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My Other Hobby… No, the Other One… Bowling: A New Ball To Go From Above Average To… Well, More Above Average

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I’ve enjoyed a lot of sports-related hobbies. I was blessed, from my father, with excellent sports genes (which, I’m thankful to say, I passed on to my daughters). I’m proficient at hockey, disc golf, running, table tennis and badminton. I am above average at baseball, softball, inline skating, skiing and ice skating. I am well above average at tennis, golf, and cycling… and bowling. My biggest problem, since I was a little kid, as soon as a sport got hard I’d go on to something else rather than put in the real effort to break through plateaus to improve. Golf was the one exception. I even had a coach for a time, before I had kids. I loved golf.

I’m a massive fan of bowling. Enough that I can actually watch bowling on television from time to time. Bowling barely gets a mention here, but once the photos from DALMAC are posted and the weather starts to turn cold, I start bowling, on two leagues. The Friday night league is one of the premier leagues in our county and meets every Friday. The league is exclusive enough they don’t give pins for averages below a 150 (you have the same handicap at a 120 avg as you do 150). I hold a decent 180 average there and I’m about the same on our recovery-based league that meets every other Sunday. Many of the other bowlers on Friday night (both are mixed leagues) are in the 200s.

And I hold that 180 average using 20 year-old hand-me-down bowling balls. I’ve never owned a new ball. Not once, ever. Until this last week.

Watching the better “house shot” bowlers on Friday night (a “house shot” refers to the typical shot used on lanes that are coated with oil with a standard “house” oil pattern as opposed to the various patterns they use for the pros, by low handicap high-end bowlers who throw high-revolution, hard shots that generate a lot of pin action) who can get some amazingly high revs on their ball, I couldn’t mimic what they did and could only get my ball to hook into the proper slot if I threw the ball with my hand on the side of the ball – how I learned in my college bowling class (as opposed to the proper position behind the ball, riding up the back, as they say). If I tried to come up the back of my two strike balls, they’d barely hook. I’ve known for three years I should get a new ball, but held off.

For a little history…

My first foray into bowling was in search of an easy A in college. I knew nothing about bowling on day one, but aced the class easily, raising my average from a 120 to a 165 at the end of the semester. Then, I didn’t touch bowling till I started out in a recovery-based league with my wife and a friend with his wife as a 150 bowler more than 20 years ago and have ticked up steadily over the years. I was a solid 175 when I made the jump to Friday night and I’ve been at about the same level for the last few years – 180 to 185. This year I decided to take it up a notch. Maybe try to get into the 190s for an average?

And so I picked up my first brand new bowling ball, five days after ordering it from the local pro shop, and threw my first few games with it Tuesday evening. A Hammer Scorpion, hybrid reactive urethane cover with a symmetrical core (same on both sides of the ball’s axis – balls with asymmetrical cores tend to hook more in heavy oil but flatten out in dry conditions, which I run into on Sunday nights).

And all of a sudden, with the proper drilling of the ball, a fairly aggressive core, and a clean, reactive cover, I was able to start throwing the ball like a normal house bowler… and absolutely hammering the strike zone. Well, once I figured my new line – I had to move to the right (I’m left-handed) five boards and change my target board by three boards to get the ball in enough oil to get down the lane far enough to break into the slot. That’s exactly what I’ve wanted since I jumped to Friday night and saw how real bowlers threw the ball.

Once I got my line, I blasted a turkey (three strikes in a row) without trying. It was so consistent, smooth and easy, I started messing around with my marks and the line just to see how the ball would react. I’ve never been able to stray very far from one set starting point and arrow target or my hook would go away. Now, I can crank up the revs, or flatten my hand to see how the ball would turn, then come up the side of the ball a little more to crank up the hook. The ball slid off my fingers like butter, thumb first, then the two fingers… the ball would slide, then grab, then SLAM into the pins. All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up to me.

It was utterly astonishing how much more I could do.

Now, that’s good and bad. I used to be a one dimensional bowler. I’d have the one shot (plus my left side spare shot with my spare ball – a ball that doesn’t hook as much) and I’d have to match the rotation and ball speed and repeat. I hit a lot of 600s that way (three games, 200+ each game). The new ball, more aggressively drilled than either of my two other strike balls, I have several new ways to get the ball down the lane, a few of which I described above. This will mean I can do one of two things when the oil starts breaking down (the more traffic, the more the oil is used up, the more the ball will hook if you don’t change the line to find oil). Being a one-trick pony has its advantages – once you figure out the shot, you only have to repeat it exactly to get a strike. The advantage with options is that I can give the ball a little more speed to get it down the lane farther or crank up the revs to get it out of the oil if need be – and I’ve got a much larger margin of error for missing my mark with the new ball. And that’s what this is really all about; margin of error.

In four practice games I threw, and I was purposely trying to test the limits of the ball so I wasn’t going for score at all. I’d throw a turkey before changing my line to see how the ball reacted on different parts of the lane. I did that five times. Of those fifteen strikes, maybe eight were perfect shots. With my old strike ball, they all had to be almost perfect to get to the pocket. The other day, seven got there by accident. While score didn’t matter because what I really needed was to find a good line and explore all of the new ways to throw the ball, I till managed easy 170s for three of the four games. The second game was low because I was all over the lane, figuring things out.

And that’s exactly what I was looking for. I’m exceedingly excited to see what comes next. Well, after a bunch of practice over the next week. Our leagues are off for the holidays, but we’re back next Sunday. And I’ll be ready.


13 Comments

  1. I’ve no idea what most of that post meant but your enthusiasm is infectious and I’m happy for you 😆

  2. JustI says:

    As a former bowler, back in my 30s, I get your “drift”. Happy bowling, and being well “rounded” in sports!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you! Have you ever thought about going back?

      • JustI says:

        Like you, I was always involved in sports. I used to bowl in two leagues a week, and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and team effort. I eventually moved to co-ed softball, which I loved. I used to play women’s fast pitch in my 20s. Now, at my advanced age, I’m an orthopedic physician’s retirement plan. Alas, hefting a 12-pound ball and throwing it down the lane is a fond memory.

      • bgddyjim says:

        10-4. Hopefully both our health coverage is good enough!

  3. Tony says:

    I am another ‘former’ bowler. The arthritis in my hands prevents me from holding a ball now. I used to watch bowling on TV as a kid and started around 13. I bowled in a teenage traveling league in Chicago in the 1950’s. Also, bowled for my college teams in New York and then Chicago after I transferred back. I think it is a great game that is very taxing in that there aren’t an ‘bursts’ of energy and speed, like most sports. You need to learn to calm yourself and relax to produce the best results. I think I learned great lessons like that bowling. It was also a popular gambling game here which I was very much involved in.

  4. “It’s not about the ball.” Or perhaps it is after all! 😁

  5. Dave Talsma says:

    Me and my wife were on mixed doubles leagues for 3 years and I progressively got worse scores each season. I have always sucked at sports that use a ball but was great and any balance or speed sports.

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