Success Is All in How You Approach It

Success Is All in How You Approach It – bowling

John Jowdy

From three steps to seven, some basic guidelines provide a foundation that solidifies any bowling style

YOU CAN’T START YOUR CAR WITHOUT a key. You can’t enter your home without opening the door. Let’s face it, we usually take the first steps of a task for granted. In bowling, if you take for granted your first movements on the lane–the approach–your game suffers.

One of the most important bowling fundamentals is a solid, rhythmic approach. A solid approach is the catalyst for setting up a quality shot with undue strain or exertion. When you’re secure in your approach, you have a key fundamental in your bag that enables you to perform consistently, shot after shot, game after game, year in and year out.

The trademark of dozens of legendary bowlers has been a smooth approach. Raw power and explosive strike balls aren’t what make players great; rather, perfect timing, finesse, and free armswings ensure their success. When we’re talking about bowlers who’ve mastered the approach, the list absolutely glistens: Earl Anthony, Nelson Burton Jr., Don Carter, Dave Davis, Don Ellis, Billie Golembiewski, Billy Hardwick, Tom Hennessey, Don Johnson, Joe Joseph, Joe Norris, George Pappas, Dick Ritger, Teata Semiz, Dave Soutar, Jim Stefanich, Bob Strampe, and Billy Welu. Each of these bowlers has combined perfect timing with an ideal release point to maximize strike percentage.

Numerous players on the current PBA tour have used their graceful approaches to increase profits from modern bowling balls, which explode on contact with pins. By blending exact timing with average finger rotation and exerting little or no effort, bowlers such as Mike Aulby, Bryan Goebel, Parker Bohn III, Chris Barnes, Tim Criss, Dave Husted, Norm Duke, John Mazza, Patrick Healy Jr., Jeff Lizzi, David Ozio, Rick Steelsmith, Brian Voss, and Danny Wiseman have achieved remarkable success. It’s rhythmic footwork and precisely timed releases that help their rolls strike the pocket with incredible force.

Although the aforementioned players personify strokers in the textbook fashion, power players past and present have also demonstrated the advantages of great footwork. All-time greats Bill Lillard, Carmen Salvino, Pete Tountas, and Harry Smith all planted their slide step firmly and patiently released the ball at the proper point. Conversely, Marshall Holman, who was recently accorded the honor of being named among the top 20 bowlers of the 20th century, released the ball while still sliding. The fiery Oregonian threw one of the most devastating strike balls of his era, confounding bowling scholars with his unique method of execution. In most leading instructional manuals of the day, planting the sliding foot for proper leverage was the pure essence of a strong release. But Holman baffled critics with his unorthodox execution, which he unleashed during his slide, a slide that continued after the ball was well past the release point.

In recent times, Wiseman has gained star status with a similar approach. Although his “slide release” is not as pronounced as Holman’s was, it is nevertheless performed in an unconventional manner. Wiseman and Holman both hold the ball low from a crouched position and defy a conventional pushaway, pulling the ball into the backswing instead of applying a pushaway propelled by the weight of the ball. Both utilize a free forward swing generated from the point of the shoulder.

Most star performers have excelled using conventional three-, four-, and five-step approaches, but some have defied the norm and used six and even seven steps. How many steps constitute the most fitting approach? The answer is incredibly simple: however many feel comfortable. It’s true! The number of steps taken for an ideal approach is not etched in stone.


The late Lee Jouglard, an ABC Hall-of-Famer, took only three steps. He not only won the first ABC Masters Championship, in 1951, but also set an ABC singles record of 775. Amazingly, Jouglard’s high-scoring record stood for 29 years before it was broken by Mike Eaton, at Louisville in 1980. Another immortal, Hall-of-Famer Swede Carlson, also took three steps. Mike Durbin won rifles using three-, four-, and five-step deliveries.

Two of today’s top players, lefthanders Mike Aulby and Parker Bohn III, have earned passage into the PBA Hall of Fame utilizing a four-step approach. Both have notched 20-plus dries and have career earnings of more than $1 million. Aulby and Bohn are similar in that they have artistic approaches, but they are set apart in one particular phase of the game: the strike ball. Aulby employs a soft, delicate release with moderate speed on his strike ball, while Bohn exercises an accelerated follow-through with greater speed.

The legendary Anthony epitomized the classic five-step approach. Anthony, the record-holding PBA titlist, literally danced to the line, solidly balanced at the release point. Unlike power players, Anthony was so calculated in his manner, his release was almost automatic. He was effortlessly smooth and precise, and extremely accurate.

Gary Dickinson garnered eight rifles on the regular tour, including the U.S. Open at Oak Lawn, Ill., in 1980. He extended his career on the senior tour, adding 10 rifles, which pushed his career earnings to well more than $1 million. The lanky, 6’4″ Oklahoma star embodied rhythm and grace in a classic five-step approach. Like most strokers, he relied on precision and finesse. Dickinson’s superb footwork placed him among the most balanced and accurate players in the history of the game.

