ARLINGTON, Texas - What a difference a season makes.
Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, endured a heart-breaking loss in the 2015 U.S. Women's Open title match, falling 190-189 to Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, New York. The loss continued a string of close finishes at the prestigious major, which includes finishing third in 2012, fifth in 2011 and another runner-up finish in 2007.
But with two Professional Women's Bowling Association titles this season, and having qualified for at least two other TV shows, O'Keefe will head into the 2016 U.S. Women's Open more confident than ever.
The third major of the PWBA Tour season will take place Aug. 1-7 at Stardust Bowl in Addison, Illinois, and will be the final open event of the 2016 schedule. All qualifying and match-play rounds will be broadcast live on Xtra Frame.
The stepladder finals of the U.S. Women's Open will be televised live on Sunday, Aug. 7 at noon Eastern on CBS Sports Network, and the winner will take home a top prize of $20,000.
An official practice session and pro-am on Monday will kick off the week before the best women in the world hit the lanes to begin official competition on Tuesday.
A victory last season would've been the first PWBA singles title for O'Keefe, but instead it became a moment O'Keefe wouldn't forget. It has served as a backdrop, or in O'Keefe's case a screensaver, on the way to what so far has been a tremendous 2016 season.
At the start of the season, O'Keefe didn't have specific goals other than put herself in position to win a title. Mission accomplished.
The 37-year-old right-hander wasted little time in Year 2 of the PWBA Tour's re-launch, winning the season's second event, the Nationwide PWBA Sonoma County Open, her first singles title. The victory was followed by a third-place finish in the second major of the year, the Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship, and her second win in 2016 at the Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open, where she led wire-to-wire.
At this point, the only item missing from O'Keefe's resume is a major title, but you won't find O'Keefe getting ahead of herself.
"Winning a major would be icing on the cake," said O'Keefe, who is second on the PWBA points list. "However, I'm trying not to put more emphasis on a major over other titles. All I can do is continue to make good shots, make my spares and put myself in a position to win. From there, it's out of my hands. I'm so incredibly blessed to be able to compete at the level I have always dreamed of. So I'm going to enjoy that, and let the rest take care of itself."
With two victories already this season, this week could be extra special for O'Keefe. The 12-time Team USA member already has earned a berth in the season-ending Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship by virtue of her first victory of the season, and is in the running for PWBA Player of the Year.
However, she also is the No. 4 seed for the TV finals of the PWBA Lexington Open, and the No. 1 seed for the PWBA Rochester Open. Both shows will be taped Aug. 7 in conjunction with the U.S. Women's Open, and will air Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. EDT, and Aug. 23 at 10 p.m. EDT, respectively.
In a season where the overall talent level has increased from 2015, especially with the help of an overwhelming international presence, O'Keefe's season really is remarkable when you look at the full canvas.
But, don't expect her to stray from the major keys that have been successful for her this season.
"Taking one shot, one day, one tournament at a time has been a big key for me," said O'Keefe, the women's bowling coach at McKendree. "I'm doing the same things in preparation that I have all year. Lots of release drills at practice and making sure physically, everything is where it should be with good tempo. Mentally, taking one shot at a time, and not thinking too far ahead.
"Also, I think of my kids at McKendree a lot, and in tough situations or high pressure situations, I think about all the things that Bryan (her husband and director of bowling for McKendree) and I tell them all throughout the year. If I expect my kids to do it, then I need to do it as well."
All competitors at the 2016 U.S. Women's Open will bowl 24 qualifying games over three days, before the field is cut to the top third for eight additional games. The 32-game pinfall totals will determine the 24 players for the round-robin match-play portion of the tournament, after which the top five will advance to the stepladder finals based on their 56-game totals.
For more information on the U.S. Women's Open, visit BOWL.com/USWomensOpen.
For more information on the PWBA Tour, visit PWBA.com.