Saturday, February 27, 2010

What a Difference a Pin Makes

Yesterday, P.J. Haggerty was in fifteenth place going into the final game of qualifying. The top 24 after that final game would advance to 24 games of match play. He bowled 146. Pete Weber, who was below 24th place, bowled a 248 and tied with P.J. for the 24th and final spot to advance to match play. So, they had to bowl a roll off game, and Pete came through, as one of the greatest bowlers of all time usually does, to win the game and head into match play.

Tonight, the position round of match play had Jason Belmonte, , Walter Ray Williams, Norm Duke, and Jason Couch vying for the fourth and final spot in tomorrows televised finals of the biggest tournament of the year. Belmonte, hobbled by an ever-worsening hamstring injury as he limped and struggled to hold on to fourth place, faltered against Tommy Jones and lost. Fifth place Walter Ray and sixth place Norm Duke scratched and clawed to overtake Belmonte and make it on to the show. It was neck and neck the whole way. Duke punched out in the tenth for a 201. Seventh place Jason Couch finished his match with a game in the 220's. Walter Ray needed to double and get a seven count to seize the fourth and final spot for the telecast.

He threw the first one flush for a strike. He struck again on the second ball. The crowd behind him erupted. He needed only seven pins to beat Duke and take the 30 bonus points for a win and make the telecast. He approached the line, threw the ball, and left the 3-6-9-10 to tie Duke with a 201 game, split the bonus pins at 15 instead of taking all 30, and Jason Couch passed him to snatch the fourth and final spot for the telecast. (You can read Jason Thomas' account of these events here.)

Jason Couch couldn't believe it. Walter Ray couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. But there it was. And if there was ever any doubt of how important every single pin is in a bowling tournament or league, what happened to P.J. Haggerty and Walter Ray showed that every single pin can be crucial. When you're bowling, try to knock down EVERY pin you can. Don't throw away ANY shots. Don't give away ANY pins.

One pin could make all the difference between advancing and being left out in the cold. One single, solitary pin could spell the difference between winning and losing. If P.J. Haggerty had knocked down one more pin or Pete Weber one less over 18 games of qualifying, it would have been P.J. going into match play and Pete sitting on the sidelines. If Walter Ray had thrown the ball just a little better and knocked down one more pin on that fill ball in the tenth, we would have been watching him bowl for his 48th title and third U.S. Open title tomorrow on ESPN. One lousy pin cost them both immeasurably.

Don't let it cost you someday.

Here are the four seeds for tomorrow's show:

1, Mike Scroggins, Amarillo, Texas, 16-8, 11,537.
2, Bill O'Neill, Southampton, Pa., 13-11, 11,486.
3, Tommy Jones, Simpsonville, S.C., 16-8, 11,413.
4, Jason Couch, Clermont, Fla., 13-11, 11,282.

I was sorry to see Belmo crippled by his injury. Had that not happened, he'd have almost certainly made the finals tomorrow. And I was terribly disappointed that Walter Ray wasn't the one to take the biggest advantage of Belmo's collapse. Nevertheless, tomorrow's finals boasts a stellar field and should be a good one. And Mike Scroggins, who shot 300 today in match play, has a very good chance of winning his second consecutive U.S. Open. He beat Norm Duke last year.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why Is Belmonte Dominating the U.S. Open?

I just don't understand it. As I wrote the other day, the U.S. Open is supposed to feature the tougest lane conditions on tour, with a flat oil pattern that separates the men from the boys and makes even the men weep and wail and gnash their teeth. So it would stand to reason that the low to medium rev, board-splitting, grind-it-out sparemeisters like Chris Barnes, Walter Ray, Norm Duke, Jack "The Ripper" Jurek, Danny Wiseman, and Mike Scroggins would sit atop the standings after 18 games of qualifying.

But one quick glance at the leaderboard reveals that it's bowling's powerballing elite who seem to occupy a disproportionate share of the top places with big-handed guys like Robert Smith, Amleto Monacelli, Tommy Jones, P.J. Haggerty, and Jason Couch planted in the top twelve. And at the very top, almost 200 pins ahead of anybody else, is none other than two-handedm thumbless throwing wunderkind Jason Belmonte, the King of Crank, the guy who puts the P in power game.

Indeed, of all the big names on tour, Belmo, God bless him, is perhaps the last guy you'd expect to be first in the U.S. Open. Sure, you wouldn't be too surprised to see him make the first cut and maybe even squeak into the final spot for match play, but who in their right mind would predict that he'd average almost 230 for 18 games of qualifying, average a blistering 249 for the last 6 of those games, and shoot an unbelievable 278-278-280 for 836 in the middle of that set? Well, I can tell you one thing. I would never have predicted it. And I don't understand it. What does it all mean?

Does it mean that the disparaging remarks we often hear that guys who crank the bejesus out of the ball can score well only on blocked lanes where there's a Grand Canyon of area is a bunch of male bovine manure? Judging from Belmo's awesome performance thus far, it would seem so.

But having said that, one never knows, at this point, where the power players will end up in this tournament. The aforementioned Barnes, Williams, Duke Jurek, and Scroggins are also near the top and firmly in contention not only by virtue of their present standings but also because of their track records.

Nevertheless, I'm still baffled over why so many power players, like Wes Malott, a guy who seldom practices and admits that he plays areas rather than boards, are doing so well on the allegedly toughest oil pattern in bowling, and I seriously wonder if I shouldn't go back to throwing my stike ball without my thumb.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Robert Smith Bowed But Not Broken

"I feel healthy for the first time in awhile, but my game has changed. I’m not the gorilla I thought I was once upon a time. Mentally, I still am, but physically, no. I can’t do what I used to do. I’m learning to deal with it.”
--Robert Smith, after his early lead in the 2010 U.S. Open

Being an older guy with no "hand," unless I throw the ball without my thumb, I love to see old timers stroke their way to victory on the PBA regular and senior tours. As Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark has repeatedly said, most of us who bowl can identify far better with professional male and female bowlers who throw the ball a lot like we do than we can with the young power players. We love to see the strokers beat the crankers because it makes us feel as though we too can throw our unspectacular balls with accuracy and finesse and still have a chance in our little leagues and local tournaments to beat the big, bad crankers who send the hapless pins careening and flying across the deck with all those revs and all that prodigious speed.

Yet, if you're like me, there's a part of you that thrills to the sight and sound of freakish power on the lanes. Even though you can't come close to matching it yourself, your heart beats a little faster and you feel a sense of respectful deference and awe toward those who can not only put more revs and speed on a bowling ball than seems humanly possible but can also control it well enough to win PBA titles, It's a transcendent testament to human capability, and, in a sense, we identify, simply by virtue of being human ourselves, with these amazing power players.

There's no one I can think of who has been more amazing at combining power with successful control than Robert Smith. Although "Maximum Bob," as he's admiringly called, has won only seven national titles (including a coveted U.S. Open in 2000), he's appeared on TV many more times and has thrilled fans and fellow players alike for years by, as Randy Pedersen once said on a PBA telecast, "doing things with a bowling ball that nobody else can."

He's been clocked throwing a bowling ball 35 miles per hour and has been seen generating over 600 rpms on a shot. I've read articles that compare his freakish power with a baseball pitcher throwing 140 miles per hour. In fact, when he came out on tour, he threw the ball with so much power that he quickly had to tone it down in order to compete. Yet, even a toned down Robert Smith was still "Maximum Bob," and guys like me loved it.

