ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - For Taylor Bulthuis of Coral Springs, Florida, the journey to the top 24 at the 2021 U.S. Women's Open was far more involved than just the miles between the Sunshine State and California or the 24 games of qualifying this week at Double Decker Lanes.
In fact, it actually may be the miles she didn't travel and the games she didn't bowl heading into the event that have been the biggest contributors to her success through three rounds of the second major of the 2021 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season.
The U.S. Women's Open marks her return to competition after sitting out a tournament to focus on her mental health, and the 28-year-old right-hander has been in, or around, the top 10 since the opening game of the event Thursday.
After 24 games across three days and three oil patterns, Bulthuis is 14th overall with a 4,915 pinfall total, a 204.79 average. Her strong performance has proven that the time off was beneficial, and it has guaranteed her another 32 games of competition at Double Decker Lanes.
"My mental health affects me every day, and I'm using that to fuel my fire," Bulthuis said. "I've been working hard to keep my mood as even as possible. I'm incredibly excited, but I'm also trying to be calm. I know I'm in a good place heading into tomorrow, but it will be important for me to keep that balance."
Leading Bulthuis and the rest of the advancers into Sunday's fourth round will be left-hander Cherie Tan of Singapore, who led the opening round, struggled on Day 2 and then made light work of Saturday's 46-foot oil pattern.
Tan averaged nearly 246 to reclaim her spot at the top of the 71-player standings, and she finished the 24 games of qualifying with a 5,213 total.
The two-time PWBA Tour champion was followed by 2021 PWBA Rookie of the Year front-runner Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California (5,140), Poland's Daria Pajak (5,083), Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California (5,059), and Singapore's Shayna Ng, who bowled the week's highest game, 298, on the way to a 5,034 total.
Also advancing is six-time U.S. Women's Open champion Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls, New York (sixth with 5,025), and defending champion Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, who got progressively better each round and settled into 10th place with a 4,950 total.
Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina, also a rookie-of-the-year candidate, closed with games of 224 and 236 to earn the final spot in the next round. She finished qualifying in 24th place with a 4,854 total, a 202.25 average.
All rounds of qualifying and match play are being broadcast on BowlTV.com through Monday night, and the event will conclude live on CBS Sports Network on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home the iconic U.S. Women's Open trophy, coveted green jacket and a $100,000 top prize.
Competition at Double Decker Lanes will resume Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern with the introduction of a fourth lane condition and eight more games of competition.
Following the initial round Sunday, the 24 advancers will move on to round-robin match play Sunday evening and throughout the day Monday.
There will be 30 bonus pins awarded for each win during the three eight-game rounds of match play, and the 56-game pinfall totals will determine the five players for the championship stepladder.
On the way to the top 24, Bulthuis definitely was aware of the things she needed to do mentally and emotionally to remain in contention, while relying on the skills and fundamentals that have made her a factor on the PWBA Tour since her debut in 2019.
"My shot making has been great, and my spare shooting has been at its best, and those are two things that are important at this event," Bulthuis said. "I've been able to hang out in the top 10 since Day 1 went well, even with yesterday being such a grind. I didn't want to look around too much today and stress myself out. I knew I was close and just needed to stay focused. Now, here I am."
Bulthuis has been a familiar name among the cashers this season on the PWBA Tour, and she started the year with prize checks in 10 consecutive events. She has a best finish of sixth, coming in early June at the PWBA Albany Open.
Cashing regularly was her first big goal when she joined the PWBA. Consistently making top 12s is another. Winning on the PWBA Tour is the ultimate goal, of course, and Bulthuis feels she has been on the doorstep, if not knocking on the door.
Despite the run of success earlier this year, growing confidence and the support of a new ball company, a rough outing in Louisville, Kentucky, in mid-June left her mentally drained and not happy with the person she was on the lanes.
It was followed by another missed cut at the Professional Bowlers Association/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles and a subpar showing at the PWBA Summer Classic Series.
"I knew after the Summer Classic Series was such a disaster that something needed to change," Bulthuis said. "I was crying mid-block. As a competitor, I know emotions run high, but it was different, and I didn't know where it was coming from. I also let personal things affect me when I was competing, and that's never a good thing.
"My decision to miss last week was super tough, but it I knew it was the best thing for me, especially coming into the U.S. Women's Open. Now, I'm standing at the same door and hoping this is the week it blows open."
Bulthuis has a noteworthy presence on social media and shares a lot about herself, including her recent experiences and the role of depression and anxiety in her life.
She also is motivated by the unwavering support of her father, Mitch, who hasn't been able to travel with her to events this year, and that has been tough. She does, however, bowl with a sticker on her shoe that says, "do it for dad," so he's there with her on every shot.
Even in times of success and prosperity, there are challenges, and everyone handles them differently. So far, skipping the PWBA Spokane Open to make sure she was ready for this week has paid off.
"I started putting way too much pressure on myself, and not having my dad there has been tough, too," said Bulthuis, a PWBA Regional champion in 2020. "He hated seeing me miss bowling, but it's what I needed most. It gave me time to focus on self-development and being ready for an event we all know is mentally challenging. I needed to find the fire I felt I lost in Kentucky."