Top-seeded Kulick takes PWBA Albany Open title; Kuhlkin finishes 24th

Liz Kuhlkin of Rotterdam rolls her bowling ball during Saturday’s PWBA Albany Open at Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center in South Glens Falls.

Liz Kuhlkin of Rotterdam rolls her bowling ball during Saturday’s PWBA Albany Open at Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center in South Glens Falls.

SOUTH GLENS FALLS — There were plenty of tears, but just as many laughs and cheers as the local bowling community showed its strong support for a special event this weekend.

Rotterdam native Liz Kuhlkin’s dream of winning a PWBA title in front of her hometown fans didn’t pan out the way she had hoped, but the Capital Region bowling community was still treated to plenty of excitement as USBC Hall of Famer and top-seeded Kelly Kulick won the inaugural PWBA Albany Open Saturday at Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center.

An emotional Kuhlkin fought back tears after finishing up the third round of qualifying in 24th place at plus-274. Kuhlkin averaged 215.22 for the tournament. She earned $1,100. She was the only local bowler out of seven entered to make the top-32 cut.

Meanwhile, Kulick, a 44-year-old former PWBA Rookie of the Year from Union, New Jersey, won her seventh career title with a 228-217 victory over her longtime Team USA teammate Shannon O’Keefe, a 14-time winner and a two-time PWBA Player of the Year.

Kulick used a four-bagger from the sixth through the ninth frames to edge O’Keefe.

“I finally got the monkey off my back,” Kulick said. “It’s been a while. I’ve made so many TV shows and didn’t win. Today, it was about my resume showing. I never took my foot over the gas pedal.”

Kulick, who was the guest speaker at the annual Schenectady USBC Hall of Fame and Awards banquet a few years ago, said she knew she had to bowl extremely well to beat O’Keefe.

“She is still one of the best players out here. I knew I needed my A-plus game to beat her,” Kulick said.

O’Keefe, who won five times in the 2019 season, is the head coach of Mckendree University, where third-place finisher Brianna Clemmer bowled. O’Keefe defeated her former player 247-194 in the semifinals.

“When I bowl, I don’t pay attention to who I’m bowling,” O’Keefe said. “It’s just me on the lanes. I figured that I’m going to bowl against a lot of former students of mine in the future.”

O’Keefe said the lanes, especially the right lane, changed quickly in the final.

“The right lane went away from me quickly, but my shot in the 10th frame was just awful,” she said, referring to a 3-10 split she left when she needed a pair of strikes to pull out the win.

Kulick earned $10,000, while O’Keefe collected $5,000 and Clemmer took home $3,500. Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas was fourth and won $3,000, followed by Danielle McEwan of Stony Point ($1,900), Taylor Bulthuis of Coral Springs, Florida ($1,800), 25-time winner Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls ($1,700), Alexis Neuer of Milton, Pennsylvania ($1,650), Sydney Brummett of Fort Wayne, Indiana ($1,600), Valerie Bercier of Muskegon, Michigan ($1,550), Lauren Pate of never Grove, Minnesota ($1,500) and Ciara Guerrero of Colombia ($1,450) in the top 12.

As promised, the Schalmont High School and University of Nebraska graduate began the round using urethane equipment — a rarity for the Brunswick equipment team member who almost always rolls reactive resin bowling balls. She banged out a big 267 opener, but things fell apart in the next game on lanes 13-14. She stuck at the line on her first toss on lane 13, resulting in a split. The next time she made a shot on lane 13, she stuck again and suffered another split. Kuhlkin ended up with a 157 game, and her chances of making the cut to the final 12 bowlers took a major hit.

“I mean, I stuck the first time, and I split. I made an errant shot because of it,” Kuhlkin lamented. “I got lined up on the right lane, and felt like I was OK, but I stuck again and made an errant shot on the left lane again. Instead of an 8-count, I get a 6-count and a split. I discussed it with my ball rep, and I did the right thing [changing balls]. Unfortunately, I made a bad shot on the right lane because it started to hook. I’m not familiar with urethane. I’m shocked I was using it for that long.”

Kuhlkin said that the momentum she gained with her 267 opening game completely disappeared with that disastrous 157 in the second game.

“I shoot 260 and I was eight pins away from cut at that point, but you can’t shoot 157 and bowl the way I did the rest of the day,” Kuhlkin said. “The scores were high for everyone the rest of the day. I’m happy with the way I bowled, but I had to shoot higher games to have any chance.

“I’m not emotional because I didn’t make the [final 12] cut. I’m emotional because a lot of people came out to watch me. I’m overwhelmed with how many people supported me. It would have been a fairy tale story if I had won, but I’m happy that I least made the [first] cut.”

Kuhlkin is a two-time winner on the PWBA Tour, including a major win in the U.S. Women’s Open. She is a three-time winner of the NYS Queens Championship and also won the prestigious Donato Scratch Singles Tournament at Towne Bowling Academy. Her long list of career accolades includes two national championships at Nebraska, where she was also the collegiate bowler of the year, and numerous medals with Team USA and Junior Team USA. She still owns the national record for high triple among women with an 890.

“When I come out on tour now, my goal is to win. I’m at point where I want to win. I’m not super satisfied collecting a check. I want to win,” she said.

Kuhlkin applauded the efforts of Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center proprietor Doug Bohannon, head of the NYS Bowling Proprietors Association and a vital cog in the USBC, for bringing the PWBA to the greater Capital Region. A special announcement that the center will host the U.S. Women’s Open next year made Kuhlkin a just little less upset with her performance .

“It makes it better that we’re coming back here next year for U.S. Open, which is near and dear to my heart after winning it,” Kuhlkin said. “That lessons the blow a little bit.”

Bohannon said more than 300 paid spectators attended the tournament over the weekend.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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