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I Just Wanna Bowl!

When did bowling become so complex?



Published by BowlingThis Month

With all the talk today of EVERY possible variable needed to strike – the right ball, the right layout, the right surface, AND the ability to read an invisible environment – you’ve really got to wonder how anyone EVER strikes!

In the big scheme of things and, taking a simplified view of the bowling world, our sport really hasn’t changed significantly for the masses. All that is required is understanding what YOUR bowling ball is doing on YOUR lanes, watching YOUR ball’s reaction, and responding to it appropriately. In short, your bowling ball tells you what the lane is doing. The pins tell you what the bowling ball is doing.

What bowling ball do I need? What layout do I use? How do I play this pattern?

A funny analogy comes to my mind when I hear bowlers asking these questions:

Question: Why was the man (bowler) banging his head into the wall?

Answer: Because it felt good when he stopped!

I think bowlers need to simplify. Let’s start by simplifying ball motion. We’ll do this by talking about the driver (you the bowler) of a car (your bowling ball) traveling down a road (the lane) and the effects of varying weather conditions (the oil pattern).

The driver: the bowler

The first factor in bowling is YOU, the driver. The bowling ball only does what you tell it to do – direction, ball speed, rev rate, axis tilt, and axis rotation are ALL predicated by how you deliver the ball. Drivers come in all shapes and sizes in today’s game. In addition to throwing the bowling ball, the bowler also needs to be aware of what the bowling ball is doing on the lane.

Going back to the driver analogy, if a car ahead of you changes lanes, you can see and react to the change. When a bowling ball makes a lateral move, you can see the reaction and make a “logical” adjustment – bowling ball goes right, you move right, etc.

Now, let’s consider what happens if a car ahead of you slows down or speeds up. If the car slows down without using its brakes, it is much more difficult to gauge than the lateral movement of a lane change. This is analogous to ball motion on the lane.

In bowling, front-to-back reaction changes can be the most difficult to see. When a bowling ball reacts too early on the lane, for example, it’s hard to see. One thing that might cause this early motion is a lack of conditioner in the front part of lane to combat the amount of surface on the bowling ball.

If a car speeds up, other than the increased separation distance that is created, drivers cannot easily see the acceleration. Comparing this situation to bowling, this is analogous to the ball’s reaction happening farther away from the foul line. This situation could be created by insufficient surface on the ball to combat the amount of conditioner on the lane.

Tires: the bowling ball’s surface

As has been well documented, ball surface controls 70-75 percent of ball reaction. Think of the coverstock as tread on the tire that affects how the car will handle normal driving conditions. The tire is the only part of the car that interacts with the road; the cover is the only part of the ball that interacts with the lane. For a bowling ball to respond, it has to slow down to change direction. Ball surface plays a big role in dictating the amount of traction or interaction the ball has with the lane.

The surface of the ball (amount of tire tread) dictates how and where the ball slows down and transitions on the lane. The smoother this transition, the easier it is to control the ball’s reaction and improve pin carry. The more violent the transition, the higher the potential for the car to careen out of control or, in our case, for the ball to have unnecessarily sharp angles downlane.

The proper amount of surface is dictated by the combination of the bowler’s delivery attributes and the amount of conditioner on the lane. If you have too much surface, it tends to make the ball slow down before the appropriate point on the lane. The opposite is true with a lack of traction – the ball tends to hydroplane or not slow down soon enough, missing the ideal window of opportunity to change direction and move toward the pocket. Both too much surface and too little surface affect carry negatively.

Too much surface

Too much surface (too rough or gritty) can create too strong of a reaction in the ball’s motion. This, in turn, can force the bowler away from the appropriate area of the lane. More oil is needed to allow the ball to skid.

Another factor with too much ball surface is how it affects the playing environment. It can burn away the laydown area and creates a diamond or wedge-shaped dry area in the front of the lane. The laydown area gets drier, while the middle of the lane (15 to 30 feet) holds up.

If the bowler then releases the ball more parallel to the boards rather than crossing them, the ball would lose its energy more quickly (which the bowler usually won’t see since it occurs so close to the foul line). The ball then contacts the conditioner and skids. When the ball gets to the backend, it has no reaction because its energy was used in the heads.

If the bowler, not realizing there was early friction, makes a move to the right, the ball commonly encounters more friction and reacts even earlier. The bowler is now confused. Where do they move? What adjustment should they make?

Not enough surface

Too little surface (too shiny) can also create improper angles. The ball can hydroplane or slide, not slowing down so it can change direction and missing the ideal “hook window” on the lane. The hook window is typically always in the 35 to 45 feet range. This lack of reaction can cause the bowler to move too far to the right into the drier part of the pattern, sometimes even so far so that they are pointing the ball at the pocket. Too little surface can also sometimes cause the ball to become too responsive to the friction on the back end, which can result in ball motion that is difficult to control downlane.

The bottom line is that coverstock surface management is all about getting the ball to slow down, or hook, in the right part of the lane. Additionally, coverstock surface is the easiest thing to adjust once a ball has already been drilled. In most cases, bowlers should take advantage of this and consider making coverstock surface adjustments before considering more difficult adjustments (such as plugging and redrilling) to fix a poorly-reacting ball.

The engine: core dynamics

After we’ve matched the tires with the surface and the car has slowed down, the dynamics (the engine or core) of the ball will be allowed to affect the reaction. The size of the engine (the strength of the RG differential) dictates how strong that response will be. The RG differential of all undrilled balls is between 0.000 inches and 0.060 inches. The bigger the engine (the closer the RG differential is to 0.060), the higher potential of overall reaction.

Another way to say this is that the higher the differential, the higher the potential of the overall reaction that the ball can create once it slows down and starts to transition. If bowlers want to keep their angles smaller or their lines more in front of them, then they should look at lower differential cores (0.025 to 0.040 inches) to help minimize or smooth the transition.

This brings us to controlling flare and understanding its effect on reaction. Balls drilled too aggressively create too much flare and traction, which creates instability and inconsistency downlane, both of which negatively impact carry. More is NOT always better!

Like too much surface, too much flare makes it difficult to control reaction. Both too much surface and too much flare shorten the lane – too much surface can create hook out, while a layout that is too strong can create over-flaring. Both are detrimental to the end goals of hitting the pocket and carrying.

A good rule of thumb is to be conservative when it comes to layouts. This can give the pro shop operator some leeway in adjusting a drilled ball’s reaction, typically with a balance hole that increases the overall flare of the ball if needed.

The weather: our invisible playing environment

Here’s where the confusion really starts …the oil pattern!

Oil patterns have created as much (if not more) confusion than any other factor in bowling in the past 15 years or so. How do you read it? How do you play it? What is the right bowling ball? Many bowlers believe there is a certain way to attack a pattern. They become lost or disgruntled when failure strikes due to their inability to score.

This is the issue with the perception of patterns. Many bowlers believe they know how a pattern is supposed to play instead of learning ball motion and how to change it. It is actually very common for a pattern to play differently than its design would suggest. Topography, along with numerous other things, has a huge impact on how a given pattern plays from one day to the next.

Keep an open mind, trust your instincts, and make adjustments based on what your bowling ball is telling you, not what a piece of paper is telling you! A guide for your on-lane decisions is remembering to keep the friction area outside of your target area.

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