But all those years of throwing more ball than just about anyone else on the planet seems to have taken its toll, and Smith has suffered debilitating injuries recently that make his still thrilling physical game a little less thrilling than it used to be. And in watching that decline, guys like me feel a twinge of sadness as we're reminded of the inevitability of our own physical decline and, yes, mortality. We older guys used to be able to do things as kids and young men that we can't do anymore, and watching Robert Smith throw a little less ball and hearing him talk about it brings it all home and makes us pine for "back in the day."

But if trite expressions become trite because they're so true that they're used to the point of triteness, there is probably no truer trite expression than "Time marches on," and with it, the Maximum Bobs give way to the Sean Rashes and Michelle Feldmans and the rising tide of two-fisted Belmos, Palermas, and Shuabs, and they, in turn and in due time, will surrender their royal power to new kings of crank. And guys like me will still shake our heads in wonder and feel joyful exhilaration over what these young freaks can do with a bowling ball.

But, if Robert Smith's early performance in this year's U.S. Open is any indication, he may not yet be ready to drift unceremoniously into bowling's "good night. " He may put a tad fewer revs on the ball and it may blast the pins a tenth of a second or two later and with a smidgen less force than before, but he can still hang with the best and brightest stars on tour on the tour's most demanding conditions because something more miraculous and potent than raw power can take up the slack--a strong and determined mind.

Robert Smith may just show us that the human mind can prevail to an impressive degree over aging matter and teach us to never give up doing what we love to do.

What he’s doing is like dropping a champagne glass from an extension ladder onto asphalt without breaking it."
--David Ozio describing Walter Ray Williams' awe-inspiring performance at the 1992 U.S. Open

As a follow-up to my previous article about the U.S. Open, I want to call your attention to Jason Thomas' account of his own experience bowling in this great tournament as a college freshman in 1992. He had been, along with his friend and arch rival Robert Smith, one of the best junior bowlers in Southern California, had entered the adult bowling world like a house afire, doing very well in scratch tournaments and taking first place in a U.S. Open qualifier in San Diego that gave him a free entry into the big one in Canandaigua, New York, and, with feverish visions of a stellar career on the PBA Tou dancing in his head, this was his mentality as he began the tournament:

"When I arrived in New York, I was pumped up to bowl. I didn’t just want to bowl with Walter Ray and company, I wanted to kick their butts and make the show! In the practice session, I was sure I had a chance."

Well, you can guess what happened once things got started. I urge you to read this very entertaining story about just how challenging the U.S. Open is and how great bowlers like Walter Ray Williams, who ended up leading the field at one point by over 500 pins, are to conquer these supremely difficult conditions.

How Tough Is the U.S. Open?

"The U.S. Open Pattern features the toughest lane oil design in all of bowling. The U.S. Open condition is a "flat" oil pattern with equal oil being placed on each board, gutter to gutter. Premium shotmaking and precision accuracy are required to conquer this difficult condition."
--PBA website

This week, the most prestigious tournament in American bowling, the U.S Open. is being held at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis. This is the tournament that everybody who's somebody (and even everybody who's nobody) in the bowling world would love to win. If you win THIS tournament, you are guaranteed bowling immorality, even if you never win another tournament or make another splash of any kind in the sport for the rest of your life.

Yet, most of those who win this tournament are decidedly NOT nobodies in the bowling world. They are the greatest of the great, and for a very simple reason. Unless you have a miraculous amount of luck. you don't beat the best bowlers in the world on the most demanding lane conditions the PBA has to offer unless you are great yourself.

Just how demanding are these lane conditions. Jason Thomas explains in his excellent article on Here's the essence of it:

"What makes the pattern so hard? Well, like it says in the PBA's description, there's no help if you miss your target because the oil is laid out evenly from one edge of the lane to the other. "So what," you say?

Well, the area you have down the lane to hit the pocket in a manner that gives you a reasonable chance to strike is less than 2 inches wide. On a league shot, where there is typically 5-10 times as much oil in the center part of the lane than there is to the outside, so a bowler throwing a hook might have as many as 6 inches of area at the break point (about 40 feet down the lane) in order to hit that 2 inch spot at the pins. At the U.S. Open, you're lucky to have 1 inch at your breakpoint (and the more you hook it, the more inversely proportional the ball's final destination relates to where it crosses at the break point). So you figure out how much harder that makes it to score.

I wish I were good enough and rich enough to even think about bowling in this fabled tournament. I've bowled on the so-called U.S Open pattern in a PBA Experience league and tournament in my home house, but I know that what I faced is nothing like what the bowlers will face in competition this week at Woodland Bowl, and God knows I struggled enough as it was.

I have no business bowling in the U.S. Open. But I'll be joyfully watching those who do, and some who don't, this week live on Xtra Frame and ESPN, and I hope you will be too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

PBA's Unfair Double Standard?

"Win or lose, bowling a doubles tournament is one of the funnest things I've ever done."
--Randy Pedersen

"Voss is playing today like someone has handed him a ransom note on one of his kids."
--Rob Stone

"As we've seen, crushing the pins during the week and doing it on Sunday are two different stories."
--Rob Stone

"The two of them are showing their mutual arm swing love for one another."
--Rob Stone's quip of the week regarding the compliments Brian Voss and Diandra Asbaty expressed about each other's graceful and efficient arm swings

I'm thrilled that Brian Voss and his partner Diandra Asbaty won the tournament Sunday. They bowled very well together and earned their victory, just as Jason Belmonte and Michelle Feldman earned their right to bowl for the title after the dazzling show they put on in qualifying and match play.

Voss hadn't won on the regular tour since 2006, but Sunday's victory gave him his 25th title, exempt status next season on tour if he wants it, and a sure shot of confidence in the arm to pursue his profession with renewed passion, not that he seemed lacking in passion from the get go Sunday.'s bowling writer, Jef, said that even though he enjoyed the bowling, he had concerns that the Baker format might have confused and alienated bowling novices and that the PBA should go light on "gimmicky" tournaments like yesterday's. But I disagree with him about yesterday. Even though I don't care much for the Baker format, it's the only way they could have shown so many matches featuring such an impressive panoply of male and female stars, and I doubt that any ESPN bowling viewer worth keeping was befuddled or turned off by the Baker system.

But I'm befuddled about one thing. As much as I like, respect, and even revere Brian Voss, I have misgivings about crediting the winner of ANY doubles tournament with a PBA title. But, more than that, I don't begin to understand why Diandra didn't get credit too. The way I see it, if Kelly Kulick was credited with a PBA title and awarded an exemption for winning the TOC, and Brian Voss is credited with a title and awarded an exemption for winning Sunday, Diandra Asbaty darn well deserves HER PBA title and exemption too.

How do YOU feel about this?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Amateurs move it right to left, and pros move it front to back."
-Del Ballard

Beverages at the Nationals This Year

I've never bowled in the USBC Open. I should bowl in it this year, since it's only a little over a hundred miles away in Reno. But I think I'll work on my game some more and wait till next year to give it a shot. However, I just heard and later read that things are going to be a little different this year from previous years. And the big difference is that bowlers will be able to drink alcoholic and other beverages down on the lanes whereas they could drink only bottled water supplied to them by the USBC before this.

Del Ballard said on Xtra Frame yesterday that he has no problems with this. He says that most people, including those who bowl in the Nationals, want to have some fun when they bowl, and if drinking some beer helps them to do this, so be it. The USBC should give the public what it wants and relax the "Gestapo" measures of the past if it wants people to keep coming to the tournament.

However, I don't like the idea of people drinking beer or soda down near the lanes and perhaps tracking some of it onto the approaches. I also think that a few people getting a little rowdy after they've had a "couple" could undermine the integrity of the tournament. Maybe this is just the unreasonably "purist" side of me coming out, but I'm inclined to think that the old rules regarding beverages should remain in place, even though I'm all for some of the other changes that will go into effect this year.

