Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
It was a stunning win for 32-year-old Kelly Kulick at Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas this past Sunday as she beat two former PBA Players of the Year to win the 2010 Tournament of Champions. As with tennis and golf, bowling has four majors a year with the Tournament of Champions being one of them. Kulick became the first woman in the history of the Professional Bowlers Association to win a PBA tournament (and, of course, the first female to win a PBA major as well).
CLIMBING OUT OF A HOLE
Things didn’t look great for Kulick in the final eight-game block on Friday as she started it in sixth place (only the top four make the TV final). After poor games of 174 and 172, she seemed out of the running. But in her final six games, she went 223, 279, 277, 222, 236 and 267 to finish second and make the show.
KULICK V. KOIVUNIEMI
The ESPN televison show (with over 1.7 million viewers) began with Mika Koivuniemi defeating Rhino Page 255-215, with the winner then facing Kelly Kulick for the right to bowl Chris Barnes in the final.
Mika, as he is known, has eight career PBA titles (including two majors) and was the PBA Player of the Year in 2003-04. More importantly for his match against Kulick, Mika had thrown the last seven strikes in match one to shoot 255 and seemed lined up to beat Kelly Kulick. But a funny thing happened on the way to an all-male final.
Koivuniemi went high in the first frame and left a four pin which he made but then went high in the second frame and missed the 3-10 “baby” split. That was really the only opening that Kelly Kulick needed, as she was clean through the first five frames (leading by four pins) and then got locked in and would finish with six strikes in her last seven balls. Mika threw a 4-6 split in the sixth and could never get back as Kulick shut him out with a four bagger in the ninth and tenth to win 237-233. At no point in the match did Kulick surrender the lead.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH FOR THE AGES
Kelly Kulick against top seed Chris Barnes figured to be a close match. Arguably the most talented bowler alive, Barnes has had his troubles as the number one seed in “stepladder” (three plays four, the winner plays two, the winner plays one for the title) finals. Despite 12 titles including two majors (he won the Tournament of Champions in 2006), Chris Barnes’ record as the number one seed in stepladder finals was 2-6 (and 1-2 in majors).
Interestingly, Barnes decided to let Kulick bowl first. She threw a solid strike and when Barnes seemed surprised when his first ball went light for only an eight count, Barnes looked amazed and uttered “Wow” because of his poor ball reaction.
Commentator Randy Pedersen thought right away that this was a problem for Barnes. He said, after that first ball, that there was a “lot of indecision going on in the head of Chris Barnes right at this moment.”
Barnes made the spare and then Pedersen said, ‘And there’s been so many times when Chris has struggled on television, he’s struggled in title matches. Who can forget the 2008 Tournament of Champions when he had a 50-pin lead against Michael Haugen, Jr. only to miss a ten pin late and lose by a pin.
Just then, Barnes buried a strike in the second and Pedersen, maybe hedging his bets, said, “But there’s also been times when he’s been very, very good.”
KULICK GOES TO WORK
None of this fazed Kelly Kulick in the least. After the match she would tell Pedersen that she “was bowling the pins, not Chris.” It certainly looked like it as she buried strikes in the second and third frames. When Barnes went spare and then through the nose for a 4-6-10, it looked like the route was on.
And it was.
Kulick got a break in the fourth as she came in a little high but tripped the four pin for her fourth consecutive strike. She threw what looked like a pretty good ball in the fifth, only to leave a pocket 7-10 split. Nevertheless, she raised her lead from 10 pins in the first, to 20 in the second to 31 in the third and to 41 after just four frames.
When Chris Barnes threw a strike in the fifth and left a ringing 10-pin in the sixth which he made, he cut the lead to 30.
But that’s the closest he would ever get.
KELLY KULICK PUTS DOWN THE HAMMER
Showing great mental toughness after leaving a pocket 7-10 in the fifth, Kulick stepped up and threw two strikes on her way to six in a row and a 265-195 defeat of the 2007-08 PBA Bowler of the Year, Chris Barnes.
It was both stunning and historic at the same time.
Kulick, an All-American bowler at Morehead State, a three-time Majors winner on the Women’s tour and a four-time Team USA member, had just become the first woman ever to win a PBA title. Barnes was gracious in defeat as he congratulated Kelly Kulick right after the match by telling her, “Great bowling, Kelly. Great job all week. You handled it fantastically.”
Needless to say, Kelly Kulick was overjoyed with her victory. Before her final shot in her winning match, she said, “History has been made in the world of sports.”
And she’s 100% right.
While Kulick was the first woman to win an exemption to bowl on the men’s tour in 2006-07, she never got the acclaim that a Michelle Wie got in golf or that a Danica Patrick got in racing. Non-bowlers might understand what she did if they could envision Wie winning the Masters or Patrick winning the Daytona 500. It’s a staggering accomplishment.
AFTER THE WIN
Kelly Kulick, a classy woman, took the beautiful Tournament of Champions trophy and handed it to her mother, telling her that “this is for you” and “I love you.” She then told Randy Pedersen that she thought she had the match won “after the 7-10 split, when I came back and doubled right away. That put me right back in my confident level.” Kulick also said that “this day will never be forgotten. It is by far the greatest accomplishment ever in my career.”
Kulick, who is also a fantastic teacher of the sport as a lead instructor at (and a graduate of) the famous Dick Ritger Bowling Camps, thanked a lot of people right after the match, including Chad Murphy of Columbia, Ed Gallagher of Ebonite, as well as the PBA, the USBC and the wonderful fans.
At the very end, Kulick looked at the camera and said “Ebonite, Mission accomplished,”
apparently a reference to the new Ebonite ball she threw to win the Tournament of Champions, “The Mission.” This ball will be available to the masses on February 4.
RANDY PEDERSEN SUMS IT UP BEST
Pedersen, the ESPN commentator who has been around for decades and is in the Top 50 Bowlers of All-Time, probably summed it up best by telling Kelly Kulick, in front of a national TV audience, that “that may have been the best performance I’ve ever seen given the circumstances.”
Amen to that.
Kelly Kulick has boldly gone where no woman has gone before. With a two-year PBA exemption and a $40,000 winner’s check (which apparently she’ll use for a down payment on a house), the sky’s the limit. With appearances already on The CBS Early Show and ESPN, she now becomes, more than ever, a spokesperson for her sport and a great role model to all women and girls in all sports.
© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.