NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, has been waiting for the chance to return to an event and put her title on the line, and this week she’ll do just that at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open.
The 2019 event is being held at Texas Star Lanes inside the Texas Station Hotel and Casino, and competition at the second major championship of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) Tour season will kick off Tuesday.
BowlTV.com, the exclusive livestreaming home of the PWBA Tour, will carry all preliminary rounds, while CBS Sports Network will have live coverage of the stepladder finals on Sunday, June 23 at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Kuhlkin claimed her second career PWBA Tour title and first major at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open by winning four consecutive games in the stepladder, including a 218-196 victory over Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, in the title match.
The 25-year-old right-hander won her first title as a rookie in 2015 at the PWBA Topeka Open, but she didn’t have the opportunity to defend as the schedule welcomed several new host venues in 2016.
Despite a couple of tough seasons, Kuhlkin put everything together in 2018, culminating with her win at what is considered by many the most prestigious event in women’s bowling.
“It’s kind of crazy to me we’re at this point now,” Kuhlkin said. “It took me a little bit to realize that I’m the reigning champion and I get to defend my title. I’ve had a really solid season so far, and I feel confident about that.”
Kuhlkin’s best finish this season came at the PWBA Tucson Open, where she dazzled the fans by rolling a 299 game in the opening match of the stepladder finals on her way to a third-place finish.
She admitted to being disappointed in her follow-up effort last weekend at the PWBA Fountain Valley Open, missing her first cut of the season.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t really have the best tune-up in Fountain Valley, but to me, that’s kind of old news,” Kuhlkin said. “That doesn’t define me as a player. I’m really looking forward to defending my title, since I didn’t have the opportunity after winning in Topeka in 2015.”
Although it’s a quick turnaround from her experience at Fountain Bowl, the 2019 version of Liz Kuhlkin is a bit more confident entering this event and feels she’s a better, more experienced player than she was prior to her win in 2018.
All of these factors will be keys as she prepares to endure the arduous U.S. Women’s Open.
“I had one of the worst weeks I’ve had on tour, but that happens as a professional,” said Kuhlkin, a two-time Team USA member. “For the next couple of days, I just want to take a step back because that wasn’t me. It was just a bad tournament, and I got to get back on the horse. That’s how it is as a professional athlete in any sport. So, really, I’m just preparing myself for a marathon because that’s what the U.S. Women’s Open is. I’ve proven myself as a champion at this event, and I’m ready to defend.”
This week also holds a major significance on the 2019 PWBA Tour season as it’s the final opportunity for players to earn an exemption into the elite-tour events taking place in August. Following the U.S. Women’s Open, the top 24 players on the 2019 points list will earn an exemption for those three events – PWBA East Hartford Open, Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open and BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open.
No matter what happens this week, Kuhlkin’s goal simply is to make match play.
“After this week, I’m not sure where I’m going to be in points,” Kuhlkin said. “It’s tough, but I don’t think I’m going to plunge below that number. My biggest goal this week is to make match play, because I kind of thrive in that environment. I don’t know what it is, but I’m a very intense player when it comes to match play. If I can make it, we’ll go from there and see what happens.”
Competitors at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open were able to earn direct entry into the field based on their performances in 2018, maxing the field at 108 players this week at Texas Star Lanes.
Players also could earn a spot in the main field through a pre-tournament qualifier, which was held Sunday at the 60-lane venue.
Anita Arnett of Richmond, Texas, paced the field during the eight-game block, posting a 1,794 total, a 224.25 average.
Allie Tatrow of Wichita, Kansas, was second with 1,748, and Gazmine Mason of Cranston, Rhode Island, was third with 1,739.
Arnett wanted to use Sunday’s performance as a steppingstone toward a strong showing this week at Texas Star Lanes, and she was able to put together a consistent run across the center.
“Today was about trying to get comfortable in the center and making sure I’m repeating shots the way I know I can,” said Arnett, a former Team USA and Junior Team USA member. “Being able to see my ball motion and all the work and practice I’ve put in result in a good round is a huge boost of confidence for me. I’m going to try to take that into this week and continue to make good shots, make my spares and keep my routine.”
The 2019 U.S. Women’s Open will feature three eight-game qualifying rounds over three days at Texas Star Lanes, starting Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern.
The top 36 players after 24 games will advance to a cashers’ round and bowl eight additional games to determine the top 24 for round-robin match play.
Match play will begin Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern with the first of three eight-game rounds. Total pinfall, including bonus pins, for 56 games will determine the five finalists for the stepladder finals.
The champion will claim the coveted green jacket awarded to the winner and $20,000 top prize.