ARLINGTON, Texas – When the U.S. Women’s Open kicks off Monday, all eyes will be on Liz Johnson.
Johnson will take to the lanes at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando, Florida, for the second major of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) season seeking her fifth consecutive, and seventh overall, U.S. Women’s Open title.
Xtra Frame, the online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association, will carry all preliminary rounds, with CBS Sports Network having live coverage of the stepladder finals on Saturday, June 30 at 5 p.m. (Eastern).
History suggests Johnson will make the live TV show, though results from the last few weeks say the Palatine, Illinois, native might need this particular event.
The reigning three-time PWBA Player of the Year, Johnson still seeks her first title in 2018, and the tough lane conditions, the long format where bowlers have to grind and fight for every pin, is exactly the type of event where Johnson’s steady game tends to shine.
“I like the long formats and the challenging conditions,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping for a good week. I might not have as strong a physical game as everybody, but I’ve always had a strong mental game. It will be a definite marathon.”
Johnson has owned the U.S. Women’s Open, much like fellow United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Marion Ladewig, who won it a record eight times. Ladewig won the first five U.S. Women’s Open events. Johnson has won the last four and six overall.
Johnson and Shannon O’Keefe, longtime teammates on Team USA, have had epic battles on the lanes. Johnson topped O’Keefe in the title matches of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2007 and 2015, while O’Keefe beat Johnson in the semifinals on her way to winning the last two major titles on the PWBA Tour.
“Liz is the most mentally tough competitor I’ve ever met,” O’Keefe said. “She never quits and believes to her core it’s possible. She inspires me and pushes me to be better every day.”
But, Johnson’s recent performances haven’t been at the player-of-the-year level fans have come to expect.
She’s made two stepladder finals this year, taking fourth in the season-opening PWBA Las Vegas Open and third at the USBC Queens. She just missed the PWBA East Hartford Open stepladder, shooting a final-game 167, when a 193 would have put her in the finals.
Yet, it was last week’s effort, a 33rd-place finish at the PWBA Greater Harrisburg Open where she missed the cut to the Round of 32 by five pins, that was somewhat eye-opening. It marked the first time she failed to cash in a PWBA Tour event in the last two seasons.
“This was the only week that, yeah, I was ready to get out of there,” Johnson said. “Physically, I feel good. Mentally, I’m just trying to keep a positive attitude. Coming off the first week I haven’t cashed in probably two years, I came home, enjoyed my house and my family, just to get a breath of fresh air, so to speak, and go into next week with a great attitude.”
Now, she looks to rebound at an event that tends to bring out her best.
“Two years ago, I came into the U.S. Women’s Open off probably one of my worst weeks and ended up winning that,” Johnson said. “You just have to put everything behind you – last year was last year, two years ago was two years ago. You have to go in with an open mind, a fresh mind, and try to mentally, as well as physically, prepare for another major.”
Competition at the 2018 U.S. Women's Open starts Monday with the first of three days of qualifying. Competitors will bowl 24 games over three days, and the field then will be cut to the top 36 players for an eight-game cashers' round. The 32-game pinfall totals will determine the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play. The 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decide the five players for the stepladder finals.