LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kelly Kulick left all the guys in the gutter.
Kulick became the first woman to win a PBA Tour title on Sunday, beating Chris Barnes in the final of the 45th Tournament of Champions.
Kulick outscored Barnes 265-195 to take home the $40,000 first prize and a two-year PBA Tour exemption. The 32-year-old right-hander earned a berth in the Tournament of Champions by winning the PBA Women’s World Championship last September.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kulick told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I always imagined myself winning a professional title, but I never thought it would be a major. The Tournament of Champions is one of the most prestigious events on Tour.
“It’s starting to kick in now. It’s slowly starting to seep in now.”
Kulick grew up in Union, N.J., and started bowling in a Saturday morning league in nearby Linden when she was 6 years old. She grew up watching the PBA Tour on TV and competed at Morehead State University before she turned pro.
“At a very young age I enjoyed the sport and knew I could make a career out of it,” said Kulick, who declared in her fifth-grade yearbook that she wanted to be a professional bowler.
The previous best finish for a woman in a PBA Tour event was second by Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, N.Y., in the 2005 Banquet Open.
“Kelly Kulick’s win today at the PBA Tour’s Tournament of Champions is not only historic, it serves as a motivational and inspirational event for girls and women competing at all levels all around the world,” Women’s Sports Foundation Founder Billie Jean King said in a release.
Kulick also was the first woman to earn a PBA Tour exemption, finishing sixth in the tour trials in 2006. Her best finish during the 2006-07 season was 22nd, accomplished twice.
She’s hoping Sunday’s win could lead to a full-time women’s tour, instead of just a series.
“Obviously, this is a turning point for my career and women’s sports in general, but I would really like to see the whole sport benefit,” she said.
Barnes was trying for his second Tournament of Champions win. He also won in 2006.
“When it comes down to one game, a combination of factors have to come together and they just didn’t for me,” he said in a release, “but Kelly bowled great and she met every challenge.”
Kulick, who got a pep talk from her mother, Carol, before the final, started the championship with four consecutive strikes.
Kulick could face some difficult choices with her two-year exemption. The PBA Tour and women’s series overlap, and she wasn’t sure if the tour would allow her to participate in both competitions.
This is, after all, uncharted territory.
“It’s going to pose a lot of questions down the road, but I’ll wait to answer those when I get there,” Kulick said.