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How To Up Your Bowling Game from a 100 Average to a 150. Part One of Several: The Equipment.

So, I’m going to run a new Friday series for a few weeks that’s going to center on bowling, mainly because I’ve been stepping up my game a little bit and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

So, we’re going to start easy and work our way up. This is all going to be fairly simple, an easy progression to get from below average to above average as quickly and painlessly as possible. The operative two words in that last sentence are “as possible”.

The first thing we have to look at in terms of improving is giving up the straight ball. Many sub-par bowlers are stuck on the straight ball because it’s easy, but I can show you very simply why a hook is so important to improvement. You can get good with a straight ball, but it’s hard. Let’s look at a typical layout of pins that you’ll see looking down the lane:

Now, we all know if you want to score a strike with regularity, you’ve got to hit between the 1 & 3 or the 1 & 2, right? Well, let’s look at the same layout from above and you’ll see why the hook is so important:

It’s very simple to see how, with a hook as shown on the left, your margin for error increases by about three times. This is why we throw a hook, it increases the margin for error in a bowling shot.

Once we understand that, we settle on one of three ways to hook a ball. The hard way is the old style, three finger holes with the holes relatively close to each other, close to an equilateral triangle. You throw the ball from the side, lifting up as you follow through which imparts spin on the ball, causing it to hook. If, and this is a big if, you’re using the right kind of ball. We’ll get into that in a minute. The second is the fingertip drilled ball. The thumb and two fingers are spread farther apart, though the two fingers are close together, to a point where you can barely reach the two holes with the tips of your middle and ring fingers when your thumb is in its hole. This requires a lot of wrist strength for your shot but you get the most torque for the hook if thrown properly. The third (other than two-handed which I won’t cover) is a hybrid of the standard drill and fingertip drill. It requires reach, but not as much as a full fingertip drill. This is what I throw. I can comfortably get my fingers into the middle and ring finger holes up to my first knuckle joint. With the fingers and thumb just a little closer together there’s less pressure on the wrist during the rolling of the ball and I still get great torque for lots of hook. The standard isn’t a great hooking ball drill pattern. The fingertip is fantastic for hook but lacks some versatility and requires a considerable amount of wrist strength. The hybrid lacks some torque and some rev rate potential, but it makes up for that deficiency with control. Having bowled with the standard drill for more than a decade, I highly recommend against that. There’s too much room for error in throwing the ball. That will leave either the fingertip or hybrid. You’ll have to choose if you want to improve. The last two add a lot of repeatability to a bowling shot.

Now let’s look at bowling balls. Unlike American citizens, all bowling balls are not all created equal.

Plastic house balls (left – Ebonite Maxim) do not hook very much, especially if you’re throwing with some pace. The plastic ball makes an awesome spare ball for that very reason. You can throw a hook shot and it’ll simply spin down the lane in a (relatively) straight line. Next is the polyurethane covered bowling balls. They have a moderate hook and are great for dry to medium oil. Reactive urethane hybrid covers (right – Scorpion) are good for moderate to heavy oil and resin reactive hook the most and are for heavy oil patterns.

Personally, I have three bowling balls, the same weight and all drilled identically so my release can be the same no matter what I’m throwing at, and under any conditions. Each ball will react differently, meaning I won’t have to. I’ve got a reactive urethane hybrid (Hammer Scorpion), a plastic spare ball, and a straight urethane cover that’s good for dry to medium oil. Technically, three is next level, though. Say, going from 150 to 185. You won’t need three to go from 100 to 150, easily. Two is a great idea, though. Maybe a hybrid reactive (for moderate to heavy oil) and a plastic spare ball.

The last piece in the bowling ball is its weight. I’ve thrown a 16-pound ball (max weight) for decades but recently dropped to a 14-pounder… and it’s not an age thing. The 16 hits like a truck but I can get a little more pace on a 14 and I don’t tire out midway through my last game and reach for a lighter ball. I would never go below 12 pounds, personally, because a lighter ball deflects more when it hits the pins but a 14 is a great compromise weight. However, if you can’t throw a 12-pounder, throw the heaviest you comfortably can. The heavier the ball, the harder the hit and we want to get those pins moving. Use a house bowling ball and check everything from 10 to 14 pounds. Once you choose a good weight for you, go into the pro shop and have a ball drilled for you.

For my Scorpion, my first new bowling ball ever, I walked into the pro shop and said, “I know just enough to be dangerous and stupid at the same time. I want a ball that’s going to hook a lot on a house (league) pattern but not too much.” Then I gave him my 16-pound Hammer Wheel that I was given decades ago and had filled and drilled for me, and asked him to match that drilling because it fits my hand pretty well. He watched me throw a few balls during the warm-up and I picked my ball up a week later. The drilling is close to that of the old Wheel, but it’s definitely slightly wider from thumb to fingers and a little off center. It is spectacular – I’ve never had such an easy time rolling a bowling ball down a lane. That’s what a good pro shop guy can do. I went to a pro shop because of that statement I made when I walked in – I wanted someone who could give me what I needed based on imperfect information. The internet can’t do that.

For shoes, you don’t need a $200 pair of pro shoes. Just make sure you get the slide foot correct (some shoes are right or left slide – the slide foot is the opposite you throw with). After that, a microfiber cloth to wipe the oil off your strike ball and a decent bag (preferably a roller – carrying a two ball bag on your shoulder gets a little old).

With the proper equipment, a decent strike ball and a good spare ball (preferably drilled and weighted the same), you’ll be well on your way to improving rapidly.

Next Friday I’ll cover the bowling shot. How to throw, where to stand, and aim (or lack thereof!).