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The Basics Of Bowling Ball Fitting

by John Williams
(BTBA National Coach)

In March I had the good fortune of having friends offer to fly me over to Jersey for a day to visit the new 24-lane bowling centre, which Keith Hale had written about in such glowing terms.

What an eye-opener the centre was; great design, sheer luxury, so much thought gone into providing excellent surroundings, comfort and customer facilities, not only for the many bowlers who enter the centre all day long, but also for the staff. Not a pillar in sight over the lane area and a completely uninterrupted view of the elegant con- course.

For those of you intending to holiday on the island, you must take your bowling equipment. You will certainly regret it if you don't. Being the first centre to open in the Channel Islands for many years, the only other being in neighbouring Guernsey until the mid-Seventies, Jersey Bowl is very popular and there is tremen- dous enthusiasm from the players to learn more about the sport. Surprisingly, I heard names of old, and some still young, who made their names in bowling on the mainland.

Out of the many questions I was asked, a high percentage concerned the method of hooking a bowling ball and obtaining a good fit for a personal ball.

Many new balls are being supplied through the centre's well-equipped and busy pro shop, so I thought that I might talk this month a little bit about ball drilling, especially as many of you will be visiting America this year on holiday or to visit the new National Bowling Stadium in Reno for the World Championships and World Team Challenge.

Everyone will have heard that bowling balls can be purchased in the United States for much less than here and that almost every major town has a modern shopping mall. Visitors invariably migrate to these enormous centres at some time during their stay. In most you can find huge discount stores offering almost everything under the sun, including a vast sports section featuring rows of coloured bowling balls.

Doubtlessly you will be tempted; prices seem too good to be true and, indeed, they are. But this is a store, not a pro shop, so think before you are persuaded to have your choice of ball drilled by the store because you can hardly expect to receive pro- fessional attention and workmanship. lust drilling finger and thumb holes does not mean the ball will fit well enough to be really comfortable and ensure a good release or enhance your bowling ability.

Ball measuring and drilling is a professional job and needs to be carried out by those who have gained the necessary knowledge and practical experience to be able to access your personal style of bowling and your specific requirements for the new bowling ball.

If you play golf, you would choose your clubs carefully; your tennis, squash or badminton rac- quet will be selected for weight and balance; so, nothing less when choosing your new bowling ball.

If the weight and / or balance is not correct, fit is not exact, you will feel at the least very uncomfort- able and doubt that the ball will help your perfor- mance potential. Many times I have heard bowlers say, "Oh, I do not use that ball really, it doesn't feel right. I can't trust it to to what I want it to do."

It is in your interest to consider carefully where you have your bowling ball drilled. The ball fitting entails a detailed consideration of the bowler's hand configuration, natural flexibility and ball release action, plus the specific manufacturer's drilling recommended drilling patterns.

When talking about the fit of the ball to the hand, I am assuming that you use the normal design of the two middle finger holes and a thumb hole.

In order to provide the grip that would be most suitable for you, your ball driller will need to attain the proper relationship between the following:

  1. The size of the holes and the distance between them (the span), which is the distance between the nearest edge of the thumb hole and the edge of the finger holes.

    Of course, the span will vary considerably, depending on which type of grip you use. The thumb should always be inserted to its full length, i.e. up to the web, but the fingers will be inserted to the applicable depth for either the conventional, semi-fingertip or fingertip grips, of which I wrote a few months ago.

    As a reminder, the fingers in a conventional grip are inserted as far as the second joint, i.e. the one nearest the palm of your hand. The fingertip grip means the fingers are inserted up to the first joint and the semi-fingertip grip has the fingers inserted up to a point between the first and second joints .

    Having a good portion of the fingers grasping the ball helps for a more secure grip, which means it is easier to relax the thumb and thus also relax the hand. So, for beginners and lower average players the conventional grip is much more suit- able than the others.

    With a fingertip grip, there would be a much wider span than the conventional, which then accentuates the effects of turn and extension, because in distance from the thumb, the finger holes are located further around the circumference of the ball so offering more 'in-built' lift.

  2. The alignment of the holes in relation to the centre line and the direction and degree of the hole pitches in relation to the centre of the bowling ball. The principle purpose of pitching/angling a thumb or finger hole is to provide the bowler with a grip that produces maximum ability to apply lift to the ball upon release.

    Forward pitch in the finger holes will cause the fingers to remain in the holes longer and lift with greater force. Also, the more forward pitch the more the ball weight shifts to the fingers. Conversely, the more reverse pitch on the fingers, the more weight of the ball will shift to the thumb.

    For the thumb alignment, forward pitch shifts more of the ball weight onto the thumb whilst having reverse pitch in the thumb hole shifts the weight onto the fingers. Reverse pitch will enable the thumb to come out quicker, with less drag. As a rule, the shorter the thumb, the more forward pitch should be considered. Because thumbs vary in their ability to be bent across the palm of the hand, when the thumb hole is drilled considera- tion should be given to the lateral pitch to accom- modate the ease of exit for the thumb.

    Lateral pitches are there to give grip comfort and to help with the bowler's release.

    Generally, but not in all cases, the further the thumb is away from the fingers the more reverse pitch would be required. Conversely, the closer the thumb is to the fingers, the more likely it will be for a case of forward pitch.

    Rarely does the ball 'hang up' on the fingers but pitch is essential to produce lift, turn an extension. Do remember it does not help to use the pad of your thumb to control your ball as it will cause you to bend your thumb or 'crimp' it, which will cause an erratic release.

    Also remember that both finger pads need do equal work, not just one of them, so the drill in should ensure this can be so,

Simply, all this adds up to the fact that the purpose of any grip is to eliminate the necessity having to squeeze the ball in order to hold it, which at the same time it should allow for a quick and clean release at the correct moment.

These are the basic requirements which, at the same time, allow the bowler's to use their ability and knowledge to create a consistent, good and effective release. effective release.

Extract taken from World Of Tenpin June 1995