ROHNERT PARK, Calif. — It’s 1993 and Larry Earnest is teaching his kindergartener to roll a bowling ball down the lane at his establishment in the Illinois prairie town of Vandalia. What were the odds that 28 years later this pig-tailed novice would be competing on national television for the biggest cash prize in the history of the sport?
What were the chances one day she would slip on the green jacket symbolic of the United States Open champion?
Those were just a few of the many thoughts spinning in the mind of Josie Barnes, the associate head coach at Vanderbilt, after she concluded a stunning run to the Open championship Tuesday by defeating Singapore’s Cherie Tan in a tense, 10-frame drama 198-194.
To be clear, few were surprised the Vanderbilt Hall of Famer won this championship, not after 20 years of junior, NCAA and Professional Women’s Bowling Association championships and nine appearances on the Team USA roster. Rather, the proper question is, can anyone expect to win the U.S. Open?
“I came into this tournament with very different expectations than many of the others,” Barnes admitted. “I had a very simple idea of what I wanted to achieve. Up to now this had been my worst year on the tour and this was my last hurrah before our college season begins.”
There is irony in sport. Barnes had come into the tournament with little, if any, momentum and almost no expectations.
“This event was the culmination of the last two years,” Josie related. “Outside the birth of Lisa Ruth my life has been a complete hell (referring to the tragic death of her mother Lisa). But if there is one thing I want Lisa Ruth, the kids at school and other young people watching to know is that we can do hard things. Even when things aren’t going well we can find a way to the other side.
“Things aren’t always going to be rosy. If you look at my tournament the first day I was terrible. I went 9-open my first frame. I had thoughts creeping in on, ‘Why am I here? My season has been lousy, pack it up.’ Then I started thinking that this was something I am supposed to be enjoying. This is something I love to do and just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it has to be frustrating. That night I decided that I was going to leave feeling respectful. That was my goal.”
Barnes began slowly crawling up the leaderboard, gaining momentum and confidence. And when she finished the qualifying with five strikes in six frames to edge Tan by four pins for the top seed, she was zeroed in.
Barnes has won before on the tour – at the 2016 Rochester Open, the 2018 East Hartford Open and the 2019 Greater Cleveland Open – but this was her first major and by far the most grueling and most coveted. The pressure of the tournament, the intense play, six days and four oil patterns, the crazy long hours and number of games (56 official ones and nearly as many practice games) take a toll.
Barnes is aware much of the buzz is about the $100,000 first place check but she insists that the big payday wasn’t foremost on her mind.
“The U.S. Open title is the one,” Barnes beamed. “If you are going to win an event this is the one you want. There is nothing bigger than winning this tournament. It’s the hardest tournament you will ever bowl.
“When you are competing at this tournament I think that nerves are going to be there. My body is shot. I hope (Vanderbilt head coach) John (Williamson) is OK with me rolling into the office in a wheel chair.”
Additional coverage of Barnes’ first major championship can be found on bowl.com.