You can read more about all of this here. What do you think about sticky and intoxicating beverages being allowed down on the lanes of such a big and fabled tournament?

Second Chris Barnes Challenge Match Tonight

A few months ago, Chris Barnes bowled a college kid named Derrick Hartnell in a challenge match shown live on X'tra Frame. Each of them put down $1600 out of their own pockets in a total pins, winner-take-all, three game match. The kid ended up coming from way behind to clip Barnes at the end of the final game.

This evening at 9 PM EST, a guy named Shawn Lee will be taking on Barnes for $1000 in the second of five scheduled challenge matches. The match will take place at the same bowling center and on the same Scorpion pattern hosting the Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles tournament that will conclude on ESPN tomorrow at 1 PM EST.

Barnes' challenger apparently has some skill, having gotten through a TQR of a national tournament at that bowling center a few years ago. So it may be a good and entertaining match that you can see live on Xtra Frame tonight.

I'll post a recap of it here tomorrow.

Brian Voss Converts 7-10 Split

I've never converted the 7-10 split, and I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen others convert it, beginning with Mark Roth's famous effort on TV years ago. On another occasion, I was bowling in league against a team where a guy left the 7-10. One of his teammates told him that if he picked it up, he'd buy him a new bowling ball. You can guess what happened after that. It was the first time he ever converted it after forty years or so of bowling. Would you believe that the other guy made good on his offer? Now that's a man of his word. You gotta respect that. That's the only time I've seen the 7-10 made in person.

But I saw the next best thing last night on Xtra Frame last night. It was the position round of the final block of match play. Brian Voss left a 7-10 on what appeared to be a good pocket hit late in the game. He and his doubles partner Diandra Asbaty needed every mark they could get to make it to the televised finals, and, you guessed it, Voss converted the 7-10 and will be on TV Sunday. You can watch his conversion below.

By the way, if you're into very technical ball talk, don't miss replaying most of this block. The guest was Hank Boomershine, a top product development guy for Storm. He's incredibly knowledgeable about bowling ball design and dynamics, and he answered a plethora of probing questions about this stuff last night. It was a veritable clinic.

Here are the top five teams for Sunday's stepladder finals:

1, Jason Belmonte, Australia/Michelle Feldman, Auburn, N.Y., 11-5, 7,289.

2, Wes Malott, Pflugerville, Texas/Shannon O’Keefe, Arlington, Texas, 12-4, 6,903.

3, Rhino Page, Dade City, Fla./Shannon Pluhowsky, Kettering, Ohio, 9-7, 6,888.

4, Tom Smallwood, Saginaw, Mich./Jodi Woessner, Oregon, Ohio, 10-6, 6,883.

5, Brian Voss, Alpharetta, Ga./Diandra Asbaty, Chicago, 9-7, 6,839.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hoosier Classic Live on

The Hoosier Classic is a major college bowling tournament. This year's version will take place this weekend at Western Bowl in Indianapolis, and you can watch live streaming of it for free on beginning at 7:45 AM EST Saturday. It will feature 42 women's and 74 men's teams from all over the country, including the perennial powerhouse and #1 ranked Wichita State men's and women's teams. Not only can you see the best of intercollegiate competition, but you can also see the men's and women's professional stars of tomorrow.

I'll be watching. How about you?

Tournament Tidbits

I've made it very clear on this blog that I love PBA Xtra Frame. In fact, I've made it so clear that if more than a handful of people actually read this blog, I'd deserve to get paid for all the glowing things I've said about Xtra Frame. It's not perfect, mind you. I get annoyed and frustrated when the video and audio keep freezing up on me and I have to close the window and reopen it again and again. But that's a relatively small price to pay for how entertained I am and for what I learn from its coverage that you can't get anywhere else of PBA events.

Take today for instance. I just finished watching the first 8 game block of match play in the Don and Paul Carter Mixed Doubles Open, and I loved every minute of it. Not only was the bowling exciting, but I listened with rapt attention to announcer Mike Jakubowsky and bowling analyst Jeff Mark converse with guests Mark Sabotini, director of PBA lane maintenance; Cassidy Shaub, two-handed lefty exempt player; and PBA Hall-of-Famer and currrent Ebonite representative Del Ballard. Here are some of the highlights of what I heard this morning:

Belmonte-Feldman dominance- Jeff Mark predicted before match play began that the doubles team of Jason Belmonte and Michelle Feldman would annihilate the rest of the field in match play with their tremendous power games, and it looks like he couldn't have been more right. They're almost 300 pins ahead of the second place team after the first block, and i'm guessing that they're going to keep widening their lead in the second block. They are just destroying the pins and the other teams and opening up their margin of error with their overpowering balls. So, it looks like they'll be seeded first on Sunday's telecast, and I'll be delighted to see them up there. I love to watch them both.

Lane maintenance routine- I never gave much thought to what the lane maintenance people do on the PBA tour, but it was interesting to hear the top guy describe a typical tournament day. When he first arrives at a new bowling center, he unloads the oiling machines from the truck, takes them inside, and plugs them in to warm them up. They have to be at at least 70 degrees to work properly. He then programs them according to predetermined specifications, with a USBC representative there to independently confirm and certify that he's doing it properly, then he runs the lanes with the machine, watches the bowlers warm up and then bowl in competition, and then. after a block is completed, he uses some kind of measuring "tapes," in a manner I don't yet understand, to determine if the lanes were oiled properly.

Sabotini says that the PBA is currently using two kinds of oil. It uses lower viscosity Brunswick Connect lane oil on lower friction surfaces and the much thicker Brunswick Authority 22 lane oil or conditioner on higher friction surfaces. This week, the surface friction is low, so they're using the Connect oil distributed in a modified Scorpion pattern. Sabotini says that the lighter oils don't carry down nearly as much as the heavier ones.

Rookie year challenges- Cassidy Shaub says that he came on tour thinking he already knew a lot about bowling, but he got a rude awakening early on in facing the rapidly changing and extremely challenging conditions that PBA players face on tour. He says it's just "mind boggling" how much they know and, indeed, have to know about lane conditions, equipment, and making the adjustments necessary to be competitive. It's really tough on a young rookie like him to undergo such a steep learning curve and to endure the grind of travel and managing tight finances, but he's doing everything he can to improve, including receiving coaching to help him gain better control of his extremely high revving ball. Yet, when asked if he thinks his two-handed style overtaxes his body and is likely to take its toll over time, he replies that he doesn't think it's any more taxing than a powerful one-handed style.

Two...two...two tournaments in one- Jeff Mark says that a tournament like this week's is really two different tournaments in terms of the conditions the bowlers face and the strategies they must employ between qualifying as individuals bowling only with players of their own gender and bowling match play as a mixed gender team against other mixed gender teams. This presents a special challenge to the women who are now bowling on lanes that get broken down a lot faster by the high revving male players than they are in women's only tournaments. But the men are also faced with different conditions, created by the women bowlers, than they're accustomed to.

Walter Ray loves the women- Del Ballard says that Walter Ray Williams is a huge fan of women's bowling, and Jeff Mark reports that when he was a ball rep and worked with Walter Ray a few years ago, Walter would excitedly approach the pro women for autographs and they were stunned and delighted that this bowling superstar of superstars wanted THEIR autograph. Mark says that no matter how well or poorly he and his doubles partner Staphanie Nation (and they're dead last after the first block) fare in this tournament, no one is having more fun during the mixed doubles format than Walter Ray.