Five-step PBA stars Husted, Ozio, Randy Pedersen, Voss, and Ricky Ward head a group of “tweeners,” a term reserved for players who are categorized as neither power nor straight players. They fit a classification–power strokers–which, in essence, indicates they put less revolution on the ball as pure power players. Power strokers don’t roll with the force of a power player, but in giving up power, they gain accuracy.

Superstar Walter Ray Williams Jr. is a five-step bowler. He, Bohn, and Duke are the most accurate players on the tour, as documented by the CATS machine, an American Bowling Congress vehicle designed to measure speed and accuracy. Williams, whose precision and hand-eye coordination have earned him 32 PBA championships and six World Horseshoe Pitching titles, is unique among PBA players. He is neither a power player nor a stroker. Instead, he is basically a straight player whose forte is a release featuring an end-over-end roll, delivered with tremendous follow-through and average speed. His five-step approach produces exceptional rhythm and timing. Although Williams’ thunderous follow-through results in rearing up at the delivery, he is able to maintain accuracy. He literally lives in the pocket and is the deadliest spare shooter in the game.

Inasmuch as the majority of PBA touring players resort to five-step approaches, some of the top stars have established golden reputations by utilizing six- and seven-step approaches. Bowling fans in the ’70s and ’80s marveled at Mark Roth’s six- to seven-step approach, which resulted in one of the most thunderous strike balls in bowling history. Roth, honored among the top players of the 20th century, uses anywhere from six to eight short, quick steps in his approach. Like Lillard and a number of other older stars, Roth generates incredible power from a planted slide. Duke, regarded by many of his fellow pros as the most versatile shot-maker on tour, also takes six to seven steps. Unlike Roth, Duke relies on speed control, accuracy, and finesse rather than raw power.

Goebel, another six- to seven-step player, has annexed nine titles, including the 1998 Brunswick World Tournament of Champions. Although Goebel has a slow, deliberate approach, he applies a very late pushaway, which prevents an early swing. Goebel is a late-bloomer. He joined the tour in 1981 and straggled for eight years, primarily due to an early swing. He didn’t capture his first title until 1990 at Tucson, but since then he has become a major force on the pro tour.


In view of the successes enjoyed by the aforementioned bowlers using varying foot patterns, what are the ingredients of a model approach? Well, an ideal approach is one that is performed with rhythm and grace, one that coordinates the armswing with footwork. The two maneuvers react in a piston-like manner, one force propelling the other in an undeterred cadence.

The criterion for precise timing and rhythm are in the coordination of the pushaway and the first step in a four-step approach (the pushaway is the act of placing the ball in motion for the beginning of the armswing). A four-step approach is generally recommended for beginners because it eliminates any additional movements that may inadvertently hinder a bowler’s rhythm. As a matter of fact, I’ve recommended four-step approaches to both amateurs and professional bowlers who have encountered timing difficulties. In my experience with pro bowlers, four steps has been a panacea for players who normally utilize five- and six-step approaches. Although these players did not automatically switch to four steps, they practiced a four-step approach diligently in order to correlate their ball placement. You can accomplish this by pushing away on the first step repetitiously until the cadence becomes natural.

In a five-step approach, I recommend a slight pause after the first step, which permits a bowler to trigger the pushaway with the second step. Why must a bowler wait for his or her second step as the pushaway in a five-step approach? Any movement of the ball prior to the second step will produce an early swing, which causes a bowler to release the ball beyond the desired leverage point. More importantly, an early swing is as detrimental as a late swing, maybe worse. In an early swing, there is no room for error, but a bowler can compensate for a late swing by merely waiting for the ball to descend to the desired release point.

Some of bowling’s greatest players–including Lillard, Salvino, Tountas, and Smith–were extremely successful planting early and waiting for the ball. Conversely, early swings cannot be adjusted to achieve a desired release. They move past the leverage point (a point parallel to the shoulder and ankle), placing the weight of the ball beyond the ankle. The ball is delivered in a skyward movement, better described in bowling jargon as “hitting up on the ball.” There’s no pretty way to hit up on the ball; no matter what you call it, it’s an absolute no-no.

While an early pushaway is detrimental in four-, five-, six- or seven-step approaches, it is the essential ingredient in a three-step approach. As a matter of fact, an early pushaway is the propelling force in a three-step approach. The pushaway for the right-handed bowler is initiated with the first step, off the left foot, and is normally quicker than in other walking patterns. The three-step approach is extremely reliant on a free swing, mainly because of the importance of the force created by the weight of the ball. Any attempt by the bowler to control the swing when using three steps will destroy the possibility of a rhythmic cadence to the foul line and will certainly result in a poor release point.

Three-step approaches among high-average amateurs and professional bowlers are, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. Nevertheless, three-step approaches are still of some use to elderly bowlers, bowlers with slight handicaps, smaller people, and many junior bowlers. Six- and seven-step approaches also are a rarity among topnotch players. When using six or seven steps, it’s critical that the ball is put in motion on the first of the last four steps.


The approach has undergone many variations in foot patterns in modern times, but the conventional method has changed only slightly. This is the textbook manner in which a right-handed player, using a four-step delivery, walks in a straight line for three steps, then shifts the sliding step directly in front of the preceding step.

