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Bowling in the company of men

Las Vegan Hammel among women rolling for dollars at PBA Senior U.S. Open 

Char Hammel knows the odds of winning this week's PBA Senior U.S. Open title and its $15,000 winner's check are against her.

She's one of three women in the field of 228 bowlers 50 and older that includes PBA Hall of Fame members Dave Soutar, Tom Baker and Wayne Webb, the event's two-time reigning champ.

But no one expected Kelly Kulick to crack the gender barrier when she became the first woman to win a major, male-dominated PBA Tour event in January.

"That would be awesome," Hammel, 55, said of possibly winning her first professional title and matching Kulick's feat at Red Rock. "Kelly's one of my heroes."

Hammel shared the spotlight with Kulick, 33, in April during the U.S. Bowling Congress Queens tournament in El Paso, Texas. Hammel won the Senior Queens title the same day Kulick won the regular Queens division.

That was the biggest title in the career of the right-handed Hammel, who has averaged 205 through the first 12 games of qualifying in the Open at the Suncoast and is tied for 35th entering today's round that starts at 7 a.m. Harry Sullins of Chesterfield Township, Mich., leads the tournament with a pinfall total of 2,746.

"You have to take a tournament one step at a time," Hammel said, adding her first goal is to be among the top 57 bowlers left after today's qualifying round that would ensure earnings of at least $900. The next cut will be made after Thursday morning's nine games, when 24 bowlers will compete in match-play rounds to determine the final four for Friday's 3:30 p.m. stepladder finals.

Hammel, who grew up in Southern California, competed on women's professional tours in the 1980s and 1990s, when she posted a best finish of 10th.

Her ties to Las Vegas began in 1994 when she used a break in a pro tournament at Sam's Town to marry Mark Hammel.

"We met bowling when he was giving lessons," she said. "The best way to get free lessons is to marry your coach. Thanks to him, I'm where I am in bowling. He does a lot of research with my (bowling) equipment and analyzes my game. It's an on-going process."

They operated a bowling pro shop in Southern California before moving to Las Vegas seven years ago and considered opening a shop here. Instead, she became a poker dealer at Green Valley Ranch, where she continues to work.

Mark said his wife's strength is in her approach to the foul line. "She has an ability to repeat (her motion) and be accurate, which is more of a woman's forte. She has a nice tempo, very rhythmic. I call it bowling poetry."

She competes in two Southern Nevada leagues and posted a top average last year of 217.

She would like to bowl six games at that pace to start today, but she'll face a more demanding lane condition.

"I know there will be a shot on the outside, and I feel pretty good about playing outside on the edge," she said. "I just need to get myself past the next cut."

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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