ORLANDO, Fla. – Stefanie Johnson does know a little something about the host center for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Johnson, of McKinney, Texas, holds a 90-pin lead after a 1,762 eight-game set during Wednesday’s third round of qualifying gave her a 5,341 total after 24 games. The top 36 bowlers will return to Boardwalk Bowl, the place where Johnson said she really fell in love with the sport while competing for the University of Central Florida, on Thursday morning for the cashers’ round.
Thursday’s eight-game cashers’ round will determine the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play that begins Thursday evening.
“Having a lead is great, but there are still a lot of games left to bowl,” Johnson said. “Match play is a whole other ballgame. I just have to stay in every moment. There’s still a lot of tournament left.”
Last season’s Professional Women’s Bowling Association Orlando Open at Boardwalk Bowl marked Johnson’s season debut, following the birth of her second child, daughter Kenzie. She not only made the stepladder finals, but won the event as the fourth seed.
“I love this bowling center,” Johnson said. “I spent a lot of time here during my UCF days. It’s my home away from home. So there’s a comfort level there, but I still have to bowl.”
Johnson’s Team USA teammate Shannon O’Keefe also seems to be getting comfortable after a rough start. In her first eight games, she posted a 1,529 pinfall total before posting sets of 1,807 and 1,818 for a 5,154 total. She moved from 86th into ninth place.
“Obviously, something wasn’t right,” said O’Keefe, winner of the last two majors. “I just had to forget that happened and think of it as a normal tour stop – I have 16 games to get there. Yesterday, I just wanted to come in and have fun. It’s been a long time since I bowled just for fun.”
Daria Pajak of Poland, the No. 1 seed for last year’s U.S. Women’s Open stepladder finals, had to wait out the last squad of the day to see if she would make it to Thursday’s cashers’ round. Her final game on Wednesday, a 258, was her highest game in qualifying and was just enough to get her the final spot.
Pajak said it was too tough to watch the final squad. She went car shopping – “mine is actually falling apart” – and she kept checking scores. She returned to Boardwalk Bowl for the final game.
“It was stressing me out,” Pajak said. “But it’s quite cool to see everyone fighting to make the cut. There were at least six or seven girls that had a chance. It was cool to see them battling those tough conditions.”
Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, was one of those trying to get above the cut line during the final squad. She started the round 55 pins outside the cut but fired back-to-back 268 games early in the final block and, knowing she needed at least a 200 in her final game, she shot 227.
“The thing that made it interesting is there was two or three girls that were clumped together and we were right next to each other,” Kulkin. “Everybody knew what was going on, everyone could see what everyone was shooting. That made it more intense.”
Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, is in eighth place with a 5,169 pinfall total. Johnson is seeking her fifth consecutive U.S. Women’s Open title, which would tie a record. She has won the event six times overall.
Competitors in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open will bowl their third eight-game qualifying block Wednesday after which the field will be cut to the top 36 players for the eight-game cashers' round. The 32-game pinfall totals will determine the 24 bowlers for round-robin match play. 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).