Frankly, this approach is a rarity in an era of reactive and proactive balls. It constitutes a straight pattern, where the sliding step ends up approximately even with the starting board of the right foot. Some instructors maintain the feet must go in a straight path throughout the approach. This is a grave mistake. If the left foot (the sliding step) ends up exactly where it began, it will shift the weight of the body, plus the weight of the ball, to the right side and cause an imbalance. Consequently, it is absolutely imperative that the bowler’s sliding step be in line with the preceding step. This places the slide under the body to act as a counterbalance and avert falling off of the shot. The armswing should be close to the body to prevent “chicken-winging” or “flying elbow.”

Today we see more and more approaches that feature bowlers drifting left between 10 and 20 boards. These are used by the power players–the Mark McGwires, Sammy Sosas, and Babe Ruths of bowling–who delight in “opening up the lanes.” Power players possess incredible hook balls that cover a path from 15 to 25 boards and enter the pocket at extremely wide angles, angles that permit modern balls to increase strike percentages and literally destroy pins.

Most power players’ method of execution is in direct contrast to that of the textbook player. Power players push the ball away to the left of their bodies and walk away from the swing, opening their shoulders in their last two steps. They proceed to slide from the 35th to the 40th board, laying the ball down somewhere. between the 28th and 33rd board, crossing between the 5th and 6th arrow, and sending the ball to an area between the 5th and 10th board at the break point (all points are dependent on the condition of the lane dressing).

Steve Hoskins and Brian Himmler stand out among those who walk extremely leftward and open up their shoulders on their approach when lanes permit “opening up.” Both unleash super-explosive strike balls. Himmler’s five-step approach features a unique, quick-skipping fourth step, triggering an extraordinary high backswing into an extended long follow-through from the shoulder point.

Hoskins, like Himmler, walks right to left and opens his shoulders. Although Hoskins swings from the shoulder, his follow-through features excessive forearm motion. Rudy Kasimakis, a five-step player, also delights in opening up the lanes. Fellow bowlers have dubbed him “Rudy Revs” because of the incredible revolutions he generates on the ball. Kasimakis has one of the highest backswings on tour, yet he possesses one of the smoothest approaches in the game.

Pete Weber, arguably the greatest talent in the game today, uses a five-step approach. Like Kasimakis, Weber exercises an extremely high backswing, which he developed as a young bowler. Small in stature, he was compelled to add height to his backswing to gain additional speed. As Weber grew older, he maintained this style and incorporated a smooth five-step approach with one of the cleanest releases in the history of the game. Like most power players, Weber drifts to the left and opens up the lanes. Oddly, he has placed himself among the greatest ever with unusually slow ball speed. This is a style 180 degrees away from power players who throw with greater speed in order to prevent an early hook.

Dave D’Entremont is also among the power bowlers who drift to the far left. He joined the tour in 1982 but did not enter the winner’s circle until Fresno in 1992. D’Entremont’s five titles include the 1996 Brunswick World Tournament of Champions. He uses a five-step approach that is smooth as glass and precisely timed for a proper release.

Jason Hurd, Bob Learn, Amleto Monacelli, Ryan Shafer, Robert Smith, and Lee Vanderhoef open the lanes from a slighter angle. While not as extreme as Hoskins and Himmler, they too walk in a leftward approach, applying excessive torque to the ball. Despite their inclination to overpower pins with wide-arcing balls, these bowlers are equally adept at overcoming conditions that are not particularly conducive to wide-hooking balls.

While a display of power is exciting and impressive, it isn’t for everyone. Power strokers can be dominant on dry back-end conditions, which permit wide-hooking balls to literally carom off the break points and drive into the pocket with incredible force. Power playing (“opening the lanes”) does not require pinpoint accuracy; it disregards accuracy and affords power bowlers the luxury of playing an area rather than a certain spot on the lanes.

By the way, I don’t point this out to indict power players at all. A number of power players have managed to successfully harness their power under scoring conditions that require greater accuracy. Power players like Hoskins, Monacelli, Shafer, and Weber make a habit of exhibiting their all-around talents, carting off championship trophies under any and every lane condition. Their success seems simple, but it can only be attributed to extremely hard work. You don’t just wake up one day able to meter your steps in a rhythmic cadence that enables you to arrive at the release point at an exact, precise moment.

The PBA roster is fraught with players who unleash dynamic strike balls that spin more than 20 revolutions in their path to the pins. But timing and accuracy are far bigger advantages to bowlers than high-powered missiles that lack the consistency for overall scoring. Countless players, including tour professionals, unleash explosive balls and have little to show for it. In many cases, their inability to compete with other PBA stars can be traced to a lack of proper footwork, timing, and favorable release points.

Proper footwork is not only significant in strike situations, it is equally important in addressing spares–particularly for power players who specialize in wide-arcing shots. While opening up the lanes on strike shots is a power player’s forte, it is very critical that the body and feet are positioned correctly to convert spares. Straighter shots, accuracy, and proper footwork are far more advantageous than drifting left, opening the shoulders, and delivering high-revolving balls at single-, two-, or three-pin spares.

Accuracy, together with proper footwork, simplifies the game.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group