The ineluctable truth is that bowling pins have no idea who knocks them down, which probably makes the historic victory on Sunday by Kelly Kulick in the Tournament of Champions less rather than more stunning. In the glorious meritocracy of the lanes, Kulick wallpapered Chris Barnes 265--195 in the final to become the first woman to win a men's PBA event. Much as she tried, Kulick couldn't deny history. After rolling the clinching strike, she pointed to a pink GIRL POWER poster in the stands. "I saw [the sign]," Kulick said, "and I thought, What the heck, you've got to run with it."
Barnes is widely considered the best bowler on tour, while Kulick actually had no tour until the win in bowling's signature event gave her a two-year PBA exemption. (The Professional Women's Bowling Association went out of business in 2003; the PBA runs six women's-only events.) A 32-year-old from Union, N.J., she has subsidized her bowling career by helping at her father's auto body shop. Kulick, who reached the 63-bowler field in Las Vegas by winning the women's world championship in September, spent 2006--07 on the PBA tour but made a mere five cuts and lost her status. "At the time, I was overanalyzing things, trying to compete against [the men]," she says. "I thought I could hit the pocket as often as they did, but I was leaving a lot of 10-pins, a lot of 4-pins. I struggled to carry. The gentlemen's [superior rate of ball revolution] and ball speed helps them carry."
The question now is how far Kulick's victory carries. In the euphoric afterglow, she suggested it would generate "endless possibilities for the sport"—but what happened in Vegas might just stay in Vegas, with no lasting impact other than Kulick's $40,000 check and tour exemption. "It's the day when people will say that women can compete equally with men," says Tom Clark, the PBA's chief operating officer. "Or maybe it's [just] the day people will say Kelly Kulick finished the most magical week in the history of the game."