April 28, 2012

Mixed League 2011/12 Recap

Coming into this past season my goal was to gain a few pins on my 192 average from the 2010/11 league. While I did not reach that goal, I did achieve some other successes. A practice outing where I shot nothing but 7- and 10-pins greatly improved my accuracy and decision making in using plastic over my strike ball. Also, discovering the four-zone method has greatly improved my overall spare shooting success. While I had some difficulty in hitting my marks, the last few weeks have given me confidence that I am improving in this area. In addition, I was able to successfully implement changes in ball speed to my list of adjustments.

Last season I threw 41 200 games and 11 600 series compared to 39 200 games and 7 600 series this season. On the surface it would appear that I did slightly worse this season; however, my high game was 249 compared to two 247s last year, my low series was 490, the only sub-500 series of the season, compared to 451 being the lowest of 3 total 400 series last year. While my high series was a 667 in each of my last two seasons, my lowest game this year was a 141 compared to a 114 last season. My average after 34 weeks last year was 192.44 and this year a 191.68, an overall difference of less than a pin.

This past season has left me with some mixed emotions. While overall I was more consistent in my bowling, I felt like I struggled through most of the second half of the season. Given the change in the line I had to throw on the heavier oil pattern, I began to have difficulties leaving the 8-10 split, something I hadn't seen in the past.  While this ruined a few games this season, I have since learned how to correct the issue and it should not be as significant a problem next season.

Consistency is a step in the right direction and I think that with the knowledge I have gained over the course of this season I should be able to build on my average. Since I managed to lose less than a pin of average on less than ideal lane conditions, I am confident that next season will be an even bigger success.

April 26, 2012

Presidential Bowling

Believe it or not, for the past 65 years the President of the United States has had access to his own personal bowling alley.
White House bowling alley, 1948.
In 1947, President Harry Truman was presented with a two lane bowling alley in the basement of the White House for his 63rd birthday. Truman hadn't bowled since he was 19 years old, but had mentioned to a group of friends that he was considering taking up the game. While unenthusiastic about the sport, Truman did allow a White House league to form for staffers, many of whom were understandably distressed when Eisenhower was elected and there was a possibility that Truman would take his gift with him. In 1955 the alley was moved from beneath the West Wing to the basement of the Old Executive Office Building to make space for a mimeograph room. This space would eventually be the home of the Situation Room installed by President John F. Kennedy. Just because Eisenhower had the White House lanes moved that does not mean that he was not a fan of bowling, as he had a two lane alley installed at Camp David where he hosted Nikita Kruschev in 1959 (Kruschev was more interested in the pin-setter than actually bowling). Recently, George W. Bush had the Camp David lanes refurbished during his term in office.

Eisenhower children at Camp David, 1960.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon had a one lane alley built in a workspace beneath the driveway leading to the North Portico of the White House. Nixon and his wife were both avid bowlers, but they felt that they should not have to cross the street every time they wished to throw a game on Truman's lanes in the Old Executive Office Building. The new alley was paid for by a friend and it has been said that Nixon was such an avid bowler he paid the $400 annual lease fee for the automatic pin-setting machines out of his own pocket. Nixon also followed professional bowling to the point where they would send a special recording of the final rounds to the White House in case the President was not able to watch on television.

Nixon at the Old Executive Office Building, 1970.

Since Nixon, bowling has played a small part in presidential history. Jimmy Carter revised security measures in the White House after meeting his two children in the alley and finding the full Secret Service detail there for all three people even though none of them had even left the building, a clear waste of resources. During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama infamously bowled a 37 at a stop in Altoona, PA (my western Pennsylvania tie-in for this post). After winning the election, Obama quipped that he was going to replace the historic bowling lane with a basketball court, causing an uproar from the bowling community. A coalition of bowling organizations approached President Obama with a proposal that they update the lane for the 21st century to include an HD scoring system, top of the line bowling balls and, of course, electronic bumpers. One good thing about his terrible score on the campaign trail is that anytime Obama goes bowling it makes the headlines.

Nixon's White House lane, 1985.

