ORLANDO, Fla. — Liz Kuhlkin continues to make bowling history at the tender age of 24, and now she gets to wear a green jacket, just like the Masters champion in golf.
The Rotterdam native and Schalmont High School graduate, who holds the national record for highest three-game series by a woman (890), as well as the top triple by anyone in the long history of the Schenectady Bowling Association, won her first professional major championship by sweeping four opponents in the stepladder finals of the U.S. Women’s Open Saturday evening at Boardwalk Lanes in Orlando, Fla.
It was the second triumph on the national tour for Kuhlkin, who also won the Professional Women’s Bowling Association’s Topeka Open in 2015. She owns a PWBA regional win and three medals (one gold, two bronze) from her time on the Junior Team USA quad.
The U.S. Open triumph landed her a check for $20,000 to go along with possession of a huge crystal eagle trophy and that green champions’ jacket.
The three-time All-American and two-time national team champion at Nebraska defeated top-seeded
Stefanie Johnson, a 34-year-old graduate of the University of Central Florida, 218-196 in the championship game. Kuhlkin pulled away from Johnson, a two-time PWBA champion who worked at Boardwalk Lanes for six seasons, with a triple in the fourth through the sixth frames.
“This is what your dreams are all about, right here,” Kuhlkin said before hoisting the trophy. It all pays off in the end. I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the last year to change my game.”
Kuhlkin knocked off a pair of major champions en route to the finals. She beat 39-year-old Shannon O’Keefe, the leading candidate for Player of the Year who won the last two PWBA majors, 235-214 before defeating four-time champion Danielle McEwan of Stony Point 246-172.
In the semifinals, Kuhlkin edged Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Neb. 213-186.
On a tough condition that capped off a grueling tournament format, she collected eight strikes in the first game, nine in the second game, when she started off the match with five consecutive strikes, seven strikes in the semifinals and six in the championship game. Kuhlkin stormed into the stepladder finals after surging from 16th place all the way to fifth place during match play. She rolled a 299 game in her final game of match play to make the TV finals.
“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,” she said.
“This is all pretty incredible right now. I had an incredible rookie season, but since then, I’ve been kind of mediocre. I’ve made some major changes in my career lately, like signing with Brunswick, and winning this is a huge step in my career. I’ve got about 200 text messages from my friends and family. It’s all amazing.
“My plan right now is to get on a plane for Dallas to compete in the Team USA camp,” Kuhlkin, a Team USA member, said.
Reach Bob Weiner at Weindog58 @gmail.com or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.
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