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PBA AT FOUNTAIN VALLEY

Opening The Lanes For All

Kulick seeks her comfort zone as she blazes the trail for other women by competing alongside the men on circuit

January 16, 2007|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

If Kelly Kulick were a baseball player, she'd be a pitcher with no fastball.

Instead, she is 50th among 392 competitors in the Professional Bowlers Assn. tour point standings and 46th on the yearly earnings list.

"I have to find a way to knock down more pins," she said. "I don't want this to be a one-hit wonder."

Kulick is the first woman to earn an exemption onto the men's circuit. She placed sixth in tour trials in June, giving her one of 10 available exemptions and making her one of 58 players automatically qualified for each event on the 2006-07 schedule.

The quest to find her comfort zone in a more physical and faster-paced game than she played before goes on this week at the Dick Weber Open at Fountain Valley Bowl.

"I just want to be successful out here and not just be 'that girl,' " Kulick said.

Her exemption, made possible once the men's tour was opened to women who qualify in April 2004 after the Women's Professional Bowlers Assn. folded the previous fall, placed the 29-year-old right-hander from New Jersey among several prominent female athletes who have recently competed alongside men in pro sports.

Comparisons with auto racer Danica Patrick and golfers Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are common for Kulick, a two-time collegiate bowler of the year at Morehead State, the 2001 WPBA rookie of the year and winner of the 2003 Women's U.S. Open.

Kulick is among 14 women who have bowled against PBA competition this season. Only six have advanced out of qualifying rounds since the PBA first admitted them in 2004-05.

One qualifier, former WPBA star Liz Johnson, gave hope to female players when she advanced to the championship match of the 2005 Banquet Open, where she lost to Tommy Jones, 219-192.

"Do I ever think a woman will be No. 1 in the world, or in points? Probably not,"Jones said. "But can a woman win a tournament? Absolutely."

Kulick, a precision bowler among men who rely primarily on power, has struggled to adapt to lane conditions that affect her slower-rolling ball.

Power bowling means more revolutions per ball. With every turn, pre-laid oil patterns on the lanes may change, causing balls to react to increasingly dry or uneven surfaces.

"It looks easier than what it really is," Kulick said. "The learning curve of being a rookie -- not even being a woman, but just being a rookie -- is difficult."

Kulick's best showing in 11 events has been a 31st-place finish at the Ace Hardware Championships in December. In 18 games, her pinfall total was 3,792 and she averaged 210.67.

She also advanced to match play and finished 47th in the U.S. Bowling Congress Masters, one of four annual PBA major events, where she averaged 205.29.

Those numbers might have sufficed on the women's tour, where scores of 180-200 were usually good enough to win.

These days, they leave Kulick coming up short.

"I just have to throw more strikes," she said. "Really, that's all there is to it."

Just like in baseball.

lauren.peterson@latimes.com

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