ARLINGTON, Texas - Hall of Famer Leanne Hulsenberg of Roseville, Calif., topped defending champion Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., 218-183 to win the 2011 Bowling's U.S. Women's Open on Thursday.  The championship round was contested on lanes constructed on the 50-yard-line of the famed Cowboys Stadium before a crowd in excess of 6,000, making it among the most well-attended events in bowling history.
Competing in the most unique venue in the history of women's bowling, Hulsenberg claimed her first title in nearly a decade and earned $50,000 for the victory. The event, presented by the brands of Ebonite International and conducted by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America (BPAA), will be broadcast on Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
"I'm actually sitting here thinking I can't believe this just happened to me," said No. 2 seed Hulsenberg, a 27-time professional champion who won her last pro title Sept. 19, 2002, at the Three Rivers Open in Pittsburgh. "This win means so many different things to me. For my family it's a very special day because I met my husband after I stopped bowling full time. On a bowling level, it's special because I've been with Ebonite for 20 years and they had so much to do with this tournament."
Had one of the finalists thrown a perfect game in the championship match, they would have received a $1 million prize, which is unprecedented in the history of bowling. The quest for $1 million ended quickly, however, as both players started the championship match by leaving a 10 pin.
'With the pressure of playing on one of the largest stages there is - Cowboys Stadium and on national TV - Leanne rose to the occasion and delivered an exceptional performance,' said Steve Johnson, executive director of the BPAA. 'This is an incredible moment in a year that has seen bowling flourish in popularity among women and continue its incredible resurgence as the nation's number one participatory sport.  Speaking on behalf of the bowling industry and the 71 million bowlers across the United States, I congratulate Leanne for demonstrating everything that makes bowling great and for showing what a champion is made of.'
Top-seeded Kulick, who won the 2003 and 2010 U.S. Women's Open, got off to a shaky start in the match, only striking on one shot in the first six frames while leaving the 4-6-7-10 split for opens twice. The 183 game was the lowest Kulick shot in her 49 tournament games. She entered the championship match averaging 241.35 for the event.
'Unfortunately, my feel just wasn't there tonight,' said Kulick, a seven-time Team USA member who is the only woman to win a title on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. 'The humidity level was very high, and I never got a comfortable fit with the ball. There never was a happy medium. It wasn't that I was lost on the lanes. I went in and did the best I could.'
In the semifinal, Hulsenberg escaped with a narrow victory over No. 5 seed Lynda Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, 247-246, after Barnes went high and left the 6-10 on her final shot of the game. Hulsenberg, who trailed by 42 pins at the halfway point of the match, rebounded by closing the game with seven consecutive strikes.
Barnes began the second match with seven consecutive strikes in eliminating No. 3 seed Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, N.Y., 259-225. Johnson left a 4-6 split for an open in the fourth frame and eventually trailed by more than 60 pins, a deficit from which she would never recover.
In the opening match, Barnes defeated Shannon O'Keefe of Arlington, Texas, 268-166. O'Keefe, the fourth seed, failed to strike in the first five frames as Barnes jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.
The U.S. Women's Open featured a record-breaking field of 286 of the top female bowlers in the world competing for a total prize fund of $225,000.
For more information Bowling's U.S. Women's Open, visit bowlingsuswomensopen.com.
2011 BOWLING'S U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
(At Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
Lynda Barnes, Double Oak, Texas, def. Shannon O'Keefe, Arlington, Texas, 268-166. (O'Keefe finishes fifth, earns $10,000.)
Barnes def. Liz Johnson, Cheektowaga, N.Y., 259-225 (Johnson finishes fourth, earns $12,500.)
Leanne Hulsenberg, Roseville, Calif., def. Barnes, 247-246. (Barnes finishes third, earns $15,000.)
Hulsenberg def. Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 218-183. (Kulick finishes second, earns $25,000; Hulsenberg finishes first, earns $50,000.)