December 22, 2011

A Bowler's Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

How are you doing? I hope Mrs. Claus has been nice enough to let you join a bowling league this year even though I'm sure you are busy.

I have been very good this year.  I haven't bowled a single series under 500 and almost half of my games have been in the 200s.  When things aren't going very well, I try not to get visibly upset or take my frustrations out on the ball return.  I don't even yell at splits or flip off solid leaves anymore.

This year for Christmas, I don't need a new ball, bag, shoes or any other piece of equipment or accessories. Here is a list of things I would like for Christmas:

First, I would really like some more confidence.  I have been bowling for 14 years now, but for some reason I still question myself on the lanes when making an adjustment or reading the oil pattern.  I'd really like to be able to just go with my gut and take my shot because nine times out of ten my first impression is the correct one.

I would also like consistency.  I've been getting better about this, but it seems that I always miss my mark at the worst possible moment.  I seem to be the most consistent when I am doing something wrong, particularly when it comes to spares.  So if you have any extra in that bag of yours, now you know you can give it to someone who will appreciate it.

Lastly, if at all possible, I would really like it if you could create a Sport League here in the Pittsburgh area.  I read all these wonderful things about how a season of bowling on professional oil patterns does wonders for your average once you return to house leagues, but I can't seem to find one around here.  I think I'm ready for the challenge, Santa, so if it is possible to have one, I promise I will go, learn and have fun.

Now I know that there are many other bowlers who are less fortunate than me.  Some are using balls that are way past their prime, while others are still renting shoes or have never thrown a 200 game.  I hope you can give those bowlers what they want for Christmas, too, but I hope you give my suggestions some consideration.

Thanks Santa.  As always, I will be grateful for whatever you decide to bring me this year.


Zach from Bowling in the Burgh

December 20, 2011

Week 17 Pre-Bowl Recap

Game 1: 183
Game 2: 208
Game 3: 195
Series: 586
Week Avg: 195
Season Avg: 192


It was a real adventure getting to pre-bowl this week. I showed up at my usual time on Sunday, only to be turned away and told that they never let people pre-bowl for leagues on Sunday afternoons (a surprise to me since I have done this at least a handful of times over the last two seasons). He did say that I could come before 5PM or after 9PM during the week. I called Monday afternoon after work to see if they had a lane available for me to start around 4:30, but I was again declined as expected. When I asked if I could come before 5 on Wednesday, they told me no because high school matches are that afternoon. So my only option was to go bowl last night after 9PM.

I wasn't too sure how the lane conditions would be, but to my surprise it looked like these lanes were never bowled on after being oiled. The conditions were very similar to Thursday nights so I knew exactly how to approach my games, with the exception that the oil would not break down in the last game.

The first game started with a spare and a strike before leaving the 5-10 split and chopping the 5-pin. There wasn't as much room for error when hitting my mark and I would struggle with that all night. I picked up a spare in the fourth frame and then threw a double. I spared two more times and struck in the ninth before leaving the 4-7-9 split after a light hit. I picked up two and finished with a 183 game.

The next game started with a double and a spare. I left another split, the 2-5-7, but couldn't kick out the 7-pin. I shook it off to throw a four bagger before leaving yet another split, this time my first of two 3-10s, opening in the ninth frame. I spared in the tenth and finished the game with a 208.

The third game started with a strike followed by my second 3-10 split and once again I chopped the 3-pin. I doubled, spared, and struck again before sparing in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames. I struck and spared in the tenth to finish with a 195 game and a 586 series.

Lesson Learned

Last night I battled fatigue more than anything, as I'm not used to bowling so late in the evening. I was throwing the ball a bit slower and it took some time to compensate for that. Luckily, because I was throwing a bit slower, if I missed my mark to the left it would hook across the headpin resulting in about three Brooklyn strikes; however, if I missed right the ball would hang out by the gutter. Another problem I had to contend with was drifting on the right lane. During my approach I was walking toward the right gutter instead of straight to the foul line. As a result I was hitting my mark at a poor angle and missing the pocket to the left. I managed to fix that issue in the second half of the second game just by concentrating on my body position during my approach.

On a positive note, my only opens last night were splits; however, four of the five were small and should have been picked up. I was 4 for 4 shooting the 10-pin and 47% of my first balls were strikes. It was my first pretty average night in a while, I am usually either really above or below my average.  Considering the circumstances, I think I am alright with that and I look forward to getting back to action on the 29th. Average is nothing to be upset about, its an accurate representation of your skill level (I'll keep telling myself that).

December 16, 2011

Week 16 Recap

Game 1: 202
Game 2: 183
Game 3: 233
Series: 618
Week Avg: 206
Season Avg: 192

Note: Week 17's recap will be posted early next week as I will be pre-bowling those games on Sunday. 

