(Courtesy of Jillian Martin)

The U.S. Women’s Bowling Open kicks off Wednesday with a historic top prize and a teenage star ready to compete for it.

Jillian Martin and the rest of the U.S. Open field will vie for the $100,000 award, the first six-figure first-place prize in the history of professional women’s bowling. Twenty-four bowlers will advance to round-robin match play, and those who make it to the championship round will compete for the title on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 31.

Martin, a 17-year-old from Stow, Ohio, is entering the U.S. Open with confidence after a history-making year on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) Tour

After finishing as a runner-up at the PWBA ITRC Classic and in third place at the PWBA Hall of Fame Classic in January, Martin broke into the winner’s circle. Two weeks ago, she became the youngest bowler ever to win a PWBA Tour event when she captured the 2021 PWBA BowlTV Classic.

“I’ve obviously worked toward different goals, but winning the BowlTV Classic and becoming the youngest to win a professional women’s tournament has been the biggest one out of all of them,” Martin told Just Women’s Sports. “To just be able to go up there and do what I do and end up coming out with success has been amazing.”

Martin’s rise to the top of the sport has come quickly, giving her little time to process it all. She’s been able to lean on veteran bowlers like Rocio Restrepo, who lives near her in Ohio, as well as her family and support systems at Storm and I Am Bowling, where she is a staff member.

“I felt like I had a lot of people behind me in that moment,” she said of winning the BowlTV Classic on Aug. 10.

That group includes Martin’s great uncle, who first introduced her to the sport and taught her “how to legitimately bowl,” as she puts it. He helped her understand the complexity of the rules, and she fell in love with the challenge of strategizing to win.

Having a bowling alley close to her family’s home in Stow helped. But until she decided to enter the 2019 U.S. Open on a whim and realized she could compete with the best the sport has to offer, Martin hadn’t considered turning bowling into a career.

“It was one of those things that I had a lot of fun out here and I had a lot of fun competing, so I just wanted to see where that took me,” she said.

As Martin enters the U.S. Open this week, she’s focused on playing to her strengths, getting a read on the lanes and remaining confident in her game. The high school senior takes her role as an ambassador for the sport seriously, especially as her celebrity rises. But she also doesn’t want to forget to have fun.

“I like to share my story and just kind of get the word out about bowling in general, too,” she said. “I think it’s really important that other people can learn about our sport and understand what it has to offer.

“I think it’s a really key thing just to grow the sport of bowling, and I love every minute of it.”