Defending champion Liz Johnson won her fifth U.S. Women’s Open the hard way Sunday. The Cheektowaga bowler fought her way up the nationally televised stepladder finals, winning four matches including a 208-143 rout of top seed Shannon Pluhowsky in the title match.
Johnson seemed to be the only finalist who could cope with the lane conditions at Stardust Bowl in Addison, Ill. She defeated long-time rival Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., 207-168, in her first match. Her most difficult match came next, a 215-200 triumph over New Hui Fen of Singapore. She defeated Shayna Ng, also of Singapore, 209-180, in the semifinal match.
The 42-year-old Hall of Famer has now won more Opens than any other woman except fellow USBC Hall of Famer Marion Ladewig, who won it eight times. Johnson was tied for second until Sunday’s victory.
“You never know when the next title is going to happen, especially another major,” said Johnson, who became a little emotional in the final frame of the title match. “To be in the category of having five U.S. Opens, it just kind of hit me. I just so thankful I’m still able to do this at a high level. I’m just incredibly happy and proud that I got a fifth U.S. Open title.”
She earned $20,000 for her victory. Last year she defeated Shannon O’Keefe of O’Fallon, Ill, formerly of Rochester, in the final. That made her the first bowler to successfully defend a U.S. Women’s Open Title since Hall of Famer Dorothy Fothergill in 1969.
“This was one of the biggest grinding U.S. Opens I’ve been a part of,” Johnson told bowl.com. “I like the low scoring. I would rather have the low scoring and the grind, that’s what it’s about. That’s what makes it a major.
“The higher the pressure, the better I focus. I started feeling more and more comfortable today than I have in the last couple of days. When you are in an uncomfortable area, and have to play your C and D game and try to place it, I think I was a little more in my comfort zone today. I tried a different ball, played with the conditions a little bit, and it was pretty good.”
Jodi Gawlik almost knocked Johnson out of the stepladder round Saturday, but fell a few pins short.