Ballard, who has won a big mixed doubles tournament or two, likes mixed doubles too although he isn't "overly fond" of the Baker format. He's also hopeful for women's bowling. He says he's always maintained that if the women want to get paid as much as the men, they need to be able to beat the men and that Kelly Kulick proved during her amazing performance at the TOC than it can be done. He also agrees with Jeff Mark that Shannon Pluhowsky has such a wonderful style and effortlessly powerful delivery that she could probably compete with the male lefties on the men's tour. Mark says she is one of the few bowlers of either gender that he would actually pay to watch bowl. That's how much he thinks of her game. Ballard says that the most physically talented female bowler he's ever seen is Tammy Boomershine. She made it to match play this week and is paired with heavy rolling British star Stuart Williams.

Two-handed ladies- Ballard recounts a recent experience of practicing on a Sunday morning and seeing two ladies in their fifties come in and start throwing the ball two-handed. When he went over to talk with them, they told him that they'd seen Jason Belmonte do it on TV and wanted to try it for themselves. He said they had a great time and that he did too watching them, talking with them, and giving them a few pointers. He said bowling, even competitive bowling, should be about having fun, which is one reason why he takes no issue with the USBC allowing people to drink beverages, including alcoholic ones, down on the lanes this year at the Nationals in Reno.

Quietest shoulder on tour- I'm not sure exactly what he means by this, but Ballard says, "Nobody on tour keeps their [bowling arm] shoulder quieter than Rhino Page," Ballard says he loves this about Page's style and wishes he could teach it to everyone.

IT may not be all that- I've wondered about Vise's new interchangeable thumb system called IT and have even considered getting it for my own equipment, but, despite the ringing endorsements of some of the PBA's finest, I've been wary of the possibility of it breaking or causing me other problems. Well, this morning, Jeff Mark and Del Ballard gave me further pause. They say that the deep pilot hole that must be drilled into the ball in order to use the IT system may inadvertently alter the shape and density of the ball's core, and that this, in turn, could significantly change the ball's "core dynamics" and roll from what it was designed to be.

Bowling is such a complicated sport at its higher levels. But Xtra Frame helps me understand it better.

Mixed Doubles and Chris Barnes Challenge This Week

I'm not a big fan of pro doubles tournaments, and I despise the Baker format where players on a doubles team bowl alternate frames and, on five-member teams it's even worse with each player getting to bowl only two frames per game. But I'm still looking forward to match play today at the Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles championship in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and to the televised final Sunday.

I'm also looking forward to the Chris Barnes Challenge match, if there is one, on Saturday afternoon. Barnes will take on the highest bidder up to $5,000 in a three game, total pins, winner-take-all match to be shown live on PBA Xtra Frame. This will be the second such match. The first one was held in Wichita, Kansas several months ago, and a college bowler ended up overcoming a large deficit after two games to beat Barnes. You can watch it on demand on Xtra Frame if you missed it the first time around.

As for the mixed doubles tournament, the teams were selected by pairing the top 16 qualifiers on the men's side of the aisle with the top 16 women in descending order of where they placed in qualifying so that, for instance, the first place man bowls with the first place woman. This means that Australian two-handed sensation and PBA Rookie of the Year Jason Belmonte, who led qualifying virtually the entire time, will be paired with Michelle Feldman. In other words, the guy who throws the most powerful ball on the men's tour will be bowling with the woman who throws the most powerful ball I've ever seen a woman throw in a real powerfest. They can line up off each other.

The other teams are:

2, Rhino Page - Shannon Pluhowsky
3, Tom Smallwood - Jodi Woessner
4, Eugene McCune - Kelly Kulick
5, Patrick Allen - Lindsay Baker
6, Wes Malott - Shannon O'Keefe
7, Steve Harman - Missy Bellinder
8, Mike Fagan - Brenda Edwards
9, Walter Ray Williams Jr. - Stefanie Nation
10, Chris Barnes - Liz Johnson
11, Stuart Williams - Tammy Boomershine
12, Brian Voss - Diandra Asbaty
13, Mika Koivuniemi - Wendy Macpherson
14, Jesse Buss - Elysia Current
15, Mitch Beasley - Laura Hardeman
16, Ritchie Allen - Clara Guerrero

Pete Weber came in 17th, just missing match play by only13 pins.

The field has an international flavor with Stuart Williams of England, Mika Koivuniemi of Finland, and Clara Guerrero of Colombia in the top 16.

It should be fun watching them bowl 16 games of match play today live on Xtra Frame. The top five teams will advance to the televised stepladder finals on ESPN this Sunday.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

"A bowler who learns only by experience usually knows more about what not to do than what to do."
--Churck Pezzano

Better Bowling Through Neuroscience?

In a recent post, I speculated on what makes Walter Ray Williams such a successful bowler. I suggested that exceptional ability to command his body to execute good strike and spare shots under pressure was an overriding factor. But what enables him to do this?

I found this interesting London Times Online article about research that neuroscientists are doing regarding athletic performance, and the gist of it is that sophisticated brain scan and brainwave measurement studies reveal that the more skilled an athlete is, the less of his brain he or she is likely to use, and that there is an ideal range of brainwave frequencies for different sports and for different activities within each sport.

In other words, the expert hockey players and golfers mentioned in a couple of studies exhibited significantly less activity in parts of their brains, such as the limbic area that regulates emotions, that aren't vital to performing well at those sports than did novices whose brains lit up in many areas. This suggests,that experts are able to stay focused on the task at hand a lot better than novices who try to compensate for their lack of experience and "muscle memory" by overthinking about what they need to do and are also unable to shut out irrelevant thoughts and distracting anxieties about their performance.

Also, some studies seem to show that practitioners of some sports, such as golf and target shooting, perform better when their brainwave activity is in the slower 12-15 cycles per second range, whereas practitioners of other sports, such as football and rugby, perform best when their brainwaves are in the faster 15-25 cycles or brainwaves per second range.

One could speculate that a Walter Ray Williams is better than most at using his brain efficiently and keeping his brainwaves in the optimal frequency range during competition. And while it remains to be seen HOW he is able to do this better than most, although it seems reasonable to assume that genetics probably has a lot to do with it as this Psychology Today article suggests that it does with those who win "American Idol" contests, it also seems possible that as neuroscientists learn more about the correlation between brain activity and athletic performance, it may be possible to use biofeedback and other brain-based approaches to improve performance in various sports including bowling.

For instance, bowlers, who, I'm guessing, might perform best when their brainwaves are in the 12-15 cps range, might be hooked up to biofeedback devices that tell them when their brainwaves fall within this range. They could either learn to correlate how they feel with the device telling them they're in the optimal range and then make themselves feel this same way in competition without using the device, or, perhaps, the day will come when they'll be allowed to wear a portable biofeedback device during competition.

I'm not sure this would be a good thing, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it and much more sophisticated brain training technologies for bowling and other sports come into play.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rob Stone "Rips" Jack Jurek

Love him or hate him, ESPN's bowling announcer Rob Stone sure makes an impression.

I started out not liking him at all because he seemed to know nothing about bowling and tried to fill the void with silly wisecracks. But he's grown on me over time as he's learned more about the game and developed a nice rapport with analyst Randy Pedersen.

I still long for the good old days of Chris Schenkel (although, to be honest, he didn't seem to know any more than Rob Stone about bowling, even after decades of covering the sport) or, better still, Denny Schriner, the bowling announcer par excellence. But I no longer want Rob Stone thrown off the telecast the way I did at first.

I'm amused by the love it or hate it reaction that bowlers seem to have to his coining the irreverent term "hambone" for four strikes in a row and to how it's caught on. It has even inspired's bowling writer to post a series of recommended names in his blog for other strike strings.

Bowling "purists" seem to hate the expression, and the less serious seem to love and embrace it. I guess I'm one of the relatively rare individuals closer to the purist end of the spectrum who, while I won't use the term myself, don't mind other people using it. It's too silly for me, but it doesn't bother me a bit if others want to be silly.

