Kelly Kulick, who in January became the first woman to win a Professional Bowlers Association tour title, was shopping at the Target on Route 22 in Springfield a few weeks later when someone asked for her autograph. Kulick had a couple of photos in her car, so she went out, fetched one, and signed it.
Moments like that are new for Kulick, 32, who grew up in Union, attended Union High School, and still works two or three days a week answering phones at her father’s auto-body shop in Elizabeth. But now that she has become a pioneer and an ambassador for her sport, she has hired an agent. An endorsement deal would be nice.
“This is a career-making moment for me,” she says.
When she beat Chris Barnes on January 24 in Las Vegas to win the PBA’s 45th Tournament of Champions, Kulick received $40,000 and a two-year tour exemption (meaning she does not need to qualify for future events). In 2006, she became the first woman to qualify for a season-long exemption on the PBA tour. She won the PBA’s first world women’s title in September, but her 265-195 victory over Barnes was a crowning achievement.
The youngest of three sisters, Kulick took up bowling at Linden Lanes when she was 6. Now her fame extends beyond her sport of choice. Billie Jean King, the former tennis star who founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, says Kulick’s PBA title serves as a “motivational and inspirational event for girls and women competing at all levels around the world.”
Filip Bondy, a sports columnist for the New York Daily News, wrote of Kulick’s victory, “It was like Serena Williams whipping Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.”
Like many pro bowlers, Kulick, who is single, cannot afford a lavish lifestyle. In six years on the PBA men’s and women’s tours, she has earned less than $150,000 total. She lives in Union with her parents, Bill and Carol, although she has started looking for her own place nearby. She has worked as a substitute teacher and still works for the YMCA. She drives a 2002 Pathfinder.
Despite a fair amount of press coverage, Kulick is hardly a household name. But she is working on that. For weeks after she won in Las Vegas, she was interviewed almost daily by someone from the media. “Cool,” she says. A new car would be, too.