ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - Josie Barnes of Hermitage, Tennessee, may not have had the year she was hoping for on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour, but she now has 100,000 reasons to celebrate a successful conclusion to her 2021 campaign.
The 33-year-old right-hander made history Tuesday night at the U.S. Women's Open, live on CBS Sports Network, as she defeated Singapore's Cherie Tan, 198-194, to claim the biggest prize check ever awarded at a professional women's bowling event.
The win was the first major championship, and fourth PWBA Tour title overall, for Barnes, and the $100,000 payday at Double Decker Lanes also included the event's coveted green jacket and iconic U.S. Women's Open trophy.
"Going into this week, I really was trying to find some good things about this season, and while there were a few, there weren't many," said Barnes, who finished tied for ninth place at this year's United States Bowling Congress Queens. "After tonight, I feel like I can say it was the best season ever. It's funny how quickly our emotions can change."
The seesaw showdown under the TV lights Tuesday was settled with Barnes on the bench and Tan stepping up needing a double and five pins in her final frame to secure the victory.
The 33-year-old left-hander got the first strike, but she left the 3-6 combination on her second shot to fall short in her bid to become the first international player in nearly four decades to wear the green jacket.
Having finished first, Barnes had the opportunity to lock up the win with a double of her own, but the first shot of her 10th frame crossed over and left a 9 pin. After the spare, she got six pins on her fill ball. Getting at least three pins meant Tan would need a double.
"Cherie and I have met up in some pretty big moments, including last night in the position round, and she's always made great shots, but the pins haven't fallen her way yet," Barnes said. "After she got the first one, I thought my time finally was up, and I started preparing for the disappointment to begin creeping in."
Both players struck in two of their first three frames, but a missed 2-8 combination from Barnes in the fourth frame allowed Tan to take an 11-pin lead halfway through the match. A sixth-frame ball change and a double from Barnes turned the momentum back in her favor.
The ball change was calculated, however, as Barnes knows her game well enough to have predicted that if she got out to a strong start, the tendency would be for her ball speed to go up.
Though she felt the back-to-back 2-8 leaves in the fourth and fifth frames were decent shots, the results supported the expectations. A quick visual exchange with her ball rep confirmed it was time for the ball change.
"My tendency is for things to speed up in those situations, and while I sometimes can control it with breathing, it's something we talked about before the match," Barnes said. "Since we already had a game plan in place, it just took a look to know for sure it was time. I went to a stronger ball I'd thrown a lot during the week, and it worked."
Even before the win, Barnes already had planned to skip the final swing of the 2021 season - the three-event PWBA Fall Classic Series in Reno, Nevada - to focus on her responsibilities as the associate head coach for the Vanderbilt bowling program.
The historic title tilt also was a rematch of the final game of the 2019 Nationwide PWBA Greater Cleveland Open, where Barnes again came out on top. That was her last visit to the winner's circle.
Tan, who owns two PWBA Tour titles, including a major win at the 2019 PWBA Players Championship, was competing in her second event of the 2021 season.
She earned $50,000 for the runner-up finish, but also will leave the United States with a short list of things to work on as she prepares for the 2021 International Bowling Federation Super World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November.
"It's disappointing because I really wanted to win it, but at the end of the day, bowling is like that," Tan said. "You can execute the way you want, but if the reaction doesn't pan out, it doesn't pan out. For the week, I was able to gather a lot of information about what else I need to work on. My game hasn't been tested for about one and a half years, so it was a chance to see how I could fare. I'm leaving this tournament knowing some things to work on, so I'm pleased about that."
The biggest first-place prize in a women's bowling event prior to Tuesday came in 2001, when USBC Hall of Famer Kim Kearney collected $55,000 for the first of her two U.S. Women's Open titles.
Japan's Shinobu Saitoh was the last international bowler to win the event, doing so in 1982.
To earn her chance at history Tuesday, Tan first had to defeat fellow left-hander Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio. They were two of the three southpaws in the field this week at Double Decker Lanes.
Their semifinal meeting was far different than the matches that preceded it, yielding just three strikes between the two players.
Tan struck twice in the match and converted the 2-4-7 combination in her final frame to slip past Pluhowsky, 178-166.
Pluhowsky, 39, was seeking her second major title, and first since winning the Queens in 2006. In 2016, she was the runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open, losing the title match to Liz Johnson as the top seed.
Before the meeting with Tan, Pluhowsky kicked off her seventh championship-round appearance at a major in a major way, tossing 10 strikes in a 279-211 victory against 2021 PWBA Tour Rookie of the Year front-runner Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California.
Zavala, a 25-year-old right-hander, has earned two PWBA Tour titles in her rookie season, and Tuesday's show was her fourth stepladder appearance of the year.
It took Zavala a few frames to settle in for her first PWBA show on live TV, but she was able to overcome two splits in the first three frames to collect a 220-199 win over two-time Queens champion Diana Zavjalova of Latvia.
Zavala rallied with six consecutive strikes, starting in the fifth frame, while Zavjalova, a 30-year-old right-hander, hit the pocket 11 times but failed to record a double.
The week started with 71 competitors, who bowled 24 games across three days and three oil patterns, before the field was cut to the top 24 for Round 4 and match play. A fourth lane condition was introduced for Round 4, match play and the championship round. Patterns this week ranged from 36-46 feet.
All rounds of qualifying and match play were broadcast live at BowlTV.com.
Defending champion Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, finished eighth, missing the stepladder by 107 pins.
The total prize fund for the 2021 U.S. Women's Open was nearly $284,000.