The Set Up

This was a big week for a few reasons. The first was that we were supposed to vote on whether or not to change the league mid-season from 100% to 80% handicap. Every team selected captains to vote on the issue, but not one word of the vote was mentioned all night. Apparently the decision to change league format mid-season had to be unanimous, and since there were several of us who were adamantly opposed it was decided to scrap the vote altogether. I say kudos to the league officer(s) that decided this was the best course of action, to avoid face-to-face conflict when it really would have been unnecessary.

In other news, this was the end of the second quarter and my team was sitting in second place one point behind the leader and one point ahead of the third place team. We bowled against the first place team head to head, and the third place team bowled to the right of us, which was appropriate since we were really bowling against both teams. On the line was a spot in the end of the year playoffs, as well as over $100 in prize money for winning a quarter.


Practice was a little rough and I only threw four balls, so I really didn't have much of a chance to fine tune my line. I managed to find the pocket on my last shot, but if I missed my mark right or left the ball was going to hang out by the gutter or come in very high respectively.

The first game started with a double and then a few nine count spares. I missed a 10-pin with my Python and made the decision to stick with the plastic for that shot the rest of the night (I would go 3 for 3 in 10-pins with the plastic). Toward the end of the first game I started to come in a little high, leaving a lot of 6-pins. I moved left a board and found the pocket again. Stringing a few strikes together at the end of the game I threw a 202. My team won the first game, earning two points and jumping ahead of the first place team by a point. The third place team also earned two points for a win and an extra point for winning by 100 or more pins. We were now tied going into the second game. Because there wasn't enough pressure already, I was also playing brackets. I gave 14 pins to my first opponent and defeated him to get to the second round.

The second game was all about spare shooting and luckily I have greatly improved on that front. Every hit was in the pocket, but most hits were high and I shot a lot of 6- and 10-pins again. I missed one 6-pin this game, my only open for the game and my second and last for the night. I finally moved up a half step on the approach and the ball found the sweet spot in the pocket. The game was close and coming down to the tenth frame my team was ahead by a few pins. Both myself and the other team's anchor, the best bowler in the league by about 15 pins, had struck in the ninth. He struck the first ball in the tenth and then left the 10-pin. I left the dreaded 2-8 double wood and wasn't extremely confident that I was going to pick it up. Luckily I threw a perfect shot and picked up the spare. I struck the last ball, preserving my team's few pin lead and a win. The other team also won their game, so we were tied heading into game three. I also defeated my bracket opponent, so I was in the finals there as well. My bracket opponent in the final round also happened to be bowling for the team we were battling with to win the quarter.

The third game started with a double and a few nine count spares. I was still coming in high, but luckily I had developed a plan for the third game since this had been an issue the last several weeks. I moved my mark a few inches further out on the lane so the ball would travel a little bit further before snapping into the pocket. I still came in a little high, so I moved my mark one more time, this time a board to the right. Eureka! I threw a four bagger into the tenth frame and then missed my mark left on my last ball to leave the 5-9. I shot a clean 233 game and 618 series, my second over average performance in a row. I easily defeated my bracket opponent who, after going blow for blow for the first five frames, fell apart in the second half of the game. My team won the game (two points) by over 100 pins (another point) and took the series for the night (one more point). Our opponents on the next lane over lost their final game and we won the quarter.

Lesson Learned

Nights like this are why I bowl. It was fun, it was competitive, it was challenging. I always have a great time bowling against Bruce because he is a great bowler with a 212 average. Bowling against him makes me a better bowler because I love the challenge of trying to keep up.  Add to that the fact that we were competing for first place and I was fighting to win the brackets and it made it all that much better. I am very excited about bowling right now, which is good because I have to pre-bowl for next week since we are traveling next Thursday for the holidays.

My big issue tonight was not hitting my mark. This was a problem the majority of the second game before I really made an effort to correct it. I was missing my mark left, which is why I was coming in so high and no adjustments on the approach were working. To correct the issue, I held the ball further right of my body at the beginning of my approach. This gave me a smoother swing since I wasn't trying to maneuver the ball around my body during the throw. Once I corrected my release, I read the lanes well enough to get back on track and throw a great third game. I just need to be more aware of the cause of my problems so I can try to correct them instead of adjusting my game to compensate for it.

Second Quarter Season Review

At the end of the first quarter my average was 189. At the halfway point in the season I am now at a 192. This is a pretty good improvement and a trend I hope to continue into the rest of the year.

Once again the corner pins and missed single pin spares were the story of this quarter. I made the switch to my plastic ball for the corner pins last week and threw four practice games shooting nothing but spares, and so far it really seems to be paying off.

