ORLANDO, Fla. – The fact Stefanie Johnson is quite comfortable competing at Boardwalk Bowl, the site of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open and her self-described home away from home, was a big advantage. But a surprise visitor likely helped push her to the top on Friday.
Johnson, of McKinney, Texas, grabbed the No. 1 seed for Saturday’s finals of the U.S. Women’s Open, which will be televised live on CBS Sports Network at 5 p.m. Eastern. Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, is the No. 2 seed for the second consecutive year.
Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, is the No. 3 seed while Shannon O’Keefe of O’Fallon, Illinois, winner of the last two majors, is the fourth seed and will face Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, in the opening match.
“I’m very comfortable here, it’s my home away from home,” said Johnson, who bowled and worked at Boardwalk Bowl while attending the University of Central Florida. “I’m really at a loss for words. It feels surreal. I’m obviously seeking my first major and if I could do it here on my old home turf, that would be the icing on the cake.”
That does not mean it was an easy road for Johnson. Tied for the lead after the cashers’ round on Thursday, she went 1-7 in the opening round of match play to drop to eighth place.
“Last night was tough, I was very frustrated,” Johnson said. “I got back to the room and I wrote in my journal. I believe in positive thinking and I wrote all these positive things about how grateful I am for this opportunity. It got my mind set in the right place today.”
She also had a surprise visitor show up during Game 2 of Friday morning’s match-play round. She turned around to see her husband, Chris, the 2004 Professional Bowlers Association Rookie of the Year, sitting behind her.
“This calmness came over me,” Johnson said. “I just thought, ‘It’s OK, let’s just bowl and whatever happens today is going to happen.’ I have my family and all my support at home .. it just made all the difference. It was such an amazing surprise.”
Kuhlkin making the TV show also might be considered somewhat of a surprise, only because she seemed to flirt with the cut line each round. She was in 20th place after the cashers’ round but continued to creep up through match play.
“It feels amazing to be back in this position, especially having to bowl my way up,” said Kuhlkin, who made the USBC Queens show in 2015. “It has been an incredible day. I’m exhausted, but it’s all worth it.”
In the fourth game of the final match-play round, Kuhlkin made a big jump with a 299 game.
“When you have a good look, you have to take advantage of it,” Kuhlkin said. “I haven’t had the front 11 on tour in a while, so I was definitely nervous.”
Four-time defending champion Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, tried to make a charge but fell just short. Since winning the event in 1996, Johnson has made the finals of the U.S. Women’s Open 10 of the 16 times it has been held.
“I battled every single day,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. It’s a tough tournament, tough conditions. I didn’t feel like I, physically, was 100 percent, but I can’t hang my head. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to win everything. ”
Competition at the 2018 U.S. Women's Open consisted of three days of eight-game qualifying rounds before the field was cut to the top 36 players for an eight-game cashers' round. The 32-game pinfall totals determined the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play. The 56-game totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decided the five players for the stepladder finals.