Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., earned the right to become the first woman to bowl in the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tournament of Champions thanks to her victory in the inaugural PBA Women’s World Championship at Thunderbowl Lanes in suburban Detroit.
Kulick’s historic victory aired Sunday on ESPN. The first of eight PBA World Series of Bowling telecasts also included a long-awaited win for Detroit area favorite Harry Sullins, who ended a 15-year winless dry spell in the resurrected PBA Senior World Championship.
Kulick, the only woman ever to earn an exemption to bowl full-time on the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour, defeated Shannon Pluhowsky of Phoenix, 219-204, to win the newly-created major championship for women bowlers.
In addition to her berth in the PBA Tournament of Champions Jan. 19-24 at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Kulick earned $15,000 and a spot in the end-of-season PBA Women’s Showdown presented by BOWL.COM.
Kulick bowled a clean game including a late string of three strikes to build a 35-pin lead in the eighth frame. Pluhowsky finished with four strikes in a row, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an unconverted 8-10 split in her third frame.
“It’s a long overdue win,” Kulick said. “I’ve been knocking on the door for awhile. I came close in the USBC (United States Bowling Congress) Queens earlier in the year.” Kulick finished second to Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, N.Y., in the Queens in Reno, Nev.
“Last year I wasn’t exempt for the PBA Women’s Series and that really gave me things to think about. I was kinda depressed at first and then I really refocused,” Kulick added. “I asked myself if I belonged out here, but I went back to my routines – worked out, exercised, practiced a lot – and ever since the Queens, things have gotten better and better.
“Getting a chance to bowl in the Tournament of Champions is the icing on the cake. You blow out the candle and your wish comes true. My focus was on winning the title,” she continued, “but now I not only get to go to Las Vegas, but I get to bowl with the guys, which I’ve enjoyed doing in the past.
“My only failure on the men’s tour (during the 2006-07 season) was that I hit the pocket as often as they did, but I didn’t knock down as many pins because I don’t have as high of a rev rate. That said, if you want to be the best, you have to bowl against the best players, so the only way I’m going to get better is to bowl against them. I’ll enjoy the experience in the Tournament of Champions and we’ll see what happens.”
Sullins, who won his fifth and last PBA Tour title in 1994 in Windsor Locks, Conn., defeated Hugh Miller of Mercer Island, Wash., 222-192, for a $15,000 prize, his first PBA Senior Tour title and a berth of his own in the Tournament of Champions.
The PBA Senior World Championship was resurrected as a part of the new PBA World Series of Bowling after lying dormant since 2002.
“It feels great,” Sullins said. “I’ll be glad to go back to the Tournament of Champions.” Sullins admitted to being nervous. “It’s been almost 11 years between TV shows, 15 years since I’ve won a title. You try to stay as calm as you can,” he said. “Some guys might say they don’t get butterflies, but I don’t care who you are – you get ‘em.
The question is, how much pressure can you take and still move your feet, swing your arm, roll the ball and hit what you’re throwing at? It worked out.
“The difference was I made all my spares,” he continued. “That keeps the pressure on. It kept me 19-20 pins ahead the whole match. I threw two strikes in a row twice early in the game and that was huge. I could tell Hugh was trying to figure out which ball to use, so I kept telling myself, just get a double, and fortunately I was able to do that.”
Sullins felt like the title was his for the taking after he was warmly greeted by the Detroit area fans attending the finals in a center where he had honed his game for years. “I’ve bowled at Thunderbowl for 30 years,” the Chesterfield Township, Mich., resident said, “but when we came out for the introductions, I actually had the fans with me. That was so pleasing. It was like, it’s my time to win.”
It was also rewarding because he made a less-than-satisfying debut on the Senior Tour a year earlier. “I wanted to come out full blast last year,” the 52-year-old Michigan native said. “I had big goals – rookie of the year, all of that – but I went out to the west coast and didn’t do so well. In the Senior U.S. Open I threw my elbow out, so I wound up missing the whole balance of the season.
“This year I had a different outlook. I wanted to start strong in Jackson (Mich.), but I got a job with the U.S. Census Bureau. I hadn’t had a job in three years, so I decided the seniors could wait. I wound up staying home and bowling in the Regional Players Championship at Thunderbowl, which gave me an edge to get ready for the Senior Tour and for the World Series.
In the six Senior Tour events I did bowl, I had four championship round appearances including a win and a second. So I’m happy.”
The opening event of the PBA’s 2009-10 season on ESPN also included a PBA Trick Shot Invitational, won by PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla. Duke performed a series of trick shots to top a field including fellow Hall of Famers Parker Bohn III and Brian Voss, PBA champions Chris Barnes and Sean Rash, and Finland’s two-handed sensation, Osku Palermaa, for a $5,000 prize.
The finals of the Motor City Open, the inaugural event of the 2009-10 Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour season, will air next Sunday on ESPN at 1 p.m. Eastern.