Yet, I think the most amusing thing Rob Stone has come up with is the moniker he pinned on Jack Jurek. When Jurek appeared a few weeks ago on the telecast, Stone began calling him Jack "The Ripper" Jurek, and I don't think I've laughed as hard in years as I did when I heard that.

Now I don't know Jack Jurek personally, and I haven't even seen him bowl that many times on TV, but the overwhelming impression I've nevertheless formed of him and his game is that they're about as far away from "ripping" anyone or anything as anyone or anything could be. During Jurek's appearance in the final match of the USBC Masters in 2006, Randy Pederse said, "You look up 'nice guy' in a dictionary, there's a picture of Jack." And that's how he comes across to me.
What's more, unlike power players such as Robert Smith, Sean Rash, Jason Belmonte, and Tommy Jones. Jurek is a much more diminutive stroker of the old school variety. He's a very capable bowler, but his ball seems to nudge the pins over more than it rips them off the deck.

So, Jack "The Ripper" Jurek sounds about as playfully ridiculous as would Mike "The Ripper" Aulby or, for that matter, Wally "The Beast" Cox. Come to think of it, Aulby and Jurek kind of resemble one another in appearance and in the softness, albeit an effective one, of their games. Neither looks like he would or could so much as rip a fly apart much less rip apart pin racks. If you're going to call someone "The Ripper," how about Rudy "The Ripper" Kasimakis for the burly cranker with the intimidating demeanor and pin crushing power?

But Kasimakis' first name isn't Jack, and calling HIM "The Ripper" wouldn't have the delightful irony that leaves me in stitches every time I hear it that Jack "The Ripper" Jurek does. Does Rob Stone appreciate the incongruity of his creation? I don't know. I don't suppose it matters to those of us who do. Does Jack Jurek like his new nickname? I don't know the answer to that either. But I don't suppose there's anything he can do about it even if he doesn't like it. It's going to stick with him for the rest of his life, so he might as well join the rest of us and laugh out loud about it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Makes Walter Ray Williams Great?

"How do you think he does it? I don't know. What makes him so good?"
--The Who, from the rock opera album "Tommy"

Last night I watched an ESPN Classic showing of the last ABC TV broadcast of the venerable "Pro Bowlers Tour." At the very end, Chris Schenkel was in tears and Nelson Burton Jr's voice cracked with emotion as he said "Goodbye" for the final time on that show. I suppose it could be said that that poignant moment marked the end of bowling's Golden Age.

But it marked only what might be called the middle of Walter Ray Williams' remarkable career. He had already been PBA Player of the Year three times when he graced that final episode of the "Pro Bowlers Tour" in 1997 and defeated Pete Weber for the title. Incidentally and, I think, fittingly, Pete Weber threw the very last ball on a show on which his legendary father, Dick, threw the first ball 35 years previously.

But Walter Ray Williams, who was already bowling's all-time money winner, has gone on to win three more Player of the Year honors, has been named Greatest Bowler of the 1990's and of the first decade of the new century by Bowlers Journal International, has appeared almost seventy more times on TV, has won many more titles, and has enlarged his all-time lead in money earnings.

Moreover, at the ripe old age of 50, when most professional bowlers are either retiring completely from competitive bowling or plying their trade on the much easier PBA senior tour, Walter Ray Williams, with his overpowering performance in the USBC Masters finals last Sunday, is tearing up the regular tour and dominating his young rivals by leading in virtually every category and could, at his present pace, win his unprecedented seventh Player of the Year award.

How does he do it? What DOES make him so good? Well, first of all, he has obviously kept himself in excellent shape, looking as fit and trim today as he did the first time I saw him on TV.

Second, his bowling, horseshoe, and golfing skill suggests that he has, as Hall-of-Famer Barry Asher and many others have commented, phenomenal eye-hand coordination.

Third, he seems extraordinarily able to repeat good shots under the most intense pressure.

Fourth, he's an amzingly effective spare shooter. He's been known to go entire seasons without missing even one single pin spare in competition, and I think I've seen virtually every one of his record shattering 171 televised appearances, and I don't recall him missing more than a couple of single pin spares; they don't call him "deadeye" for nothing.

Fifth, he seems to try on every shot to get the best pin count he can instead of firing throwaway shots out of frustration, boredom, or fatigue.

Sixth, he, as "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark has said, knows what's he's doing out there. He graduated from college with a physics degree and seems to have a keen grasp of bowling physics as well as the ability to translate his theoretical knowledge into winning practice.

Seventh, he really seems to love the competition. Many guys his age burn out, but he says he plans to keep at it until he's no longer exempt on tour. Of course, it could be argued that it's easy to retain your enthusiasm for the game when you're still winning and exempt. But I'm guessing that his enthusiasm is a key reason why he's continuing to do so well.

Finally, Walter Ray seems to be able to effectively play where no one else can. I know that some say he's not as versatile as a Norm Duke or Chris Barnes who can score very well and win tournaments playing just about any line imaginable, whereas Walter Ray seems to win most when he's able to play between the gutter and ten board.

But what these detractors seem to overlook is that when Williams wins a tournament playing an outside line, he's often the only one who has any success doing it. Everybody else has moved deep inside and not always because they have a lot more "hand" than Williams does. Many times, even the lower rev players can't hang out where Williams does because they just can't throw hard enough, with the right ball roll, and with enough accuracy and consistency to succeed. "Walrer Ray is [uniquely] able to make the condition play to him rather than him playing to the condition," says Jeff Mark. "One reason he is able to play there is that he rolls the ball so early on the lane that it does not get affected as much by the patterns as other people's balls do when it goes through the same spot. So, because his ball rolls so early, it doesn't really over or under see anything. And that's why he's able to get in that zone [on the lane] where he has hold right and hook left," which is the opposite of the hook right and hold left condition that everybody else looks for.

In less technical terms, it's not that Walter Ray can prevail only on lanes that let him play outside. He has the uncanny ability to effectively play outside when no one else can, and, because others aren't playing out there too and messing up his line, he can stay there longer with a good reaction, and his entry angle to the pocket from out there carries strikes as well if not better than the shots of the much higher rev players.

And it's not like he can do this only on a limited range of oil patterns and types of oil with limited kinds of equipment the way we've seen with some bowlers who were hot for a short time when conditions smiled on their games and when they didn't, we never heard from these bowlers again. Walter Ray has been Player of the Year in three different decades going on four through all kinds of oil patterns, oil compositions, and types of bowling balls.

Of course, none of this explains how Walter Ray is able to be so accurate, consistent, and everything else under all that pressure. That's something we'll want to explore in more detail as we learn more about the physical and psychological elements of bowling excellence, not only in Walter Ray's case but in general. Because as self-improvement guru Tony Robbins says, your best chance of achieving your goals is to emulate the qualities and actions of others who have achieved them already. Thus, if you want to be a good bowler, find out what makes great bowlers great and try to be what they are and to do what they do.

In other words, don't be like Mike. Be like Walter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Master of the Masters

"It's deja vu all over again."
--Yogi Berra

Walter Ray Williams last bowled in the title match of the USBC Masters Championship in 2004. It was at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada. He was seeded second to his opponent Chris Barnes. He defeated Barnes that day 268-239 for his first Masters title.

Yesterday, the finals of the 2010 Masters Championship took place. For the first time since 2004, it was held at Reno's National Bowling Stadium. And, once again, Walter Ray Williams was seeded second to Chris Barnes.

Williams bowled well all week and steamrolled over his opponents in match play until he ran into a razor sharp Barnes in the final winners bracket match and was dominated by a hundred pins by the widely acknowledged best bowler on tour, prompting both Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark and ESPN's analyst Randy Pedersen to unequivocally predict a Barnes victory.

