Build up your arsenal—smoothly: with today’s developing technology in balls and on the lanes, smart bowlers focus on filling gaps with new equipment in their bowling bags

Build up your arsenal—smoothly: with today’s developing technology in balls and on the lanes, smart bowlers focus on filling gaps with new equipment in their bowling bags – A PRO’s Approach

Parker Bohn, III

MOST BOWLERS HAVE AT least one ball in their arsenal that’s on the older side. And by “older,” I don’t mean 10 or 20 years old. Anything more than four years old is practically ancient by bowling ball standards. In fact, for most bowlers, an “old” ball is one they’ve been using for only one or two years.

It’s easy to imagine why a 20-year-old ball is close to unusable on today’s lanes, if only for the wear and tear the ball has suffered over two decades. But a one- or two-year-old ball becoming obsolete is harder to understand. Let me explain.

Most of you who have bowled for at least 10 years stretch back into the regular urethane era. In the 1980s, urethane was the ball of choice, the ball of power. Most bowlers would go to urethane to string strikes and increase hook power down the lane, in turn raising their averages. Urethane technology allowed bowlers to throw a bigger hook than ever before, to the point where it really looked as if everyone–even the straightest player–eventually would be able to create a hook. Technology had reached a level where it appeared that if bowlers couldn’t create hooks, they could just go out and buy them.

Technology kept improving. As a result, so did the bowlers. There seemed to be endless ways to produce ever-higher scores.

In the early 1990s, reactive resin came into play. This new technology enabled bowlers to get even more hook. As dazzling as regular urethane balls were, reactive resin gave bowlers new insight into what “hook” really meant. Reactive resin balls enabled bowlers to hook the ball back from almost any part of the lane at almost any time.

Much like urethane technology progressed through the 1980s, reactive resin technology continued to develop through the ’90s, with startling results. Within a given year, a new reactive resin ball would come out on the market that would outhook every other ball out there. If bowlers thought technology was flying ahead in the 1980s, they marveled at how it increased to supersonic speeds by the ’90s.

With reactive resin, not only could bowlers create more hook, but more importantly, they were generating more power from all parts of the lane. Scores started escalating at a rapid pace, and needless to say, a lot of scoring records were broken.

Which leads us to the 2000s. The last few years have brought a new type of ball to the market, a proactive ball. This ball gives you as much overall hook as reactive resin, but a different kind hook. It’s a little complicated to explain. Proactive hooks are not as dramatic reactive resin hooks, but they offer more managed, efficient hook. They tend to grab the lane a little bit sooner, therefore stabilizing the back end and avoiding the giant snap that reactive resin gives you on some conditions.

Some bowlers wonder why you’d buy a proactive ball and accept a less dramatic hook down the lane. It has a lot to do with the surface itself. Over time, new balls and different surfaces and cores are developed by bowling ball manufacturers–while at the same time, new surfaces have been developed, along with new lane oils, to combat the new bowling balls. (Yes, lane oil might enhance your score, but oil is laid down first and foremost to protect the lanes.) Twenty years ago, bowling ball technology was such that you could bowl all day without carving a path in the lane oil. Now I bowl three games with my proactive ball, and I have a path Proactives really take the oil off the lane.

Because of this, lane maintenance crews in every center are looking for ways to make the lanes hold up longer, using the newest oil and surfaces on the market. But stepping up the surface oil to combat today’s technology also renders an older ball ineffective by really straightening it out. The ball you purchased in the early 1990s that hooked a ton has lost its way. Today’s oil and lane surfaces have erased most of its hook, and it’s traveling straighter than ever before.

So what happens if your “A” ball–your top choice of strike ball–is 10 years old and obsolete? What about a five-year-old ball that’s a little nicked, or a two-year-old ball that’s gotten really tracked up?

When you buy a new ball and have it fitted, you go out and roll. On your first rolls, it appears that the new ball hooks an immense amount. And that may be true, especially depending on what of ball it is. But you can’t overlook the fact that you’ re rolling a virgin ball, a surface that has not been on a lane with any oil before those first few shots.

Your first rolls with a new ball give you the greatest breaks you’ll ever have. But after just a few shots, the hook will taper down, giving you a more accurate measure of you true hook.

