Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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 pba.com. 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.

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