Nevertheless, Walter Ray came out firing on all cylinders yesterday against young lion Ryan Ciminelli in the semi-final match and, playing his patented outside line, convincingly dispatched him 258-224 on the way to his showdown with Barnes. But his first ball against Barnes came up high, and a surprised Williams was lucky to leave only a 7 pin instead of a disastrous split. Yet, this was the last time Williams failed to strike as he blasted eleven strikes, most of them "high flush," in a row after that to crush Barnes 290-217 and earn his second Masters title and a $50,000 paycheck, his 8th major title, tying him with Mike Aulby and Pete Weber for second place behind Earl Anthony's ten on the all time list, increase his career national title record to 47, and vault the 50-year-old bowling wonder to the top of the Bowler of the Year points race.

"This is just another little feather, it's just awesome," said a jubilant Williams, who was reported to be leaving afterward for Stockton, CA to celebrate his mother's 75th birthday. When asked about his future bowling plans, Williams replied: "I'm going to go out there and plug along as good as I can, and the year that I'm no longer exempt out here, that's when I will have had enough.

I'm sure both the regular touring players and the bowlers on the senior tour are overjoyed to hear that.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympic Bowling, Anyone?

While watching the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics last night and seeing each competing nation's participants march proudly around the field, I wondered if the USA or any nation will have its finest bowlers joining this magnificent procession at a summer Olympics in the not-too-distant future or ever at all. After all, bowling is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world, and bowlers all over the globe are getting better and better, thanks, in no small part, to the mentoring of great coaches from the USA going abroad to nurture young bowling talent.

But here in this country, serious league and tournament bowling seems to be on an irreversible decline, bowling centers are dying, and the PBA, which still, surely, features the finest bowlers on earth, gets very little respect and, with some notable exceptions, garners poor ratings on national TV and offers prize funds to match. What's more, there seems to be a widespread conviction among the uninitiated here and elsewhere that bowling is a marginal sport at best and, therefore, unworthy of inclusion into the Olympic repertoire.

Can anything be done to elevate the public's perception of bowling, improve its financial viability at the professional and amateur levels, and propel it into the Olympics?

This month's issue of Bowlers Journal International features an article in Jim Dressell's fancifully named "Bowlitically Incorrect" column titled "What Will It Take for the PBA to Claim Its Place in the Pantheon of Elite Sports?" Here, Dressell discusses what took golf, the NFL, and the NBA from relative obscurity to the spotlight and prosperity they enjoy today, and he concludes that great stars like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods in golf; Joe Namath in football; and Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and, preeminently, Michael Jordan in basketball helped launch these sports into stratospheric prominence and lucrativeness. Of course, other sports, such as professional hockey and soccer, have tried to ride the jerseys of their stars to the same heights of success but failed. And now, says Dressell, the PBA is using Tom Smallwood, Jason Belmonte, and (I would add) Kelly Kulick to improve its own fortunes. "So far, it hasn't worked," he says, "But give it some time."

It seems to me that bowling would be more respected, popular, and lucrative if it became an Olympic sport. Conversely, bowling would have a much better chance of becoming an Olympic sport if it were more respected, popular, and lucrative in this country and abroad. It seems to me that the two go hand-in-hand, like chicken and egg.

But how do we improve the chances of both happening? Or is the nature of bowling such that this is impossible, in that there will never be enough people, especially in this age of increasingly fast, violent, and "extreme" sports, capable of appreciating what a complex, challenging, and great sport bowling is at the highest levels of competition?

I'll be revisiting this issue repeatedly over time, because it is surely one of the most important issues facing bowling.

Quote of the Day

"I always believed that if you are not trying to get better, you are getting worse. Sometimes we have to go outside of our comfort zone to learn more about our personal perimeters."
--Bill Spigner, USBC certified Gold level coach and Bowlers Journal International columnist

Friday, February 12, 2010

Masters Finalists

Well, the match play dust has settled and the four finalists for Sunday' USBC Masters telecast have been determined. Lefty Mike Scroggins will take on lefty rookie sensation Ryan Ciminelli in the first match. The winner will bowl against Walter Ray Williams. And the winner of that match will face the great Chris Barnes for the prestigious title.

Xtra Frame's "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark says Barnes is going to win it, and Barnes certainly does look intimidatingly sharp right now. But I, as always, am rooting for Walter Ray Williams. By the way, Williams won the Masters in 2004, and that was the last time this great event was held in Reno's bowling stadium.

Quote of the Day

"If you can do it with a pencil, you can do it with a bowling ball."
--Fred Wolf, legendary bowling announcer

The Real King of Bowling

I am really excited! I just watched a live bowling match for the ages. It was at the USBC Masters in Reno. Chris Barnes was bowling Wes Malott in the winners bracket in a three game total pin match. Barnes had trouble carrying strikes the first two games and Malott jumped out to a 54 pin lead going into the final game. It really looked like Chris, as great as he is, was out of it against last year's PBA Bowler of the Year and "King of Bowling" Wes Malott. The commentators were speculating that if Barnes shot a 270 game and Wes faltered a little, Barnes could still pull it out, but I don't think they seriously believed that this would happen.

Well, Barnes moved his line left and proceeded to pack every ball solidly in the pocket for about as perfect a 300 game as you'll ever see and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in one of the most impressive clutch performances I've ever seen. As Xtra Frame's redoubtable "bowling doctor" Jeff Mark said, there has been nobody in Chris Barnes' league for the past three or so years, and he just showed as emphatically as one could ever hope to why he's the best bowler in the world.

And Xtra Frame just proved, as emphatically as possible, why it's a true bowling fan's dream. For just $65 a year, you can see what I just saw (although the service is free all this week) and much, much more over the course of a season, and, as Jeff Mark said today, you can learn enough by watching the bowling and listening to the expert commentary of guys like Mark and guests like Ritchie Allen, John Jowdy, Mark Baker, Sean Rash, Parker Bohn, Wes Malott, and Chris Barnes, more than enough to recoup your expense several times over if you bowl good leagues or tournaments.

I can't wait for this evening's matches that will decide who makes it to the televised finals Sunday. By the way, look out for Walter Ray. The 50-year-old wonder of wonders is steamrolling his way through match play right now, having flattened his latest opponent, Mike Scroggins, into a pancake and tossed him out of the winners bracket with a 778 series after destroying Tom Smallwood and eliminating him from competition with a 734 series in the match before that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I try not to treat one shot any differently from another but rather focus on making the best shot I can each and every time; by doing so, you focus on execution rather than outcome. Chances are that if you execute well, the score will take care of itself."
--Cara Honeychurch

Entering Match Play of the USBC Masters

Match play of the USBC Masters at the cavernous National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada is about to begin. And even though anyone with a sanctioned 190 or higher league average could bowl in it provided he or she put down $500, and a lot of people I've never heard of in the field of 267 took the plunge, it should come as no surprise that the 64 to make it to match play are dominated by the names we bowling fans all know and mostly love. That's right, even though the great Norm Duke surprisingly didn't make the cut, just about everybody else who is somebody on tour did.

Brian Voss led after the first five game block of qualifying, averaging an awesome 248. Chris Loschetter led after the second block with a 234 overall average and ended up leading all qualifiers after a total of fifteen games with a 233 average, followed by Jason Belmonte, Patrick Allen, Chris Barnes, and Ryan Shafer, with Tommy Jones, Wes Malott, Pete Weber, Mike Scroggins, Mike Koivuniemi, and Eugne McCune all in the top 15.