Many bowlers fall into a trap: When their new balls look and feel so good they think they’ll never need another one. But even as they’re thinking that the “miracle” ball is soaking up oil from the lane–oil is filling the pores of the ball–which always straightens out ball to some extent.

Here’s an odd situation that pops sometimes: You think you’ve got plenty of hook and are feeling great about your ball. But you don’t realize that because you haven’t cleaned the surface and extracted the oil in a while, your ball actually underperforming. It’s capable of much more action off your hand, but it is so oil-soaked it can’t live up to its potential. This happens to an extreme degree with a ball that’s been in your arsenal for a long period of time without having surface freshened up.

Bowlers always ask me, “When does a ball wear out?” The best way to find out is to roll your ball down the lane once twice. Look at the oil ring around the ball. Are there a lot of scratches or scuffs on the surface where the ball is meeting the lane? Not big scratches or nicks than you got from the ball return–those a insignificant–but deeper, more voluminous scratches. Scratches within the ring on your ball are another thing entirely–a bad thing. If your ball has tremendous number of scratches where meets the lane, you probably need a new ball.

The best person to help you with that decision is your local pro shop operator. Chances are, your older ball grabs the lane early and really doesn’t do much more down the lane, due to the fact that the ball is exhausted (i.e., tracked out).

Some bowlers have a tendency to turn the ball quite a bit–think Robert Smith. Smith’s ball on the first two or three revolutions will roll similarly to the average bowler–that’s it–but keep in mind that Smith gets 20-plus revs on every shot. All those revs create track flare, and track flare produces different oil rings on a every revolution the ball makes on the lane. Most of those oil rings go to a different surface on the bowling ball–a fresher surface–creating more and more hook.

Walter Ray Williams Jr. will have less track flare with his rolls, so the oil rings on his ball are going to be in a much tighter pattern. An extremely straight player–or one who doesn’t hook at all–will have a ring that’s much narrower.

People may want to compare my flare to Walter Ray’s. Our flares will be comparable, coming from different sides of the lane. But other guys–like Pete Weber, Smith, Jason Couch, or Chris Barnes–will create track flare of drastic measures.


So what comprises a typical bowling ball arsenal? At all times, you need to have a hooking ball. Everyone has a comfort zone in terms of hook, and whatever that is, that’s your lead (A) ball. But whenever you bowl, you also should have a plastic/straight ball. Ideally, you also should have at least one other ball in your bag that’s in-between your hook and your straight ball.

The general rule of thumb is that you should have a ball to play for every five boards on the lanes. If your plastic ball is more than 10 boards straighter than your hook ball, you need at least one ball that will play in-between them. If your straight ball is 20 boards straighter than your hook ball, you’ll need at least two (and up to four) additional balls in your arsenal, all playing between five and 10 boards differently than the others.

Basically, the more hook you have with your A ball, the more balls you should have in your arsenal. An arsenal with good balls at live-board intervals is ideal, and if you have a big hook, that will make for one heavy ball bag. The danger in having more than five boards between balls is that you will end up with a void in your attack. Situations will arise on the lanes that you have no means to address, potentially giving an opponent an unfair advantage.

If your arsenal/game is a little straighter than most, you might even want a ball that hooks more than your A ball. It won’t necessarily be an everyday ball, but it will be one that matches a void, an extreme or uncommon condition.

I know a lot of bowlers are set in their ways. That old, trusty ball is their answer to every situation that pops up in their leagues. But if you want to improve your game, you have to grow. And in our sport, in order to grow, you need the latest and greatest balls available.

From the Cold End of the Bench

AN OLDER, OILED-UP BALL STILL has value. You never know when you’ll hit a condition where it will work. Maybe the oil is lighter n the summer, the center changed up its oils and created a better condition for your “old” ball. Old Faithful might be the bail that you can control on a new or altered condition. And when conditions settle down, r you can go back to using the latest and greatest balls in your arsenal that will give you a better grip on your game.

Hall-of-Famer Parker Bohn III is a two-time PBA Player of the Year. To send him a question about your game, log on to the “Bohn Zone” at Parker’s Web site,

COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing

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