Josie Barnes. Cherie Tan. Shannon Pluhowsky. Diana Zavjalova. Stephanie Zavala.
Seventy-two of the world’s best bowlers started the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open with the first round of qualifying on Thursday.
But only these five remain, all more than earning their way onto a major telecast for a shot at the coveted green jacket.
But this isn’t just any other U.S. Open.
These five ladies each have a chance, some needing to win more games than others of course, to walk away with a first-place prize of $ 100,000 dollars. Oh, and the second place finisher still takes home $ 50,000.
This is bigger than bowling. This is bigger than sports. Women’s sports history is on the line, yes, but Tuesday night’s live stepladder finals on CBS Sports Network at 4 p.m. California time represents, at the very least, a step in the right direction in the fight for equal pay and respect for women in our society.
Sticking to a Simple Game Plan
Barnes used a 6-1-1 record in the last round of match play to guarantee her spot on the show, but it was a 214-174 win in the position round game against Cherrie Tan that put her ahead of Tan and earned her the No. 1 seed.
Barnes said she had no idea what was going on in her mind, but that it probably wouldn’t set in until she tried to get some sleep.
“I’ve had a pretty crummy season, so I didn’t have a lot of expectations as far as finish her,” Barnes said. “Normally I’d have thoughts going into a tournament with expectations of how I would feel if I was successful, but I had no idea,” Barnes laughed.
Outside of the first day, Barnes has had one of the best looks all week and has been consistent, grinding out what they call professional games – making spares and putting together the occasional four or five bagger, something that was hard to come by this week.
“Honestly it’s just been keeping my game plan really simple,” Barnes said. “I am not going to be a player that you see playing 17 to 5. I can, but if you do [see me do that] I might cash or make a check, but I’m probably not at the top.”
Barnes kept her angles in front of her and played straight and adjusted when she had to, but stuck to the same game plan that got to the position she was in all week and it worked.
Cherie Tan has also had one of the best looks all week. She was the squad leader two different days and was able to play her game all week from the left side.
Tan, who bowls for Team Singapore, said she is just thankful to make the show after, as she said herself, struggling to bowl well during match play.
“I’m excited to be bowling the show, because I felt like I haven’t been bowling well, so execution wise wasn’t great.”
Tan said she will just rely on her international experience and see what happens.
Tan, along with Diana Zavjalova of Lativa, has the chance to become the first non-American player to win the U.S. Open in 39 years.
“The tour is evolving,” Tan said. “It is more international so there is more exposure, so I think it would be pretty cool.”
Another chance on TV
Pluhowsky, the second lefty on the show, had the lead at one point during match play and earned the No. 3 seed for the stepladder finals.
“Just a sigh of relief,” Pluhowsky said. “I don’t like the end pair and I had to bowl on it twice, so that wasn’t fun.”
After shooting 158 in a loss in game seven, she wasn’t worried because she knows anything can happen during the position round.
Pluhowsky has been on TV many times, and has not won a Tour title since the PWBA was relaunched in 2015.
But she has another chance and as many of her fellow competitors have told her, like Shannon O’Keefe, Liz Johnson and Kelly Kulick, she’s just going to have fun this time around.
“Just going to try and have fun,” she said. “Make 10 good shots and see what happens. Hopefully our look is similar to what it has been and scores are going to be low, so just staying clean and see what happens.”
Johnson said that if Pluhowsky gets to Cherie, she will have a game under her belt and she doesn’t see her look changing even with Tan on the same side of the lane.
“In 10 shots, I don’t see them changing drastically,” Johnson said. “We bowled after each other a few times and it wasn’t really substantially different, so I don’t see it being substantially different tomorrow.”
Pluhowsky said she is really excited to have her wife Carrie here with her.
“It’s exciting,” Pluhowsky said. “I like when she is here because it gets me away from outside drama. We’re staying with my family, my uncle, who lives a little bit away. So we are just away from everything, so good days or bad days, we can regroup. When you have someone supporting you, it’s going to be OK. A bad game happens.
“That is what I tell the kids, so I have to tell myself that. I want my kids to believe that, so I have to.”
‘Beating the demons’
Zavjalova has had a rough season, as she has documented many times this year.
After realizing that she made the show, the native of Lativa fell to the ground, sat and put her hands in her face.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Zavjalova said. “Everything I had to go through the last 18 months and I was fighting my demons and to finally beat the demons and just find myself again, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Zavjalova said she has been struggling with her mental health, but she found a way and will be the No. 4 seed, facing Zavala in the opening match.
Along with Tan, Zavjalova has the chance to become the first non-American player to win the U.S. Open in a long time.
“When I won the Queens in 2013, I was the first European to win, so I think it would be pretty cool thing. I wouldn’t mind being the first non-American player to win the U.S. Open in a long time.”
Zavjalova made the Queens show this year but she’s won the tournament twice and as a result, she said she feels like that is her tournament.
“Now making the show at the U.S. Open, it’s just my dream,” Zavjalova said. “I’ve bowled the U.S. Open many times and this is my second time making the cut.”
The last time she bowled the U.S. Open, she was the first one out of the show. Now she has made the big dance.
Not Bowling Like a Rookie
Zavala paused for a while after being asked what it meant to make the show at the U.S. Open and compete for her first major and the biggest prize ever awarded on the PWBA Tour.
It was at least a minute or two before she said a single world.
“It all sounds so surreal, it really hasn’t sunken in yet. I am riding a high,” Zavala said.
Zavala said winning Player of the Year is the furthest thing from her mind, but she has the chance to make PWBA Tour history by becoming the first player ever to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.
With a U.S. Open title worth double the POY points, everything is literally on the line and will be left out on the lane.