By Joe Jacquez
ROHNERT PARK, California - She gets really emotional just thinking about it — in fact you can see faint tears developing in her eyes.
Valerie Bercier has the chance to become the first non-American in nearly 40 years to win the U.S. Women's Open, something Bercier didn't know. Japan’s Shinobu Saito was the last bowler to achieve the feat when she won the 1982 event.
"Wow, 40 years," Bercier said.
The Canadian native would love to follow in the footsteps of her fellow countrymen François Lavoie, who won the U.S. Open on the PBA Tour in 2016, thanks in large part to rolling a 300 against Shawn Maldonado in the semifinal match, then again in 2019.
"I think it would be an honor to be next to my fellow Canadian, François Lavoie. I watched him bowl incredible on TV so I think that would be incredible," Bercier said, struggling to hold back tears.
You know how much this would mean to her.
Bercier went 6-1-1 in the second round of match play after going 5-2-1 in round one, 11-3-2 overall, vaulting her from 22nd before match play to fourth and on the show entering Monday night's final round.
Bercier, who lives in Muskegon, Michigan, has made the show at the U.S. Open but not as a professional — as a non-member in 2017 — and she faced none other than six-time U.S. Open champion Liz Johnson, who then was looking to win her fourth straight green jacket.
Johnson had to climb the ladder as the no. 5 seed and she faced Bercier in the second match. Bercier bowled really well but fell short against Johnson, 255-223. Johnson would indeed go on to win her fourth-straight U.S. Open, defeating Daria Pajak in the championship match.
Bercier had a great look all day on the very tough, second in toughness only to the brutal 40-foot flat pattern. She said she came in with a different mindset after the first round of match play, and it paid off.
"It was kind of the same game plan that was presented to me in the last round of qualifying," Bercier said. "None of my bowling balls had the right surfaces on them and when your game plan changes so early, it kind of messes with you," Bercier said.
She was fighting bad ball reaction in the last round of qualifying and couldn't do anything to change surface because of the rules of the tournament.
"So I just tried to make do with what I had, but every time I would miss right, I would either super-washout or 2-10 and every time I missed left, I had no room so I would 3-6-10, and my spare conversion percentage on that needs to be better."
So Bercier watched Diana Zavjalova, who led the block during the last qualifying round standing farther right and playing up the back of the ball, keeping her angles in front of her.
"I was like 'I can do that and I am going to match up in some way,'" Bercier said. "We put a ton of surface on my balls, at least 1,000 or less, and I was standing on 2. I drift 5 to 7 left, but I was standing on 2, which on the left lane is right up against the ball return, so as far right as I can go, and I just committed to throwing it straight."
On a pattern where even is a good score, Bercier said she is getting better at seeing when her ball is hooking early or not hooking.
"I have to ball down and move to something that retains a bit more energy or move further right and get a little softer," Bercier said.
She started with the DV8 Hell Raiser Blaze, and then she caught a couple of pairs where she shot 170 because she was fighting bad ball reaction and every time she missed right, she 210.
Bercier said she left six 2-10s and only made two.
"If I could learn to only leave the 2 that would be good, because I can make that spare no problem," Bercier said, laughing.
She then switched to a Maximum Result and finally she saw she had a good ball reaction on the pair she was to with the GB4.
"I committed to using that against Liz, and I caught a couple of strikes in a row, caught a couple of breaks and I guess I shot 220 that game because I 2-10 again," Bercier said.
At the end of the day, Bercier said she has confidence going forward. She said she just needs to be present with seeing ball reaction and being able to make the right change.
"I think I am learning more of what the lane is asking for, whether it's reading early and which balls are matching up with this particular surface, and I think it's OK to pick a different ball and read that one," Bercier said. "I don't think I need to put pressure on myself to pick the right ball and throw it amazing."