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Liz Johnson becomes second woman to win PBA Tour title


Liz Johnson of Palatine, Ill., became the second woman in the 60-year history of the Professional Bowlers Association to win a national tour title when she defeated Anthony Pepe of Elmhurst, N.Y., 220-206, in the title match of the PBA Chameleon Championship presented by Reno Tahoe at the National Bowling Stadium.

The Chameleon Championship, one of four PBA animal pattern championships conducted in November during the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling IX presented by Eldorado Resorts Reno Properties, aired Sunday on ESPN along with the finals of the PBA Shark Championship presented by Xtra Frame. The back-to-back telecasts were part of the 2017-18 Go Bowling! PBA Tour package.

Johnson (right), the only woman to qualify for three PBA nationally-televised finals, threw solid pocket shots on her first nine attempts before leaving the 4-6-7-10 split in the 10th frame after the match had already been decided.

Johnson, a 25-time winner in Professional Women’s Bowling Association competition including 10 major titles and three consecutive PWBA Player of the Year honors, was forced to bowl against men when the former women’s pro tour ceased operations in 2003.

Between 2004, when the PBA opened its membership to women for the first time, and 2015 when the PWBA was resurrected, Johnson won a PBA Regional title, and became the first woman to appear in a PBA national tour telecast in the 2004 Banquet Open in Wyoming, Mich., where she lost in the title match to Tommy Jones, 219-192.

She also finished fourth in the 2014 PBA Cheetah Championship in which Pepe (left) won his lone PBA title.

Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., was the first woman to win a PBA Tour title, winning the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas by defeating Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, in the title match, 265-195.

“This is the cherry on top of my career,” the 43-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., area native said. “This win is for all of the young girls in any sport, not just bowling, who have to compete against the guys. This is for you.

“I never thought I’d have the opportunity again,” Johnson said. “You never know, bowling against the guys. Conditions haven’t been very conducive to my ‘A’ game the past couple of years, but I felt pretty confident coming into the show.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been intimidated, in my entire life, or scared of anyone on the lanes,” she continued. “I grew up bowling against the guys since I was 10 or 11. I’ve been beating them since I was 17, so I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I just went out to do my best, and that’s all I can ask of myself.”

Johnson advanced to the title match by bowling the highest score in a preliminary four-player shootout match where the two highest scores moved on. Johnson had a 257 game and Pepe a 255 while Wes Malott (left) of Pflugerville, Texas (248) and Tom Smallwood (below right) of Saginaw, Mich. (236), were eliminated.

To reach the Chameleon Championship telecast Johnson out-bowled a WSOB IX field of 195 bowlers from around the world.

ESPN’s coverage of the Go Bowling! PBA Tour’s WSOB IX package continues on Sunday, Dec. 24, at 1 p.m. EST with back-to-back telecasts of the PBA Cheetah Championship presented by PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game and the Pepsi PBA Scorpion Championship presented by GoBowling.com.

World Series coverage continues on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. EST with the PBA World Championship finals.

2017 PBA Chameleon Championship Finals

National Bowling Stadium, Reno, Nev. (Nov. 18). ESPN delayed telecast aired on Sunday, Dec. 17 at noon ET.

Championship Round:
1. Liz Johnson, Palatine, Ill., 477 (2 games), $20,000
2. Anthony Pepe, Elmhurst, N.Y., 461 (2 games), $10,000
3. Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas, 248 (1 game), $5,000
4. Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich., 236 (1 game), $4,000

Playoff Results:
Shootout Round: Johnson 257, Pepe 255, Malott 248, Smallwood 236
Malott and Smallwood eliminated.
Championship: Johnson def. Pepe, 220-206.

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Herbert Bickel

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