The greatest moment in women's sports
Bowler Kelly Kulick provides it, and we keep missing it. Time for some recognition.
- Mark Peterson for ESPN MagazineDespite the lack of attention for her tournament victory, Kelly Kulick rolls on.
This column appears in the Mar. 8 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Kelly Kulick found out early that men hate being whipped by women. The first time she beat a boy bowling, he punched a wall and broke a knuckle.
But even she didn't expect the nation's reaction after she became the first woman to win a men's Professional Bowlers Association Tour title.
Zero. Nada. Zilch. She has to keep checking her phone to see if it died.
Hello? America? This is the equivalent of "Man Gives Birth!" It's never happened in any ball sport in American history. Kulick, 32, should own Page 1. Somebody should throw her a parade. Or at least a state dinner. Instead, she's gotten one free hair coloring. That's the highlight.
Danica Patrick beats men in an auto race and she's on TV more often than the Geico gecko. Why isn't Kelly sifting through huge endorsement deals?
Announcer: "FedEx and Kelly Kulick. When you really want to beat the U.S. male." Why isn't Barack Obama calling? Or at least Michelle!
"Beats me," says Kulick, of Union, N.J. "They hate bowling?"
In golf, people turn 1260 McTwists when Michelle Wie nearly makes a men's cut. In tennis, Billie Jean King's thumping of a 55-year-old man is hailed as the greatest thing for women since the sports bra.
Kelly Kulick? Who dat?
Listen! She beat 62 of the best male pros -- straight up -- in arguably the Tour's creamiest event, the Tournament of Champions. And she beat them like egg yolks. She beat Chris Barnes, the No. 1 bowler on the Tour, by 70 pins in the final! That's like beating Emeril by three hams!
So why is she getting no love? Why isn't she known across America as Queenpin? Why isn't she doing Letterman's Top Ten?
Reason No. 1 Kelly Kulick Is Better Than Men: "I like drilling my own balls!"
Maybe it's because, secretly, men are breaking their knuckles over this. Or because a lot of male sportswriters have apparently taken to sniffing large vats of epoxy before writing on this subject. I don't want to name any names, but his initials are David Whitley of FanHouse.
It was Kitty Hawk with bizarre shoes.
Usually, Whitley is excellent. But on this subject, he's wearing a brain burka. He wrote: "Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn't qualify."
How's that for a catch-22?
Bowling, the way I do it, is something to do between plates of nachos. Bowling, the way Kulick does it, is about endurance, brains, strength and will. I'd like to see Whitley throw a 15-pound ball at 17 mph, 18 times a game, for 90 games, over six days, averaging 226. You know who else can't do that? Every guy in the Tournament of Champions field. Which is why the PBA gave Kulick a $40,000 check and a two-year exemption.
What Kulick just did is one of the single greatest female sporting achievements in history.
Has anything like her happened in major league baseball? No. The NBA, the NFL? No. The NHL? Well, one woman, Manon Rhéaume,played goalie in two exhibition games in the early 1990s.
No woman had ever even qualified for the T of C before. A new PBA rule this year offered the winner of the PBA Women's World Championship a spot in the field.
And Kulick could feel the enormity of the moment in the final. "My legs were like jelly before the first ball," she says. "I was just trying to get the first shot off my hand." It was a strike. As were her next three balls. And nine of her first 10. I don't care if you're Dick Weber -- that's intimidating.
She flattened Barnes, who is unfairly being called bowling's Bobby Riggs, 265-195. "I knew if I went gutter-gutter [on her last two balls], I'd still win," Kulick says. "But I was so nervous, it took me three minutes to do the math!"
Of course, Kulick has been in fewer gutters than Queen Elizabeth. She knocked down 19 pins instead. For the few who understand achievement, it was Kitty Hawk with bizarre shoes. Jeff Gordon sent her flowers. Terrell Owens tweeted about her. A few guys sent her marriage proposals on Facebook. Why not? After all, she works in her father's auto-body shop, can fix a bumper, does yoga, cooks, fishes and meditates. The perfect woman! But other than those shout-outs, nothing, bubkes, silence.
Somebody call this woman already! Don't make me send her to your house with her drill.
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RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His new book -- out May 4, 2010 -- is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." It's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or the World Sauna Championships. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Chess Boxing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.