By Joe Jacquez
ROHNERT PARK, California - USBC Hall of Famer Liz Johnson has always been able to loft the ball, but she's never let the ball fly more than she did during A squad's second round of qualifying on Friday night at Double Decker Lanes.
"I was throwing as hard and lofting as much as I have in my entire life," said the six-time U.S. Women's Open champion. "That's where I feel like if that is what needs to happen, that is where I can be on top of some of the other girls."
Johnson was 40 over for the block, and when that's the high block on your squad, you know the lanes were brutal.
After only five players averaged over 200 during B-squad qualifying Friday morning, led by Bryanna Cote, who went 84 over for the day, the lanes were re-oiled and that only made things even harder, because as Storm ball rep and former PBA player Matt McNiel put it, a flat pattern got even flatter.
"The lanes get flatter on the second run," McNiel said. "That is always to be expected, and they were already dead flat."
McNiel said the middle part of the lanes hooked more and the ends hung more and that made it incredibly hard to strike.
"Great shots are getting to the pocket and maybe getting eight or nine and hopefully striking," McNiel said. "Bad shots are five, six, seven, and it's hard to make a spare or it's a red number."
For McNiel, the topography and the new lane surface only added to the challenge.
"It's hard. That about sums it up, and if you are not mentally tough and don't stay patient, you are going to get eaten alive on something like this," McNiel said. "The bad became uglier."
After not having much to shoot at for the first six games, Johnson shot 256 and 245 in her last two games to vault up the overall leaderboard into third place, just behind tournament leader Bryanna Coté (+170) and Poland's Daria Pajak (+123), the only two players that are currently 100 over after 16 games.
Stefanie Johnson and Shayna Ng rounded out the top five and only 12 players finished the first two rounds in the positive, with Sydney Brummett at -1 after struggling on the flat pattern.
Johnson went to a high-pin, Hy-Road for the last two games that the ball reps drilled for her at the Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles earlier this month, which McNiel said allowed her to really blend out the lane.
"When the lanes kind of get like this, it's a ball that she can use and use it very effectively," McNiel said.
When the lanes are really tough, Johnson typically finds a way up the leaderboard. It's no secret why she's won the U.S. Open six times.
"She just did her thing," McNiel said. "That's why Liz has won this event so many times. She doesn't let all the stuff get to her. She stays in contention, keeps it in the pocket, keeps making spares, keeps making great shots and then she finds a little something and makes the most of it."