New Oil? Don’t Add Vinegar – bowling lane conditioning

Parker Bohn, Iii

When you’re getting back into your fall league, don’t be angry if the lanes don’t play the same–treat the center as if you’ve never played there before

YOU KNOW WHAT THE MOST difficult part about bowling can be? Success doesn’t always have anything to do with you, the ball, or the pins. If we could bowl in a vacuum, life would be easy–but bowling is a matter of constantly adjusting to new conditions, equipment, and game situations. You might think that it’s only the touring pros who are constantly dealing with new oil conditions from week to week. But think about your own center, whether you’ve been playing on it for one season or 20. Has it played the same way, week after week, season after season? If it has, you’re bowling in the most unique center on the planet.

As the new bowling season approaches, it’s time to really start thinking about all the factors that can affect your game. What kind of oil condition are you going to face on the lanes? Which of the new balls on the market will suit your game and the oil condition? Is there a new type of oil or finish your center is using? And what happens if you’ve moved to a new area or a new center and you have no idea what’s going to be out there?

A new season, an old center

To some degree, it’s easier on your game if you’re returning to your old, familiar center. But even then, you have to be ready for different lane conditions. The lanes may look the same–39 boards wide, 60 feet long–but did the center change from wood to synthetic boards or resurface the lanes over the summer? After you roll your first ball, you’ll have even more questions. For example, did something change with the lanes, the type or amount of oil? Any tweak in lane conditions can make a big difference in how you’re going to attack the lanes in this new season.

We all should try to play the lanes the way we feel most comfortable, be it inside or outside, straight down-and-in or hooking the entire lane. Your goal no matter where you’re playing is to get your “A” game to match up to what’s out on the lanes to the best of your ability.

After five or 10 minutes, you may notice your ball is doing something it wasn’t doing last year. It might be hooking more or less, staying straight farther down the lane, or duck-hooking quite a bit sooner than it was last season. In any case, you want to be on top of the changes and be ready for the challenge of adjusting to them. Have an open mind; you may even have to make a significant adjustment, like moving right or left. The lanes may be carrying down or breaking down slower or faster. Maybe you noticed there’s almost no carrydown, or the lanes are carrying down quite fast. The lanes could be breaking down more rapidly than last year, or hardly at all.

The bottom line? Find out what adjustments you need to make as soon as you can.

Don’t forget your ball

The change in season doesn’t only concern the lanes. Don’t forget about that thing that’s attached to your hand–yeah, the ball. Your ball isn’t necessarily last year’s relic–I want to be gentle here–but in the few months since last season ended, 30 to 40 balls have come out on the market. If your ball is more than a year old, there could be something out there that not only has a flesh surface (not oil-soaked), but is a notch better than what you have currently. And more likely on the back end, a new ball will hook more.

Once you’ve bowled a few weeks in your new league–before you get too far into the new season–consider stopping by the pro shop. Your pro shop operator may recommend a new piece of equipment that will improve your game, or he or she simply could suggest an adjustment to the equipment you already have. The adjustment could be as simple as just putting in new finger grips because they’re getting a little worn or you’ve taken the summer off (hopefully not). Maybe you need your thumbhole adjusted one way or the other. Or the ball may feel fine; you’re just going into the pro shop to have the operator clean your ball surface or put a new polish on your ball and bring it back as close as possible to brand new.

As for a new piece of equipment, talk to your pro shop operator and see which balls will best suit your game and the current conditions you’re bowling on. Your operator more than likely will be right in tune with any change in condition on your lanes, so he or she will be able to fit new equipment to your game and the lanes, just as a tailor fits a new suit on you. Just remember, your pro shop operator isn’t Houdini.

If you took a little vacation from the game during the summer or were bowling in only one league, getting back up to speed could be as simple as a brush-up game or a quick lesson. Whether you make minor tweaks or major adjustments, no one wants to start the season on a negative note. If you see things aren’t quite right, have an open mind and try to make the proper adjustments–but before you get too far into the season, try to fix your flaw before it turns into a major problem. Fixing a minor problem at its origin is much easier than being forced to fix a major flaw later on.

Bowling in a brand-new center

If you’re walking into a bowling center for the first time, you’re going to treat this new place almost the same as you would if you were going back to your home center and heading into the fall leagues. Yes, it’s your tint time there, and you have no idea what’s going to happen with the lanes, but remember this: Even the center you’ve played in for years can change drastically in a few short months.

One thing you must do when playing a new center is bring more than just your two main balls–bring four or six. Roll the balls you have and see which ones work best. You definitely need to have an open mind and be willing to adapt and adjust to what your ball is telling you to do. Give yourself two or three weeks in the new league, and then take any step forward that you choose.

Let’s say your ball starts going a little too long: If you try hitting it a little harder, you could possibly be muscling up on the ball and attacking it the wrong way. On the surface, that seems to be a minor adjustment, but what you might not realize is that this correction messes with your timing and release in a small way–you’re creating another flaw at the same time you’re trying to correct one. That makes it harder to repeat shots, making a simple game too complicated. Less is more in this instance. Without trying to overhit the ball, it’s easier to repeat shots, and when you repeat shots, eventually your ball is going to attack the pins with consistency. Once your ball starts doing that and you’ve figured out how to get the ball into the pocket consistently, the sky’s the limit.

You have to be extremely open-minded–even after you have a feel for the league and the lanes in your new center. You must pay attention to what’s going on around you and not bowl in a vacuum; always be aware of your environment. Take notice of the subtle changes, because a change that seems minor could possibly make your ball react in some way, shape, or form that you’re not quite comfortable with and turn into a major detriment. When you make the necessary small changes from week to week, you’ve become one step better than you were last year.

It’s a mind game that even the pros are subject to: You play the lanes a certain way two weeks in a row and have some success, and you think your ball won’t ever quit. The next thing you know, the ball is doing nothing the very next week. It’s happened to us all, and that’s a reminder that you always have to be maneuvering and adjusting. To be on the safe side, keep your eyes open and approach every game as if it’s your first.

RELATED ARTICLE: Your Best Tutorial? Tune In

YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY HEARD or read in our “Notes” section [page 13] that the PBA is back on TV, once a week, live, every week of the coming fall season. ESPN is broadcasting all 20 PBA tour events starting in September.

For the bowlers, it means increased, guaranteed prize money. That’s going to make a big difference to us, and to other top bowlers out there who are considering putting their skills up against the best in the world.

There’s also a nice bonus for you bowlers out there. Sure, seeing all the tour events makes for some great viewing. But look at this development as a real boon to your game as well. Every week, you’ll be able to watch the best bowlers in the world. By studying our games and how we adjust them week by week to attack different lane conditions on tour, you’re getting some great tutorials that you can apply to your own game.

ESPN will be providing the best coverage bowling has ever experienced, so it should be easy for you to follow our ups and downs on tour. I hope you’re looking forward to tuning in as much as I am to getting back on tour.

Parker Bohn III is a PBA Hall-of-Famer. To e-mail him a question, visit the “Bohn Zone” at

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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