However, it doesn't really matter a whole lot how these guys (and, yes, they're all guys this time, even though some women did participate) scored in qualifying, because those scores are now tossed aside and the bowlers, including last year's champion John Nolen, who was seeded directly into match play, will now engage in double elimination match play until only four players are left standing to bowl in the live televised finals this Sunday at 3 PM EST on ESPN. Match play is a 3 game total pin format.

Match play today begins at 7 PM EST and can be watched with scintillating commentary for free on PBA Xtra Frame. It will conclude God knows when tomorrow night. I'm going to have my ringside seat here at my computer, and I hope you'll join me at yours. There should be some very exciting action as a great field of the finest bowlers in the world scratch and claw each other to make it to Sunday's finals.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Walter Ray was in his prime when Mark Baker was in his prime, and he's still in his prime."
--Jason Thomas, on Xtra Frame

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Just let the ball roll off your hand as you complete a straight follow-through. Trying to aim it by using muscle as you release it only causes problems in hitting the target consistently. Trying to hit your target only causes inaccuracy. A good armswing will be accurate and does not need help to hit the target. Learning to trust this concept is the sign of a good mental game. Accuracy is in the swing, not in the force of the hand."
--Michelle Mullen, Bowling Fundamentals: A Better Way to Learn the Basics

Monday, February 8, 2010

RPI Fiasco

There's an interesting article in Bowlers Journal International about "What Went Wrong at the RPI?" The RPI or Regional Players Invitational is a yearly tournament that has the top PBA regional players from all the different regions of the country competing for cash. What's more, the top seven finishers earn exemptions the following season on the national tour. 2009's tournament was held recently at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno. But there was a big problem with the proceedings.

You can read all about it in the BJI article, but the gist of it is that bowlers on one end of the house started the round on what was supposed to be the Cheetah pattern but was actually the Chameleon pattern laid down by mistake, while bowlers at the other end started on the Cheetah pattern like they were supposed to. Furthermore, depending on where they bowled after the first game, some bowlers ended up bowling several more games on the Chameleon pattern than others did. Despite the fact that bowlers complained about it from the outset, the decision was made to let them continue, and the mistake was confirmed only after the round was completed. Then the decision was made to let the scores stand instead of taking measures not to put the bowlers who bowled more games on the mistaken Chameleon pattern at a disadvantage. Also, the lane maintenance man who made the mistake was fired.

The article raises two questions. First, should the lane maintenance man have been fired? He argued that everyone makes mistakes, that he was profoundly sorry for his, and that he'd make sure he never made such a mistake again. Others argued that his mistake, by forcing some bowlers to bowl more games on what is widely acknowledged to be a more difficult pattern,. unfairly impacted livelihoods, and, thus, he deserved to lose his job for his carelessness.

The second question the article raises is, Did the PBA make the right decision about letting the scores stand, or should it have done something to take away the unfair advantage that those who bowled more games on the Cheetah pattern had over those who bowled fewer?

Finally, I have a question of my own. How many of those who bowled more games on the mistaken Chameleon pattern finished in the top seven and earned tour exemptions for next season?

Quote of the Day

"It doesn't matter what's out there. If you can repeat shots, have a little bit of knowledge of where the oil goes, and be able to follow it and visualize it and then just repeat shots and throw the right ball that gets you somewhere close to the pocket, you can become a successful bowler."
--Ritchie Allen, PBA Exempt Player

Chris Paul Invitational Thoughts, and Things to Come

I posted last Friday in my entry Ludacris or Ludicrous? that I had reservations about the upcoming Chris Paul Celebrity Bowling Invitational. I said I hoped the program didn't reduce some great PBA bowlers to clowns and demean the sport of bowling. Having watched it Sunday, I have to say that I needn't have worried. Not that I was THAT worried. But I needn't have worried at all. The program was a silly but mildly enjoyable piece of bowling entertainment fluff that hopefully earned a lot of donations for the needy beneficiaries of Chris Paul's charity and attracted long-term fans to the PBA.

The end doesn't always justify the means, but, I think THESE ends justified THESE means. But now let's get back to REAL bowling with this week's Masters tournament in Reno. I'll be following the action on Xtra Frame and reporting on it here as well as recapping highlights from last week's Xtra Frame coverage of the Dick Weber Open.

I will also be bringing a new feature to this blog--a daily quote about bowling that I think is informative, wise, entertaining, or otherwise worth reading and remembering. Actually, I may not post one EVERY day, but I'll darn sure try to most days, starting today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mission Accomplished

It looks like Ebonite has a winner on its hands with its new Mission bowling ball. Kelly Kulick threw the Mission all week in Las Vegas to become the first woman to win the PBA Tournament of Champions and, for that matter, any PBA Tour title. But it might have been different if Mika Koivuniemi had pulled his Mission out of the bag a few frames earlier in his match with Kulick. He didn't start using it until the seventh frame and went off the sheet with strikes from then on for a 223 game to Kulick's 227. A week later, Mike Fagan used the Mission to win his first singles PBA Tour title. That's two weeks in a row that the Mission has taken someone to a title. Who will be next?

Of course, I think legendary bowling coach and writer John Jowdy made a good point a few weeks ago on Xtra Frame when he opined that most bowlers are better off spending their money on good coaching than on a new bowling ball. But at the upper levels of bowling competition, or if you really need to upgrade your arsenal, it looks like the Mission may be a good choice right now. It was released to the general public on February 2.

Winning ball layouts
Xtra Frame's post game shows revealed that Kulick used a Mission with pin down and no extra hole to win the TOC title, and Fagan used a Mission with the pin 4" above the middle finger, CG "right down the middle," no extra hole, and mass bias right under the thumb to win his title.

Ludacris or Ludicrous?

PBA stars Pete Weber, Norm Duke, Wes Malott, and Jason Belmonte will be featured in the televised second annual "Chris Paul PBA Celebrity Invitational." It took place last month at a military base in New Orleans and benefits Chris Paul's CP3 Foundation. It airs on ESPN this Sunday at 2 PM EST.

The event has four doubles teams consisting of Wes Malott and Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward, Pete Weber and Grammy Award-winning artist and actor Ludacris, NBA star Chris Paul and Jason Belmonte, and Norm Duke is paired with the winner of a roll-off between Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodly and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio.

Chris Paul says bowling is his "second favorite sport" behind basketball, and most of you have probably seen the commercial he does with Chris Barnes. But you may not have seen this video of him going one-on-one in basketball with Barnes.

There was a brief discussion on the PBA website about Sunday's event. The consensus was that it's a good thing that will do nothing but benefit Chris Paul's charity and draw more fans to the PBA. But, contrarian that I can sometimes be, I posted the following comments:

I have mixed emotions about this event. On the one hand, I think it might draw younger fans to the sport and to PBA telecasts, and this would be a wonderful thing. But, on the other hand, I don't want to see the PBA demean itself and the great sport of bowling by staging a complete farce and turning its stars into clowns. I hope that Sunday's telecast is entertaining and fun and that it attracts new viewers to the PBA and the sport of bowling without painting the PBA and bowling in general in an unfavorable light. Bowling doesn't get enough respect as it is. Let's not do anything to make this problem worse...One additional point. I understand that Norm Duke injured his ankle during this event. Does anyone know how it happened? Did it happen while he was "clowning" around? However it happened, it caused him to withdraw from one of his beloved "majors"--the TOC--and it may adversely affect him for some time to come."
I'll probably watch the show Sunday, and I may have more to say about it afterward. If you watch it too, I'd be curious to know what you think of it and about the reservations I've expressed in advance. Do you think this kind of event demeans bowling and PBA bowlers in any way, or is it "all good"? Below is a brief preview of the program.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's the Best Way to Practice?

