Liz Johnson wins 2017 PBA Chameleon Championship

RENO, Nev. – Three-time reigning Professional Women’s Bowling Association Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, has made a career out of producing historic moments on the lanes, and now she’s added arguably the greatest accomplishment of her historic career.

Johnson defeated Anthony Pepe of Elmhurst, New York, 220-206, to win the Professional Bowlers Association Chameleon Championship on Saturday at the National Bowling Stadium to become the second woman to win a PBA Tour title.

She joins Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, who won the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions, as the only women to capture victories on the PBA Tour. The PBA first allowed women to compete in 2004 after the PWBA abruptly went on hiatus in 2003. 

“It feels absolutely amazing,” said Johnson, who also finished 14th in the PBA World Championship this week in Reno. “It’s officially one of the best bowling days of my life and probably the icing on the cake as far as my career goes. I’ve been very lucky to have the career that I’ve had. I never thought having the chance to win a PBA title would come when it did. It’s been an awesome journey.”

The event was livestreamed online through ESPN 3 ( and the WatchESPN app. The show will be broadcast on ESPN on Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

The Chameleon Championship is part of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IX, presented by Eldorado Reno Resorts Properties and the 2017 Go Bowling! PBA Tour schedule. The event began Nov. 7 and will conclude Sunday. 

Johnson started the title match of the Chameleon Championship with three consecutive strikes, before a 10 pin stopped the run in the fourth frame, but she’d built a sizeable lead as Pepe missed a 7 pin in the second frame.

Pepe quickly got back on track and struck in frames four, five and six to stay in the match. Johnson picked up where she left off by stringing three more strikes.

Stepping up first in the 10th frame, Pepe had the opportunity to put pressure on Johnson, but a 4-7 leave on his first attempt handed Johnson the win and $20,000 top prize.

Johnson and Pepe advanced to the title match by outdistancing PBA Tour champions Tom Smallwood of Saginaw, Michigan, and Wes Malott of Pflugerville, Texas, in the opening four-player shootout round. All four players competed simultaneously, and the two highest scores advanced to the championship.

The shootout was exactly as described with every player having an opportunity to advance through the final frames. Pepe was the first player to finish and solidified his spot in the championship match with a strike on the first shot in the 10th frame to finish with 255.

Johnson, a United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer, needed a double to lock out Malott and Smallwood, who finished with 248 and 236, respectively. With the help of a late-falling 10 pin on her first offering, she finished with all three strikes in the 10th for 257.

“My legs were shaking and felt really light at that point,” Johnson said. “I was trying to focus on staying down and coming through the shot, but the nerves were going. I was just trying to focus on making the shots I needed, and to punch out at that moment was pretty awesome.”

This year’s Chameleon Championship was Johnson’s third career PBA TV appearance and fourth championship-round appearance overall.

She made history by becoming the first woman to make a televised appearance on the PBA Tour at the 2005 PBA Banquet Open, where she was the runner-up to Tommy Jones, 219-192. 

Johnson also owns a pair of fourth-place finishes at the 2014 PBA Cheetah Championship and 2015 DHC Japan Invitational (championship round streamed on Xtra Frame). 

With the victory, Johnson added another layer to her immeasurable legacy that continues to grow. Her accomplishments in 2017 now include three PWBA titles (two majors), including her sixth U.S. Women’s Open and the Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship, a third consecutive PWBA Player of the Year award and the 2017 PBA Chameleon Championship. 

It’s a legacy that Johnson is not only proud of, but one which she hopes inspires other young ladies not only within bowling, but all sports.

“I’m not good at giving myself those perks, but this ranks up there,” Johnson said. “There are so many great bowlers that I’ve always looked up to and are part of the reason why I’m here today. Hopefully, I can give back in that way to the girls who are coming up in the sport. It’s a pretty amazing and very surreal day. I’m very proud of myself and what I’ve been able to accomplish over the years. These two weeks have been exhausting but couldn’t have ended on a better note.”

The journey to the title for Johnson began on Nov. 8 when she bowled 10 qualifying games, with the top 16 competitors advancing to match play Nov. 15. 

After qualifying 12th for match play, Johnson defeated Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, New York, 3-2, in a best-of-five format in her opening match. She advanced to the show by defeating Josh Blanchard of Mesa, Arizona, in the best-of-three quarterfinals, 2-0.

The PBA Chameleon Championship featured 195 players, including six PWBA members. 

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