I threw ten 200 games this quarter, about 42% of the games, but week eleven saw my 200-a-week streak end. My low series was a 537 and four out of my five 600 series came in this quarter. Overall, I averaged 196 for the quarter and that is really where I would like to finish for my season average.

December 9, 2011

Week 15 Recap

Game 1: 235
Game 2: 174
Game 3: 194
Series: 603
Week Avg: 201
Season Avg: 191


I started practice with three strikes, so right away I was pessimistic of how my night would go because that is usually a bad omen for me. The lanes were pretty similar to last week, so I knew exactly where I needed to be and that I had to get the ball to move a couple boards right after hitting my mark at the second arrow to get a good pocket shot.

I came in high my first ball and left the 7-pn, which I barely missed to the left. I used the Python instead of the plastic since I had a better percentage with that on Sunday, but I quickly realized that the lanes were a bit too dry for that to work last night. I spared in the second and third frame before firing off a four bagger. I was feeling pretty comfortable and picked up a couple more single pin spares before striking out to finish with a 235. It was a great start and the game made it worth turning down those free Steelers tickets.

The second game started with me missing my mark and, subsequently, the 10-pin using my plastic. I struggled to find a good line to the pocket, but was pretty consistent in picking up my single pin spares. I chopped a 2-4-8 leave for my second open in the game, but struck in the fourth and seventh frames and then filled the tenth to salvage a 174.

The last game started with a turkey and I managed to find a good line for the time being, but the lanes were beginning to change rapidly. The ball started to hook pretty hard in the backend and I left three splits: 3-9-10, 7-9 and in the tenth frame the 4-7-9. When the ball didn't come in high, it was a strike. Luckily I strung enough together to get over average with a 194. I shot a 603 for the night, but after that first game it felt disappointing.

Lesson Learned

I was much more confident in my spare shooting, even though I missed a 7-pin and was 1 for 2 on 10-pins. Every other open was a split or a chopped double wood. I think that Sunday's practice did more for my confidence than it did for changing or refining technique, but sometimes all you need is more confidence.

Last night was an emphasis on memory and recognizing situations I have seen before. The lanes showed similar characteristics to the end of last week and I made the adjustment left in anticipation of the ball hooking more. It paid off with some great pocket hits, but I still need to be better about adjusting late in the third game. Lately it seems that during the last game the lanes break down much faster than during the first two. As a result, the ball is hooking more and coming in high. I think next week, I will move my mark further out on the lane during the third game and see how my ball reacts. Another observation for the memory bank.

Next week is a big one. Its the end of the quarter and four teams, including mine, are fighting for first place and a spot in the end of the year playoffs, not to mention the first place payout. Also, there has been an issue in our league that we are to vote on. I bowl in a Mixed 100% handicap league, but as usual in these types of leagues, there is always one team that is much better than the rest and usually one team that is worse than the rest. Someone suggested that the worst team has an advantage over the better teams because they are given a significant handicap when bowling head to head. As a result, the worst team takes more points and places higher each quarter. While no team can win a quarter more than once in terms of qualifying for the playoffs, a team can win multiple quarters in terms of place money. So this is really more an issue of every team having an equal shot at prize money. The subject of voting next week is to decide whether the league should change to 80% handicap, which would not give the worse teams such a significant advantage.  I was chosen to be the voting member of my team and we are all in agreement that we are opposed to this change, mainly because it is the middle of the season.  While there is no rule against making such a change mid-season, this is not a competitive league for the most part and everyone did not sign up for an 80% handicap league.

What are your thoughts on this scenario?

December 8, 2011

Preface to Week 15

I declined a last minute offer to attend the Steelers/Browns game tonight so that I could go bowling (and not freeze my butt off).

This better be one hell of a night or I'm going to regret that decision for a while.

December 5, 2011

Resin vs. Plastic: A Corner Pin Case Study

I finally found some time to go out and practice my spare shooting, more specifically the corner pins. I decided to dust off my old Brunswick Zone plastic ball and try that out as many of my single pin misses on Thursday were the result of the ball hooking left of the pin. Since this outing was strictly to work on my corner pin shots, I didn't bother to look at the scores.

For reference, I shot at the 7- and 10-pins with both balls so I could have a control group (Python) and a variable group (Zone). I know, this is way too much like science, but it was the best way I could think of to evaluate the pros and cons of using each ball. Using my Python as I have in league play, I was 9 for 10, or 90%, shooting both the 7- and 10-pin. These are much better numbers than what I have been putting up during the league. Using the Zone, I was 9 for 11, or 82%, shooting the 10-pin and 8 for 12, or 67%, shooting the 7-pin. I also went 2 for 2 shooting the 4-pin and missed an 8-pin using the Zone.

