ARLINGTON, Texas – Before the 2018 season began, Shannon O’Keefe wrote down her list of goals for the ensuing season. Nestled high atop that list was Professional Women’s Bowling Association Player of the Year.
To O’Keefe’s credit, she wasn’t shy about her goals and her desire to win the award. Every PWBA player strives to win the award, so why not her? O’Keefe, of Shiloh, Illinois, is one of only three players to have won a title each season since the PWBA’s relaunch in 2015.
She won her first professional singles title at the PWBA Sonoma County Open in 2016 and added a second title that season. She added another title prior to capturing her first major championship at the 2017 PWBA Tour Championship, defeating then three-time PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson along the way.
The added confidence after that big victory, along with her personal beliefs and work ethic, made shooting for the stars a no-brainer for O’Keefe.
She then went out and won two of the first four events in 2018, including the United States Bowling Congress Queens. With six top-five finishes and nine top-10s, O’Keefe earned enough points (115,050) to secure 2018 PWBA Player of the Year at the QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship.
While it has been a few weeks since she officially earned PWBA Player of the Year during the TV finals of the Players Championship, the honor still hasn’t quite sunk in for the McKendree women’s bowling coach.
“I still don’t think it’s actually hit me yet,” said O’Keefe, who earned the No. 1 seed and an automatic spot into the live TV finals at the PWBA Tour Championship. “However, when I sit and just think about it, I’m proud of setting a goal, sticking to the process, and fulfilling a dream and bucket-list item in my bowling career.
“But what I hope it truly does is show my kids at McKendree to dream big, work hard and don’t be afraid of fighting for what you want.”
The award didn’t come easily. Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, who quietly put together her own great season, looked to extend the player-of-the-year race at the Players Championship.
When O’Keefe finished 30th at the event, it left the door open for McEwan. She qualified for the TV finals and needed to finish second or higher to extend the race.
With O’Keefe the TV analyst for the live CBS Sports Network finals of the event, she watched from the booth as McEwan finished third and she officially became the 2018 PWBA Player of the Year.
O’Keefe not only walked away with the honor, but with a valuable lesson about her mental game that she plans to use at the PWBA Tour Championship as well as the remainder of her career.
“I learned that sticking to the mental process of focusing on controlling what I can control from shot to shot is the most important thing for me,” O’Keefe said. “The end of the year, I let the outside chatter of player-of-the-year talk affect me mentally, and I fell right back to feeling like every shot had to be perfect and if it wasn’t then ‘I was a terrible player.’
“That’s not a healthy or very fun way to compete. So, I came home, took a hard look in the mirror, was honest with myself of what was really going on, and will now hopefully use that to my advantage in Richmond and throughout the rest of my career.”
There’s no question O’Keefe’s season has been great, and her peers noticed, too. McEwan, who will be the No. 2 seed at the PWBA Tour Championship, has spent many years competing against O’Keefe alongside her, representing Team USA.
“Shannon is an amazing athlete who has had an unbelievable season,” McEwan said. “Although I spent the season competing against her, at the end of the day, she is most importantly my Team USA teammate. I love that we get to spend every weekend pushing each other to be the best that we can be. I am proud of her as my teammate and happy for her as my friend.”
Stefanie Johnson, who not only is a Team USA teammate but O’Keefe’s best friend, echoed those sentiments along with thoughts on O’Keefe’s work ethic.
"There isn't a moment where Shannon is not working on her game in some capacity and her PWBA Player of the Year season is a testament to that,” Johnson said. “She is the definition of what hard work looks like and she inspires me every day to be better!"
As we inch closer to the start of competition at the season-ending PWBA Tour Championship at Richmond Raceway, O’Keefe looks to become the first player in history to defend the title. If she is successful, she’ll also become the first player to win PWBA Player of the Year and the PWBA Tour Championship in the same season.
Official practice will kick off the event on Sunday, Sept. 16 with competition starting Monday, Sept. 17, at noon (Eastern). BowlTV, the official YouTube channel of the United States Bowling Congress, will have live coverage of all preliminary rounds leading up to the live TV finals on Sept. 19 on CBS Sports Network.