So how good were the presidential bowlers? Nixon averaged about 165-170 in 1970 and in 1978, Carter was also estimated by a friend to average about 165. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson recollected throwing a 188 game on Truman's lanes in the Old Executive Office Building and claimed that her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson wasn't such a bad bowler himself even though the first time he ever bowled was at the Camp David lanes. One of President George W. Bush's staffers, Joshua Bolten, threw the administration's high game of 207 on the Camp David lanes. After his Altoona 37 game, Obama must have practiced because his press secretary stated that he threw a 144 at Camp David in 2009.

Proposed White House alley update.

April 23, 2012

League Playoffs: Finals

Game 1: 188
Game 2: 197
Game 3: 171
Series: 556
Week Avg: 185
Final Season Avg: 191.68


This was the final week of the fall/winter league and we were battling for 3rd place against a team we had bowled probably more than any other throughout the year.

The first game started with a light hit and a 2-4-10 split. I shook it off with a few spares but then missed the 2-4-5. I had a difficult time finessing the ball into the pocket, but when I was there I buried the pins. I struck a few times leading up to the ninth frame, where I left the 8-10 split. This time, as I noted in last week's post, my adjustment was to move up a little bit on the approach and it worked well. I marked in the tenth and finished with a 188. The team lost the first game.

The second game felt much better than the first and I was able to consistently hit the pocket well. I started the game coming in just a little high, but I sped up a little bit and was able to find the sweet spot. I struck almost every ball on the right lane and left a few single pin spares on the left. I finished the game with a clean 197, as I was unable to string strikes together to break 200. Unfortunately the team wasn't able to pull out a win and we were locked into fourth place for the year.

The last game was a combination of a few things that ultimately led to failure. There were some distractions as it was the last game of the year and on top of that I was getting tired very quickly. Don't read these as excuses, because I don't intend them to be, I am just trying to accurately set the scene. The ball started to run high for a few different reasons during the game: I couldn't maintain ball speed like I did in the second game and the oil was disappearing in the backend. I moved my body up a few more inches and it kept me out of Splitsville, but the damage had already been done. With the exception of a missed 3-10 split I managed to stay clean until the tenth frame, where I missed the 4-7 from a lack of concentration. I finished the year with a disappointing 171 and a 556 series. Unfortunately I wasn't able to reach last year's final average of 192.

Lesson Learned

A big part of my last game was fatigue and the inability to both recognize the problem and correct it. Typically I can throw three games with no problems, but I was throwing a bit faster than usual and on a little less sleep (thanks 10 month old daughter). In addition to being able to read the lanes and the changing oil pattern, I need to be better about reading how my own body is "breaking down" throughout the night. Its just another invisible facet of the game to be aware of.

I now have a few weeks off until my summer league starts. I am looking forward to the rest and being able to put this series behind me before I start up again. In addition to the mental and bodily maintenance, I will also be thoroughly cleaning my ball and hopefully getting it back to that factory finish I threw so well with last year.

Until the new league starts, I have another bowling history post and a season recap post in the works, so stay tuned.

April 13, 2012

League Playoffs: Semi-Finals

Game 1: 194
Game 2: 216
Game 3: 170
Series: 580
Week Avg: 193
Season Avg: 191


Last night we bowled the winners of the first quarter head to head for a shot at the league finals. This particular team has the highest handicap in the league and we started each game giving up 130+ pins. I really only threw about five frames of practice and I was surprised to see that the outside was a little more forgiving than it had been in recent weeks. I found a good line to the pocket and was confident heading into the first game.

I started off with a few nine count spares. Even though I was in the pocket, I wasn't getting very good pin action. Instead of changing body position or speed, I decided to hold the ball a little further right of my body and let it rest flat on my hand with my thumb at 3 o'clock rather than holding it with my thumb at about 2 o'clock like I usually do. This allowed me to get some more revs on the ball and it worked perfectly. I started to throw strikes and occasional high pocket hits left the 7- or 4-pins. I stayed clean until the ninth frame when I missed my mark about a half board right and the ball hung out a little further before coming back for a light hit. I left the 1-2-4 as a result and tried to shoot left of the headpin, but in the process I also missed my mark left and the headpin remained. I struck and spared in the tenth frame, but the open did its damage and I finished with a 194. Everyone else on my team was under average and we lost the first game by 52 pins.

