If this week goes as well as it did for Michelle Feldman the last time she visited the Rogue Valley, the star bowler might seek permanent residency.
Feldman and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard headline the Lumber Liquidators Professional Bowlers Association Women's Series as it plays at Lava Lanes for the first time.
WHAT: Seven events held simultaneously with regular PBA Tour events. This is the final event, save for the season-ending Showdown that brings winners together.
Sixteen exempt players compete in the series, which is made up of seven stops and a final showdown that will bring the champions together for a tournament later in the season.
An abbreviated Women's Series was held the first half of last season, and its success prompted the PBA to fire it up and expand it this season.
The women will be on hand at 7 tonight for a pro-am, then will take the lanes in competition beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday in the round of 16 as part of the Bayer Earl Anthony Medford Classic.
For Feldman and Dorin-Ballard, the Women's Series has allowed them to resume professional careers that were waylaid when the Professional Women's Bowling Association folded in 2003.
Women had been competing professionally since 1960, but a lack of operating funds forced the PWBA under.
Before it folded, it held the Bowl the Rogue Open at Showtime Lanes in Grants Pass in 2000, and Feldman ended a maddening streak of four straight TV finals appearances with her first victory of the season.
"I bowled well when I was here before," says Feldman.
Prior to that tourney, Feldman finished second twice to Dorin-Ballard and was third the other week. She ended the winless string with a 242-230 triumph over Kim Adler.
Little did she and Dorin-Ballard know, their league was on its final legs.
They are the lone holdovers from it, and each hopes the Women's Series is a springboard to a permanent pro option for women.
It wouldn't be something she'd likely do full time, says Feldman, 32, because she's settled into a home life in Auburn, N.Y.
"But it would be good for the younger girls," says the 2002 PWBA player of the year and 10-time winner on that tour. "I'm hoping it will lead to something that maybe is separate from the men."
Dorin-Ballard, 44, realizes that unless sponsorships increase for the men and their tour becomes more lucrative, the women's options might well be limited.
She is married to Del Ballard Jr., who will be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame later this month, and she favors a set-up in which the men and women continue to compete side-by-side in the same centers.
"Economically, it makes sense," says Dorin-Ballard, who would be working her job for Brunswick and competing in a couple of major national tournaments if she didn't have this option. "We've always gotten good crowds. Being in the same venue as the men has increased views in the bowling centers overall. I see it as the best of both worlds, and it gives high school and college girls an opportunity to see what they can strive for."
At present, there is nothing in the works beyond doing something similar to this season next year.
Tom Clark came to the PBA from the U.S. Bowling Congress last March and is the vice president and chief operating officer. The Women's Series is sponsored by the USBC.
"Women's bowling is a big growth area," he says, noting that nearly half of the USBC and youth membership is female. But, he says, "There's no guarantee beyond what we're doing next year."
Echoing Dorin-Ballard, he says, any expansion or spin-off league is "completely predicated on sponsorship dollars and whether people want to come on board."
For the time being, those involved will enjoy what they have.
"They were becoming forgotten," says Clark of top women bowlers.
Lava Lanes owner Ric Donnelly specifically asked for a Women's Series event, the only proprietor to do so, says Clark.
"The others took it as a bonus and liked it," he says, "but Medford said, 'We want that.'"
The exempt women players were determined by last year's four tournament winners — Dorin-Ballard, Shannon Pluhowsky, Joy Esterson and Diandra Asbaty — and the top 12 at the PBA Women's Tour Trials in August.
The Trials were won by Trisha Reid, and Feldman placed sixth to earn her spot.
With one more tournament to go, Feldman, the lone two-time winner, leads the point standings with 103,100 and can cement the player-of-the-year award with a victory here. Stefanie Nation and Dorin-Ballard are second and third in points, respectively, and each has one win.
Feldman is unique in that she's a powerful enough player she can make the same moves on the lanes as the men. Since they bowl together, that is highly beneficial.
It helped her start the season fast, as her victories came in Weeks 2 and 3 after placing second to Nation in the opener.
"If all the men jump in and are playing in, I can jump in with them," says Feldman, "and a lot of the girls can't do that. If the men are scoring and bowling well, hopefully I can be doing the same thing."
However, when the condition calls for a straighter approach, things even out, she says.
Clark likens Dorin-Ballard to Walter Ray Williams Jr. or Norm Duke on the men's tour.
"She doesn't have a problem with anything," he says. "She'll go right at the pocket. It's rare skill she has."
Dorin-Ballard, herself a member of the USBC Hall of Fame, was the first woman to bowl a perfect game in a PBA event in 2004. A year later, she rolled back-to-back 300s in a PBA regional.
She was a two-time PWBA player of the year and claimed 20 titles, and last season she led the Women's Series in points, earnings and average.
Her season has taken a path opposite of Feldman's. Dorin-Ballard started slowly, but a tweak in her delivery during off weeks has since helped her to place third, first, second and third.
She made her swing longer, allowing her legs to come more into play, and changed her hand position to foster a repeatable shot. The oil patterns are longer than what she's used to, and "I had to figure out a way to get my ball to continue through the pins."
Feldman and Dorin-Ballard have yet to meet on TV, and it seems that would be a fitting end to the women's swing.
A player who won't be here is Liz Johnson. She didn't make it through the Trials last August and doesn't have exempt status. However, as an alternate, she captured the Women's Series Mixed Doubles Championship in Reno, Nev., one week ago. She then placed seventh in the PBA event there.
Johnson is the only woman to capture a PBA title, having won in Rome, N.Y., in 2005.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org