed Kuhlkin to take a 21-pin lead, and she went on to a 235-214 victory.
Competition at the 2018 U.S. Women's Open consisted of three days of eight-game qualifying rounds before the field was cut to the top 36 players for an eight-game cashers' round. The 32-game pinfall totals determined the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play. The 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decided the five players for the stepladder finals.