To start the second game I missed my mark to the left and left the 3-6-10. Because of how the ball hooked late in the ninth frame I moved a little further left to shoot the spare, but this time the ball grabbed early and I chopped the 3-pin. I picked up a few more spares, but was consistently missing my mark left about one board. I decided to just concentrate on following through on my throw and extending my arm out past my target. I threw a four-bagger and a spare leading up to the tenth frame.  I filled the tenth and finished with a 216. The rest of the team was under average again and we lost the game, relegating us to the consolation round to battle it out for 3rd place.

The third game was the most consistent I have ever been. Every shot was buried in the pocket and if I kept scored based on how each throw felt, I shot a 300. But how can this be, since this was my lowest score of the night and well under my average? The culprit would be the 8-10 splits I left on the left lane in the third, fifth and ninth frames. I thought the first one was a fluke because the 8-pin almost fell. After the second one, I realized that I needed to make some sort of adjustment on that lane so I decided to move back a few inches. My thought was that I could use the extra space to swing the ball into the pocket and not hit the 1-3 so flush which results in my ball deflecting right instead of driving through the rack. It worked to some extent in the seventh frame, but the ball hit too high and I left the 7-pin. In the ninth the pins blew back into the pit without even so much as a wiggle from the 8-10. I finished the game with 28 pins in the tenth, but could not salvage the game. I had a 170 game and a 580 series. Another team member shot 70+ over average and the team kept a little pride by winning the last game. I also finished in second in the brackets, falling six pins shy of winning.

 Lesson Learned

That felt great, despite the last game's score. If those three splits fall I'm looking at a high 200 game. I wish I had video of those three pocket hits to see how they differed from the strikes in the third game. I did a little more reading today and in addition to the ball being rolled out and deflecting, there are also two other possibilities for the leave. One is that the ball hits the rack so hard that it drives the 5-pin straight back without having the opportunity to kick out the 8-pin. The other is that the ball hits too high and causes the same reaction. Looking back, the latter was probably the cause this time and my adjustment of moving back caused the ball to come in even higher to leave the 7-pin. I think the next time the 8-10 rears its ugly head I will move up a few inches instead and try to catch a little less of the 5-pin, knocking it down so that it falls flat instead of pushing it straight back into the pit while still standing upright.

Last night, one team member was distraught over the other team's handicap before we even threw practice. He was so worked up that he couldn't concentrate on his own game and he had a pretty rough night. I tried to explain to him that we can't control how the other team bowls, to just focus on how he is bowling and let everything come together. I really never let pressure get to me when it comes to bowling head to head because I know that what the other bowlers do is out of my hands. All I can do is make my shots and leave it up to the other person to worry about the pressure I put on him.

A 589 series is my average +1 goal to get back to my average at the end of last season. If I can throw like I did last night, I see no reason why I can't exceed that total.

April 10, 2012

Week 32 Recap

Game 1: 188
Game 2: 193
Game 3: 184
Series: 565
Week Avg: 188
Season Avg: 191


I was lucky enough to make it to the alley after the Pirates opener and didn't have to rely on my lackluster banked scores for the end of the last quarter. Practice showed that the lanes were moving in the backend as has been usual the last few weeks. And also like the last few months, there was oil on the outsides.

The first game started with a lot of spares and a few strikes. The ball was coming in a little too high in the pocket and I was moving around in an attempt to take one board off of the hook. When I moved left the ball hung out and hit light and when I moved up or sped up the ball was still traveling high. My only open was a 3-4-5 that I hit a little too head on. I finished the game with a 188.

The second game started much the same way, but I finally had the ball in the pocket just right. My only open was a pocket 4-6 split, but a turkey and some other strikes kept me in the game. I finished with a 193.

