With the 2017 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour season quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look into the crystal ball to see what excitement the PWBA has in store for its fans this year.
We’ve assembled a panel of several well-known names in the bowling community to see who they thought we’d be keeping an eye on during the season.
We asked them three questions:
- Who’s going to be the breakout performer in 2017?
- Who’s going to win Rookie of the Year in 2017?
- Who’s going to win Player of the Year in 2017?
With our final installment, we look at Player of the Year.
United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Liz Johnson took PWBA Player of the Year honors when the tour relaunched in 2015 and set the tone from the start of the 2016 season by winning the season-opening PWBA Las Vegas Open. She also would win her third consecutive, and fifth overall, U.S. Women’s Open title.
Although she was challenged throughout the year by the likes of Rocio Restrepo, Shannon O’Keefe and Shannon Pluhowsky, Johnson’s pair of wins and steady performance throughout the season would help her claim the PWBA Player of the Year honor for a second consecutive year.
Who will take home the honor in 2017? Here’s what our panel thinks:
Fran Deken – PWBA and USBC Hall of Famer
Player of the Year could be a hotly contested race. Perennial favorite Liz Johnson seems to have the edge again, if the knee holds up, as she makes good equipment choices and handles her emotions well. Shannon O'Keefe has learned how to win and could be tough to stop now, while Danielle McEwan just keeps getting better and better, and she has youth on her side. She's been successful this past winter and I look for her to just keep on rolling.
Jackie Wyckoff – International Bowling Media Association
The talent on the women’s tour just keeps getting better. Veteran bowlers such as Kelly Kulick, Missy Parkin and 2016 Player of the Year Liz Johnson are at the top of their game and our 2017 rookie class may just be the best ever.
On my short list for Player of the Year, in addition to Kulick, Parkin and Johnson, are a few up and comers including 2016 Rookie of the Year New Hui Fen of Singapore and Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York. Kuhlkin won her first PWBA title in Topeka, Kansas, in 2015 and rolled the highest women’s recorded series of 890 in October of 2016.
My PoY choice is a bowler who has an impressive international resume. She has Team USA and Junior Team USA titles, has won a major (2015 Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship), and a regular PWBA Tour title (2016 Wichita Open). She has three medals from the 2016 PABCON Women’s Championships, is a 2016 and 2017 World Bowling Tour champion and she won three medals, including two gold, at the 2015 World Bowling Women’s Championships. She is a force on and off the lanes and you may recognize her from the photo with the camel on the cover of Bowlers Journal, Danielle McEwan.
Gianmarc Manzione – Bowlers Journal International
Past is not always prologue, especially in pro bowling. One season’s breakout star easily can be next season’s also-ran. Heck, even Jason Belmonte went two years without winning a PBA title before roaring back during the PBA’s “big February,” winning two of that month’s three majors — the Players Championship and an unprecedented fourth USBC Masters. All that said, Colombia’s Rocio Restrepo’s recent past glitters with such jaw-dropping consistency that it may well be a reliable indicator of greater triumphs to come.
Consider these numbers: By the time Restrepo won the first of her two PWBA Tour titles last year — the PWBA Detroit Open — she had finished in the top 15 in 14 of the 20 PWBA Tour events she had bowled in 2015 and 2016 combined. Eleven of those finishes were in the top 10. Four of them came in majors, as she finished 14th and 13th in the 2015 and 2016 USBC Queens, respectively, ninth in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open, and missed the show by a spot at the 2016 PWBA Players Championship in Green Bay, finishing fifth.
Restrepo hung tough with Liz Johnson in the Player of the Year race throughout the 2016 season, and this year she is as good a bet as any PWBA competitor to not just hang tough, but to punch through for her first PoY award.
Emil Williams Jr. – PWBA Communications
Since the relaunch of the PWBA Tour in 2015, Kelly Kulick has been a fixture in the final rounds of tour events. That’s no surprise, considering Kulick is in the “greatest female bowler of all-time” conversation and is the only woman to win a national title on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour (2010 Tournament of Champions).
She led the tour with six championship-round appearances in 2015, and followed with four appearances on CBS Sports Network in 2016. During the stretch, she finished fifth at the 2015 Bowlmor AMF U.S. Women’s Open, fourth at the 2015 Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship and fifth at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.
But, for whatever reason, Kulick has not found the winner’s circle since the PWBA’s return. I expect that to change in 2017 and here’s why.
Last season, despite her successes, Kulick battled an ankle injury for much of the second half and spent weeks competing admirably despite pain being her constant sidekick. She even took an event off to rest and rehabilitate her ailing ankle to be strong for the final third of the season. Kulick also bowled much of the season with a heavy heart while her mother battled an illness. If Kulick had taken off the second half of the season, we certainly would’ve understood. But that’s not how she rolls.
Presumably healthy after she ended 2016 with a World Bowling World Singles title in Doha, Qatar, and with her mom in her heart, I expect Kelly to turn things around on television and get the proverbial “monkey off the back.” On a tour where the competition simply gets better on a weekly basis, one of the consummate “veterans” will have her most successful PWBA season to date with three titles, including one major, on her way to her first PWBA Player of the Year award.
To follow the PWBA Tour throughout the season, be sure to keep an eye on PWBA.com, the official PWBA Facebook and Twitter pages, and Xtra Frame, the official exclusive online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association. To subscribe to Xtra Frame, visit XtraFrame.TV.