So looking at the above data, it appears that I am more consistent and reliable using the Python; however, there are a few differences between this practice session and league play. One is that I am just not used to throwing the plastic ball. It fit better than I remembered and I was able to get a good release, but my instincts on adjustments were not where they are with the Python. Also, there was more oil on the lanes than on Thursdays, which helped eliminate that hook issue I encountered last week. The Python would grab on just a bit when shooting the 7-pin, and would straighten out when shooting the 10-pin. The Zone stayed true to it's trajectory the entire length of the lane.

One big variable that was entirely my fault is that I went to a different bowling center. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't choose this center instead because I had a coupon, its closer to my house, less likely to be busy, and I wanted to get home in time for the Steelers' 1PM kickoff. They all played a factor. But I also chose this center because I thought it would best emulate the lane conditions I see on Thursday nights, since they would be freshly oiled. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my house tends to have very dry lanes on Sunday mornings.

So what do I take away from all of this? I think that with some practice I can become just as accurate a spare shooter with the Zone as I am with the Python. I agree that plastic is better for shooting corner pins, but I still think I will rely on the Python for every other shot. During the league, I will make a judgement based on the lane conditions whether or not I feel that the plastic will be the more consistent shot as the night goes on and the lanes break down. But all in all, I think this was a successful experiment and I am excited for Thursday night.

December 2, 2011

Week 14 Recap

Game 1: 203
Game 2: 160
Game 3: 184
Series: 547
Week Avg: 182
Season Avg: 191


Practice quickly showed that the lane conditions to start the evening were similar to when we finished up two weeks before. I found a good line by playing more of an arch into the pocket rather than the more direct shot I had started with the last few weeks. There were also four of us playing a pretty similar line, so I expected the lanes to change a bit throughout the evening.

The first game started pretty well. I was striking with ease and picked up the two 10-pins and 6-pin I left. My only open was in the seventh or eighth frame when I missed the 4-pin by a hair to the left. I noticed that if I put the ball over my mark and it continued to the right another few boards before hooking into the pocket it was carrying a lot better than if I threw straight over my mark or drifted to the left. The latter is what caused the single pin leaves. I struck twice in the tenth and then hit the headpin just about straight on, leaving five pins standing. I finished the game with a 203, but more importantly we squeaked out a win by a few pins and are battling for first place this quarter.

The second game was ugly. I left and missed the 7-pin in the first frame and the 6-10 split in the second. I struck in the third, followed by a missed 4-pin and a missed 10-pin. I struck in the sixth frame and then left a 4-9 split. I made my first spare of the game in the eighth frame, taking out the 6-pin, and followed that up with a turkey. With two strikes in the tenth frame I left the 10-pin on my last ball and salvaged a 160 for the game. Every leave except the 4-9 split was makable and if I convert those I have a 204 game (that is accurate, I had to do the math because it was killing me to know what could have been). If I convert just one of those spares my team takes the game and the series last night, three big points in the team standings.

My third game started with a spare and then a high hit resulted in a solid 7-9 split. I missed another 4-pin before I realized that I should look past my spare target a few inches. This resulted in me getting the ball further out on the lane and the ball hooking later. I didn't miss a spare after that epiphany. I mixed in a few strikes, but the ball started coming in high and I spent much of the game trying to catch up with what it was doing. I finished the game with a 184 and a 547 series.

Lessons Learned

Last night was deja vu all over again. Another night, another batch of missed single pin spares. Luckily, there was a trend of missing every single one just barely to the left. I was able to realize that with the changing lanes, my ball was grabbing a bit sooner and missing left. By looking further out on the lane at my release, I was able to counteract the hook and began to make my spares like I did the first game. As I have been saying for a while now, I need to get out to practice a bit. I am starting to come around to the idea of using my plastic on spares, but I'd like to practice both ways before I make any changes during league play. I think its time to take "Don" out of the rotation and start carrying the plastic Zone.

My consistency issue seemed to disappear last night. I can think of only a couple times where I really missed my mark, which should have made my problems easier to diagnose. If I can take consistency out of the equation, I can really focus on the minor issues that are plaguing my game. For example, it didn't occur to me until the beginning of the third game that I had to play each lane slightly differently to get a good hit. The right lane hooked a little less than the left, but it caught up to the left lane by the end of the night.

On the car ride home, I realized that about halfway through the third game I should have moved my body and target about three boards to the left. I was trying to force the ball closer to the gutter and expecting it to come back to the pocket, but from where I was standing it was hanging out there a little too long. By moving left, I would have given the ball a little more space to get to the break point before driving into the pocket. It would have been a more drastic adjustment than I usually make during a game, but its something I will keep in mind for next week.

Its been difficult to get back into a rhythm with pre-bowling a few weeks and then having Thanksgiving off. I'll be fine for the next two weeks, but then need to pre-bowl again just before Christmas. Hopefully that will be the last time for the season and I can finish the second half of the season on a good note.