The last game was a lot like the first with one major exception: opens. I missed a 10-pin, which has become somewhat of a rarity in my game lately. I also missed the 3-10 and 4-5-7 splits. I had some difficulty hitting my mark this game, which resulted in the splits. I finished with a 184 game and 565 series.

Lesson Learned

Consistently coming in high is eventually going to lead to trouble. If I started with a good shot and started coming in high, I would have known exactly how to adjust. Instead, I started the night high in the pocket, moved up enough to eventually compensate during the second game, but then ran out of options in the third game. What can I do when I reach the bottom of my bag of tricks?

I think that hand position would have been an excellent adjustment this week. By keeping my hand more behind the ball rather than coming up around the right I could have taken a little hook off the ball while throwing the same line. One downside to this adjustment is that the ball loses revs and drive through the rack, but I will take shooting single pin spares all night over a scattering of splits.

Fourth Quarter Season Review

At the end of the third quarter my average was 191. I spent two weeks at 192 before coming back to settle at 191. I was only over average twice this quarter, and one of those was my second best series of the season.

One huge positive this quarter was implementing the zone spare system I outlined in my Week 25 recap. I feel much more confident in how I approach shooting spares by breaking the lane into four zones rather than shooting at ten individual pins. I also acknowledged that I need to be open to adjustments outside of my comfort zone and focus on hitting my mark each shot.

I threw seven 200 games this quarter, about 30% of the games. Believe it or not, I almost averaged 192 for the quarter, but it sure didn't feel like it. I would really like to get back to at least a 192 by the end of the playoffs to hit last year's average. It looks like my goal of gaining a pin or two extra will need to wait until next season.

April 2, 2012

Andrew Carnegie Athletic Association Bowling Tournament

Saturday afternoon was US Steel's Andrew Carnegie Athletic Association Bowling Tournament at Legacy Lanes in Pittsburgh. This was a 90% handicap tournament based on a 220 average with five bowlers per team. If you could not get five bowlers (like our team) you received a vacancy 175 with no handicap included for the empty spot. So right away we were at a bit of a disadvantage. Looking at the teams leading up to the event you could see there were a lot of good bowlers. I think I had the tenth highest average at 191 out of 48 total registered bowlers. To liven things up a bit, we also changed lanes for each game.

Practice built up my confidence a little bit because the ball was moving pretty well and there was some room for error on the outside. However, one thing I forgot to factor in was that most of the bowlers were throwing a similar line to my own, unlike Thursdays where I typically have a line all to myself. By the end of practice the oil was pushed further down the lane and the ball hooked later toward the pocket. I spent a portion of the first game trying to adjust and get the ball back into the pocket, ending up on a similar line to Thursday nights. I missed a 4-8 in the first frame but after that I struck a few times and picked up my spares until I found a good line. I threw four in a row starting in the seventh frame and finished the first game with a 225. It was the second highest game on our pair (an opponent threw a 238) and I watched a bowler on the next set throw the front eight so I dropped any illusions of winning a top game or series prize right there.

For the next game we moved left one pair and I started with a missed 2-4-5. I threw a few more light hits early on, but luckily picked up a lot of nine count spares. I had a brief issue with missing my target but was able to correct it in a few frames. I found a sweet spot around the sixth frame before the ball started to run high in the tenth and I finished the second game with a 189.

We threw the last game one more pair to the left. I started off with a high shot leaving the 3-6-8-10, which I opened. I moved up a few inches and fired the next eleven balls right into the pocket for a double, an 8-pin spare, a four bagger, a 10-pin spare and a turkey. I finished the game with another 225 and a 639 series.

I had a great time and really enjoyed the competition. It helped that the lanes were oiled to yield high scores and it felt like as long as I hit my mark and put the ball in the pocket I was going to strike. But I can use all the confidence I can get coming down the home stretch of league play, so I'll take it. I don't think our team will place in the top five for prizes, but because bowlers are only allowed to win one individual award I might have a shot at a high game handicap payout. I should know by Friday for sure.

I would definitely go back next year, but we'll be sure to bring a full team next time to better our chances.