ARLINGTON, Texas – In case anyone had questions about how the events of the last year affected Shannon O’Keefe and her momentum on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour, the two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year offered a quick reminder that she’s still the player to beat by winning the 2021 Bowlers Journal Classic, the first event of the new season.
It also was fitting that the title match Thursday night at the International Training and Research Center featured the tour’s top two players – O’Keefe and top seed Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York – in another epic showdown.
O’Keefe, of Shiloh, Illinois, bounced back from a second-frame split and closed the title tilt with eight consecutive strikes to defeat her longtime Team USA teammate, 243-225. The win was the 14th of O’Keefe’s career and earned her a $10,000 top prize.
The Bowlers Journal Classic was the first event of the PWBA Kickoff Classic Series, which will feature three national tour stops and one regional event during its seven-day run at the ITRC, the home of Team USA.
The PWBA Tour’s historic return to the spotlight was broadcast live on BowlTV.com and marked the first time since September 2019 a PWBA Tour title had been awarded. The 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
“This feels so amazing for multiple reasons,” said O’Keefe, a 41-year-old right-hander. “It has been so long since we competed, but I was trying hard not to get wrapped up in that. I just wanted to make sure I could turn off my practice brain after all this time and get back into a competitive mindset. And, it’s never about comparing one calendar year to the next. Instead, I always try to focus on the process and being appreciative of each opportunity to compete. To pick up where I left off and start this year with a win is incredible.”
McEwan had the early momentum in the match, striking on three of her first four shots, but she did not strike again until the ninth frame. O’Keefe started the finale teetering between two bowling balls and some subtle moves based on how her semifinal win ended, but after leaving the 4-6-7-9-10 split in the second frame, she forced herself to commit to a game plan and was able to regain control.
O’Keefe also was the last person to claim a championship trophy, which she did at the 2019 PWBA Tour Championship for her third career major title. That victory was the final piece of a five-win season that included her second consecutive PWBA Player of the Year Award.
In both 2018 and 2019, McEwan was the runner-up in the player-of-the-year race, and she has been among the top five on the PWBA Tour’s points list each year since the organization’s relaunch in 2015.
During the same span, McEwan has collected five PWBA Tour titles, one in each of her five seasons, and her success includes two major victories. Her first win, also her first major, came at the 2015 PWBA Tour Championship, the last PWBA event to be held at the ITRC.
The last time McEwan and O’Keefe faced off for a PWBA title was at the 2019 BowlerX.com Orlando Open, where O’Keefe escaped with a 207-202 victory. A week later, McEwan topped O’Keefe for the singles gold medal at the 2019 World Bowling Women’s Championships.
“Bittersweet is the best way to put it,” McEwan said of her second-place finish Thursday. “I was anxious and nervous going into this event because I wasn’t even sure if I would remember what to do and how to be Danielle again, but things fell into place. To work through everything and have it end how it did was disappointing, but Shannon is an amazing champion and the player to beat. If I’m going to beat her, I need to be better.”
To set up the championship meeting with McEwan on Thursday, O’Keefe turned in a 10-strike, 245-212 performance against their red-hot Team USA teammate Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California. After opening with five strikes, O’Keefe was slowed only by a 2-10 split in the sixth frame and an 8 pin in the ninth frame.
In the opening match, Parkin was able to continue the momentum that helped her into the stepladder, and she delivered a final-frame strike to sneak past fellow PWBA Tour champion Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, 238-227.
Parkin catapulted into the top four by finishing match play with games of 258 and 238. The late surge, plus 30 bonus pins for winning each game, helped her erase a sizeable deficit that still was 72 pins heading into the position round.
Competition at the ITRC will resume Friday with the start of the PWBA ITRC Classic, which will feature qualifying rounds at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern. Nine-game pinfall totals will determine the 12 players who advance to match play from the 36-player field.
All of the qualifying and match-play rounds at the Kickoff Classic Series are being broadcast live at BowlTV.com, free of charge to visitors who create a login for the site. Each of the four events will conclude with formal stepladder finals, which will require a BowlTV subscription to watch live.
The third event of the Kickoff Classic Series will be the PWBA Arlington Regional, taking center stage Sunday, and the excitement will conclude with the PWBA Hall of Fame Classic on Monday and Tuesday.
The Hall of Fame Classic will feature the week’s top 24 performers, based on their 18-game pinfall totals from the Bowlers Journal Classic and ITRC Classic. Each event also will feature a different lane condition.
The prize fund for each of the three national tour stops will be $65,000, with $10,000 going to each champion.
The 2021 PWBA Tour season will feature 20 events, highlighted by the introduction of the Classic Series events and an increase in the season’s overall prize fund by nearly $400,000.