Where is the sport of bowling going?
I recently read John Jowdy’s article “Are Modern Drilling Methods Technically Illegal?” in the September 2011 issue of Bowling This Month. Mr Jowdy offers his opinion around today’s bowling ball technology and brings in a few bowling notables who wax poetic about where the sport has gone and where it used to be. With all due respect to Mr. Jowdy and his fellow experts, this is one of the most self-righteous articles I’ve read in some time. I guess everyone has the right to voice their opinion. Here’s my disclaimer; this is my opinion on the subject.
Mr. Jowdy and his colleagues go on and on about how what I personally call the “art of bowling technology” has intentionally gone against the sport’s fairness and integrity. The way I read it, they put substantial blame on modern core dynamics for destroying the integrity of the game. They go as far as saying that the modern bowling ball and drilling techniques are illegal.
Now I don’t want to wax poetic myself, but where do we go as a sport when half the bowlers are pining for the good old days of “core-less” rubber balls and lacquered lanes and the other half have no interest in the discussion at all?
I won’t use this as a platform to say where the sport is headed, etc. Rather I would like to simply voice a contrary opinion and maybe put a positive spin on technological advancement.
Most sports have decidedly advanced over the years. Take tennis for example. The balls have changed to some degree but the racquets have advanced substantially. Without discussing too much about the athlete’s physical advancement, we can never really compare Rod Laver’s era of wooden racquets and grass/clay surfaces with Roger Federer’s era of exotic metals and fast hard courts. Back in the day, a tennis player was a wiz if he was hitting 120 mph serve. Today, even the “small” guys hit 130. Does that mean tennis is crap? No. It just means the nuances of the sport have changed. All the athletes can do is adapt to the game as it changes. Look at golf. The new clubs and athletes are whacking golf balls 300+ yards in their sleep. Now what? You still have be accurate and know how to putt. I mean do you really want to go back to your grandfather’s sport?
As for bowling, the game used to be simple, yet difficult. I’m sure many would agree there was a certain elegance to the game as it was. Today, it’s more complicated and less difficult. When I compare the simplicity of old vs the complexity of today, I am referring to the many additional factors added in the last 30 years or so. Bowling ball “cores” were not meant to do anything but ensure the ball is of specified weight. Today, there are fancy Computer-Aided Designed cores meant to act as internal whips, pulling and pushing the ball as they rotate off their axis. The covers are variable as well, with surface changes really being a multiplier when it comes to options. All this adds up to infinite options when it comes to overall ball reaction.
The new bowling balls and consistent lane patterns being laid out have increased scores and equalized the bowlers a bit. Strokers now benefit from stronger bowling balls, while taking advantage of their accuracy. Tweeners benefit from having a good match between rev rate and ball speed, which allows them to have some versatility. Crankers benefit from being able to physically overpower the lanes when need be. So what? Despite margin for error increasing, learn how to be accurate and consistent and you can compete with the best of them. Everybody is getting the ball to the pocket, but not everyone is averaging 240. The added “complexity” requires that a bowler understand the nuances to ensure they have the best carry possible. It’s this lack of understanding that is the difference between 240 and 220.
The beauty of our scoring system is that it is essentially logarithmic in scale. That means that it takes a lot more work to receive further reward as you approach 300. In other words, it’s much harder to go from 220 to 235 than it is to go from 150 to 190. Once you reach a certain level, you need to understand quite a bit about which equipment will have the best carry at that particular time to carry even one more time. Now we’re talking moving that 215 game to a 225. Par may have gone up from 200 to 220 in many houses but guess what? You better be pretty accurate to get to 230 or 240. So if 200 is no longer a par goal, go for more. 235 is more elusive than you may think. A small advancement in the game doesn’t bring you tons of points. But wouldn’t you know it, figure out how to carry one more strike a game and you will gain 10 pins. Look for the refinement and subtlety. Most balls will funnel to the pocket, but you will need to understand the dynamics to ensure you have the one that carries.
To look ahead, we just need to focus on what works in the modern game of bowling, not dream of days gone by. The game can have as much integrity as it ever did. We just need to set the bar higher. I’d like to feel like I’m still playing a great sport.
Rather than wish the game played the way it used to in Earl Anthony’s day, let’s celebrate how Norm Duke has been able to take his game and keep himself in the top echelon even in “today’s” game. I love seeing the Norms and Walter Rays still out there over several decades, proving that there are still fundamentals that are key to success in our sport. It will serve to ensure the young guys realize they still have to be accurate and consistent to win anything at the top level.