I recently mentioned an exchange that "Bowling Doctor" Jeff Mark had with PBA exempt bowler Ritchie Allen on Xtra Frame last week regarding the best way to practice on easy conditions to prepare for difficult ones. That is, many of us aren't readily able to bowl in PBA Experience or Sport leagues, but we still want to improve our games so that we can be competitive on tougher league or tournament conditions when the need arises.

As you may recall, Mark and Allen had conflicting philosophies of how to do this. Allen argued that when you bowl in competition on any condition, your aim is to strike as often as you can by finding the best line to the pocket, playing that line, and executing as well as possible on every shot. Therefore, when you're practicing, you should do the same thing that you would in competition no matter how easy the shot is. Find the line that gives you the best pocket and strike percentage and play it so well that you can string "forty strikes" in a row. If you can do that on an easy "house" condition, you can apply that same method to bowling on much more difficult PBA or sport conditions. After all, even on a tough condition, you're still looking to find and play the line that maximizes your strike percentage.

On the other hand, Jeff Mark argued that if you play the easy line--or, as he calls it, "on the china"--on a regular house shot, the margin of error and inconsistency that this allows you to still hit the pocket and carry strikes with will prevent you from developing the accuracy, speed control, consistent release, and ability to repeat shots that you'll need to do well on demanding lane conditions. So, Mark's philosophy is "Practice where it's hard, play where it's easy."

I admit that I think both make valid points, and it's long seemed to me that the best way to practice is to do what both Ritchie Allen and Jeff Mark advise. That is, spend some of your time practicing easy and the rest of it practicing hard. For if I were always to do what Mark advises and move my line way left of the optimal line, I would encounter so much oil that I'd have to slow my ball way down to hit the pocket and carry with any consistency whatsoever, and that might make it difficult for me to throw harder playing a more effective line on that or some other condition in league or tournament play.

On the other hand, if I always play the easiest or most forgiving line that allows me to throw as hard as I want, not only will I not develop the "softer" game that I may need on some conditions, but I may also fail to develop the overall precision and consistency I need on tougher conditions. Yet, just as one can develop bad habits from practicing on very easy or forgiving conditions, I think one can also acquire bad habits, such as throwing the ball too fast or slow or "aiming" the ball too much, from bowling only on conditions or by playing only lines that are extremely demanding. It seems to me that there needs to be some balance.

Interestingly, it also seems to me from my personal experience over the past forty-five years or so that "easier" houses tend to produce better junior and adult bowlers than harder ones do. Has this been your experience too? If so, why do you think this is? I speculate that easier houses tend to encourage people to bowl more than harder ones do, and when they bowl more, they get more enthusiastic and serious about the game, and then they get better.

What do you think? And how do you practice on easier house conditions for competition on more demanding ones?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Physics of Mike Fagan's Bowling

Most people don't think of sports as physics exercises, but, really, how could you redefine what bowling is? Bowling is trying to most efficiently get the momentum of the ball into as many different pins as possible.
--Jeff Lieberman

In the wake of Mike Fagan's great bowling last week in the Dick Weber Open, below is a fascinating segment I saw sometime back on a program called "Time Warp" in which the physics of bowling in general and of Fagan's unique armswing and release in particular are analyzed scientifically.

Is Pete Weber a Bad Boy?

After his latest outburst on TV, I'm more convinced than ever that Pete Weber has no class. His outbursts do nothing but hurt the image of bowling.
--Myra Crosby

Unless you have bowled in a tournament named after your late father and had someone distract you during a shot, I don't care what you think.

--Robert S.

Well I agree that PDW should have said something, but what I don't agree with is how he said it. All I know is that his father would have never acted like that. He would have said something like please could you not take any pictures while I am shooting.

wtf? A guy can't go off anymore? You guys who are trying to turn professional bowlers into professional role models are the ones who need to lay off.

In my previous entry, I said that my next post would recap highlights from last week's Xtra Frame coverage of the Dick Weber Open. However, something of a controversy has arisen that I'd like to address today. It concerns Pete Weber's angry scolding of a photographer during his televised match Sunday with Bill O'Neill. He claimed that the photographer distracted him in mid-approach by taking photos of him. He pointed at the photographer and yelled: "Do not flash the camera in my approach! I'm telling you, don't do it! If she flashes that camera again on my approach...I HEAR it!"

There's been quite a discussion of this on the PBA website (click here to follow it). Some have called Weber a "crybaby and a "jerk" who was showing his "true colors" and "just looking to blame someone other than himself" for the fact that he didn't strike. Others defend him for speaking up against photographers who defy the rules and distract the players trying to earn their livelihood in a sport that demands deep and unflinching concentration. Some maintain that professional bowlers are "ambassadors" of the sport and need to act in a dignified manner on the lanes at all times no matter what. Others argue that bowlers don't get paid enough or have enough security to be held to the highest standards of conduct when they're provoked by photographers and fans not following the rules.

Now there's some question about what exactly happened and whether any rules were violated. Weber first complained about the flashing of the camera but later referred to the sound of it. Several commented that they attended the televised finals and that what actually happened was that a photographer working for ESPN, the PBA, or the USBC was on the side taking non-flash photos with a high speed camera, and that Pete was reacting to the rapid clicking of the camera as it reeled off approximately five photo shots while he was approaching the foul line.

One person commented that the photographer was following PBA rules which state: "PBA rules require all photos and video during competition be taken from behind the competitors and with available light (no flash photography or camera lights) EXECPT DURING THE TELEVISED FINALS WHEN PHOTOGRAPHERS WILL BE ABLE TO USE A DOWN-LANE PHOTO BLIND USING TELEVISION LIGHTING." This person went on to conclude, "Therefore, the photographer who was doing her job, was in the correct spot and in the right to do whatever she needed to do for her assignment that day."

I wasn't there. I don't know exactly what happened. But this is the comment I posted yesterday to the discussion:

I think photographers should honor the rules governing their conduct at these events, and the bowlers should be held to high standards of conduct as representatives of the PBA. I think that Pete Weber had reason to be angry, but I don't think he handled the situation as well as he should have. But he's not the monster some make him out to be. He's a supremely gifted and intensely competitive bowler who sometimes lets his emotions on the lanes get the best of him. Yet, from what I understand, he's a rather nice person off the lanes and not at all the unbridled jerk I used to think he was before I saw "A League of Ordinary Gentlemen" and became more familiar with him not just as his "PDW" persona but as a living, breathing human being who, like all of us, has his character strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I think the PBA should make sure that its thirst for publicity doesn't overpower its professional integrity and allow "bad boys" to throw temper tantrums on center stage."
In retrospect, after reviewing the video, reading all the comments thus far, and giving the matter more thought, I still think Weber overreacted to what may very well have been a big distraction, but that he didn't behave as badly as I first thought, nor did the photographer necessarily do anything wrong so far as the rules in place at the time were concerned. In another forum, I suggested that Pete be fined for his conduct. I no longer believe that he deserves to be fined.

However, I do believe that PBA bowlers ARE professionals who SHOULD represent their profession in an honorable light and that the powers-that-be within the PBA should make this very clear to the players. As far as I'm concerned, bowling needs to improve its image by presenting itself as a complex, albeit exciting, sport of refinement and class, and not have players engaging in John McEnroe-like outbursts on center stage, not that PDW's conduct Sunday sunk to that level.

I further believe that all of us need to become less confrontational and more respectful and civil to one another. But I also believe that if photographers unduly distract the players even when they follow the rules laid down for them, those rules need to be modified so that players can compete at their very best and have the best chance possible to earn the living on which they and their families depend. Let's hope that there are no more incidents like what we saw last Sunday for everyone's sake.