McEwan and Rodriguez representing PWBA at 2020 U.S. Open in Nebraska

2020 U.S. Open results

The pins don't know the style or gender of the person throwing the bowling ball, and top-tier competitors often see things the same way, recognizing and appreciating talent and success regardless of who's behind the foul line.

Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, and Maria José Rodriguez of Colombia are fearless on the lanes, and they'll be competing against 106 men all week as they represent the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour at the 2020 U.S. Open.

Both are major champions on the PWBA Tour, with McEwan being the reigning champion at the U.S. Women's Open, a test of versatility, endurance and mental toughness, very similar to what they're experiencing this week at Sun Valley Lanes.

With the change in timing for the U.S. Open, which moved from October to February to fit better in the 2020 Professional Bowlers Association Tour schedule, it definitely was advantageous for the duo to enter the event.

Not only are they getting to test themselves against some of the best bowlers in the world, they're also competing for World Bowling Tour points and getting to gauge the status of their games heading into the April 23 start of the 2020 PWBA Tour season.

"I'm super excited to actually be in the field for this event," McEwan said. "The U.S. Open is my favorite tournament to bowl. It's the hardest tournament. It's the most prestigious tournament. So, any opportunity I have to compete in it, I'm going to take. No matter how it goes, I know I'm going to learn from it, it's going to challenge me and I'll be more prepared for future events, as well as the upcoming PWBA season."

McEwan and Rodriguez spend much of their time competing or preparing to compete. If they're not on the road, on a plane or in the gym, they're on the lanes. There is no offseason for the two, who compete individually and represent their countries in international competition.

The bulk of their 2019 calendar included a 14-event PWBA Tour schedule, the World Bowling Women's Championships, where they both found the top of the podium and a flurry of other premier events.

"I had a really big offseason this year - I took a week off - a whole week," joked McEwan, a 28-year-old right-hander and five-time PWBA Tour champion. "Then, I got right back to it. We just got back from Europe, and we're planning a trip back in the next couple of weeks. We're always trying to bowl in everything we can, knowing the experience and time on the lanes will make us better."

McEwan and Rodriguez both qualified for this week's event by advancing through the 64-player pre-tournament qualifier that kicked off the week in Nebraska.

Twenty moved on to the 108-player U.S. Open field based on their eight-game PTQ pinfall totals, while the rest of the bowlers qualified based on their on-lane accomplishments during the 2019 calendar year. Rodriguez took the same path on the way to a 33rd-place finish at last year's U.S. Open.

Four-time PWBA Tour champion Diana Zavjalova of Latvia also bowled in the PTQ at Sun Valley Lanes but fell short, finishing 32nd.

"I think it's a great learning experience, especially going through the PTQ, where you're bowling against bowlers with so many different styles," Rodriguez said. "I learned a lot at last year's event and felt more prepared, excited and confident coming into this week."

Rodriguez, a 31-year-old right-hander and two-time PWBA Tour winner, is proud to be representing her gender against a field of men, and while it may offer a unique storyline, she said it does not add any pressure.

"It's just cool to be here competing, and, yes, we're the only two women in the field, but it's not just about representing the ladies," Rodriguez said. "We do it because we love the sport, and we're passionate about it. Every opportunity we get to compete is a learning experience. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. But, each time also is a chance to learn and improve."

As the two PWBA stars navigate three lane conditions ranging from 37 to 44 feet this week during qualifying, they know they'll be tested physically and mentally.

McEwan has found continued success in the similar format at the U.S. Women's Open and finally broke through to win the event in 2019, getting a double and nine pins in her final frame to escape with a 201-199 victory over top seed Tannya Roumimper of Indonesia.

The nine-time Team USA member will draw on every aspect of her past experiences to hopefully find more success this week in Lincoln. Among those experiences is a 23rd-place finish at the 2015 U.S. Open in Garland, Texas.

"I feel like this tournament is more about mental strength than anything," McEwan said. "For the most part, the lanes are always hard. Transition is hard. Pair to pair is tricky. Everything about it is difficult. You're shooting at hard spares and trying to make splits. It ultimately comes down to being mentally tough. If you can hang in there for the long format and all the ups and downs, it can be so rewarding."

All 108 competitors will bowl 24 games of qualifying this week. They'll bowl eight games each day, and total pinfall for the three days will determine the 36 players for the Cashers' Round.

After eight additional games on a fourth oil pattern, 24 players will advance to round-robin match play. At the conclusion of the week, 56-game pinfall totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will decide the five players for Sunday's live TV finals.

The finalists will bowl for the title, $30,000 top prize and coveted green jacket live on FOX at 1 p.m. Eastern.

After the first day of competition on a 39-foot oil pattern, Rodriguez and McEwan were 91st and 92nd in the standings, respectively.

Canada's Francois Lavoie is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, an event he also won in 2016 for the first of his four PBA Tour titles. He is one of 12 bowlers in history to win the U.S. Open on multiple occasions.

Only four bowlers - Andy Varipapa, Don Carter, Dick Weber and Dave Husted have successfully defended their U.S. Open titles. Husted was the last to accomplish the feat, doing so in 1996.