ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s expected that the U.S. Women’s Open features the biggest names in women’s bowling. One of the biggest names in the field, however, might not be too familiar to fans in the United States.
Early Thursday at Boardwalk Bowl, site of this year's U.S. Women's Open, the top 24 players for match play were determined during the cashers’ round. Among those advancing was Urara Himeji of Japan, who averaged 219 during the eight-game round, including a closing game of 248.
While Himeji might not be a recognizable name at Boardwalk Bowl, she is one of the bigger stars in Japanese bowling. She is Japan’s two-time reigning national champion and has competed in a series of women-only bowling tournaments that was developed solely for television.
But the possibility of competing in the United States always intrigued her, and this year the time was right.
“The U.S. tournaments are something a lot of professional bowlers are talking about and they have been looking up to,” Himeji said through her translator, Hideko Kamitsu. “It was always in my mind to play here. This year, my daughter turned 16 and so I thought it was time.”
Himeji, who has 17 career titles, is a big fan of Shinobu Saitoh, the Japanese bowler who won 74 titles in her career, including the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open. Himeji was excited to see Saitoh’s presence at Boardwalk Bowl.
“She won the (U.S. Women’s Open) title in 1982 and I see her name on one of the flags,” Himeji said. “She was someone I always looked up to. My numbers may not compare to her, but it was something I always wanted to achieve.”
A professional for 18 years, the U.S. Women’s Open is her second PWBA stop in 2018. She finished 40th at the season-opening PWBA Las Vegas Open in April.
Of course, the U.S. Women’s Open presents a much more difficult challenge. Asked what has been the toughest thing to deal with at this event, the first two words of her reply came quickly and in English.
“Lane conditions,” Himeji said. “It’s very different from Japan and I’m really impressed with how the players adjusted. I see the level of the young players here is higher than in Japan. The players can curve the ball more.”
Himeji said she definitely would encourage the young women bowlers in Japan to come and try their hand at the PWBA Tour.
“I want as many young professional players in Japan to come to the U.S. and challenge themselves, not only for the technical part, but for the mental part,” Himeji said.
Competitors in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open bowled three eight-game qualifying blocks before the field was cut to the top 36 players for the eight-game cashers’ round. The 32-game pinfall totals determined the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play, which started Thursday. Players earn 30 bonus pins for each win in match play and the 56-game totals will decide the five players for the stepladder finals.
Xtra Frame, the online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association, is live streaming all preliminary rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open, with CBS Sports Network providing live coverage of the stepladder finals on Saturday, June 30 at 5 p.m. (Eastern).