Bowling evolution reversing history with equipment

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It is hard to fill your fix on sports with so many sporting events being canceled.

Sunday, I found myself watching the PBA World Championship finals on FS1.

The testosterone test of bowling has always been about how many revolutions you can generate, how much you can hook the ball.

In recent years, that has become easier to do, thanks to the continued progression and evolution of reactive resin balls, which are porous and create more traction for the ball to grip the wood or urethane lane surface, regardless of oil patterns.

Still, the “strokers,” those who have games that are all about being accurate, going down the boards, have been incredibly successful.

That includes the three players with the most titles in PBA history in Walter Ray Williams Jr., Earl Anthony and Norm Duke. Dick Weber, Don Carter, Mike Aulby, Dave Davis, Don Johnson, Brian Voss, Chris Barnes, Dave Davis and Dick Ritger certainly attested to the success of playing it “straight.”

What has truly been interesting is to watch what is happening at the highest level of bowling on the PBA Tour.

In the 1970’s, Mark Roth and Marshall Holman exploded on the scene and turned us all on to hooking the ball. On the left side, Johnny Petraglia had an unusual style and was able to get the ball from the gutter to the pocket with regularity.

In the 1980’s came Pete Weber and his majestic release, creating area. Somehow, you never thought any shot was too far right or out-of-bounds when watching Weber.

In the 1990’s, Parker Bohn did was Petraglia had done from the left side while Amletto Monacelli was the best in the business beginning the decade from the right side.

In the first decade of the new millennium, “The Big Nasty,” Wes Malott overpowered the lanes with his big hook.

Also since the turn of the century, particularly in the most recent decade, two-handed players have been the rage and nearly taken over the tour.

The best is Australian Jason Belmonte, who has now won 24 titles and dominated the PBA Tour, winning 13 major championships after winning the World Championship event Sunday in Las Vegas, where only family, coaches, PBA officials and the television crew were on hand. The slight smattering of applause for a strike was audible, strange in these strange times we find ourselves immersed in. It was Belmonte’s third straight World Championship title.

Belmonte won PBA Player of the Year five times in the decade and was named Player of the Decade as well.

Then, there are Anthony Simonsen (Litle Elm, TX) and Kyle Troup (Taylorsville, NC) of the United States, Jesper Svensson of Sweden and Osku Palermaa of Finland who have become top players in the world as well using two-hands to deliver strikes. Chris Via (Springfield OH), another two-handed player, made the national telecast Sunday.

Many purists detest the very presence of two-handed bowlers.

The argument is clear.

The two-handed players have the advantage of utilizing the power of two-hands (and arms) to generate additional revolutions, creating more area to locate the ball on the lane.

They argue that bowling was created with three holes in the ball, including a thumb hole and two for fingers.

Some two-handed players use no holes while others use finger holes in their releases.

It is certain that two-handed bowlers have an advantage, if they can master the craft. The latter is the key.

I do not believe any asterisk will be or should be applied to what Belmonte has accomplished and will accomplish. Regardless of style, he is simply great, the best of his era.

I tried it, for the sake of trying it, and it was difficult to do anything with it.

The argument is understandable, substantive.

Golf dealt with the belly putter issue, a hot topic of debate.

Tennis has never had a whimper about two-handed shots, as opposed to those with one hand.

Whether conventional or two-handed in style, so many of the best players create enormous revolutions.

Today’s players are more powerful, be it conventional or two-handed.

Meanwhile, the powers that be on the PBA tour have chosen to make scoring more challenging by employing many different oil patterns within the same tournament weekly and even different patterns on the same pair of lanes.

The result is players often using different balls on each lane of a pair and often taking totally different angles.

Is that good for the game? Is it too much of a test? Is it a bit much?

With the oil pattern varying greatly, including many which do not exceed 40 feet, many of the powerful players of today have gone backwards in time, going to a blast to the past.

Urethane balls have become the rage on tour once again.

To put things in perspective, Urethane was the rage in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. I remember my first Urethane ball, the AMF Angle, the black version, which I got hold of in 1981, less than a year after the ball was developed.

That replaced the rubber and plastic balls I had used as the polyester coverstock balls began to disappear from view.

Subsequently, I invested in a gold Angle and a purple Angle. Then is was a Columbia black U-Dot.

Next, it was on to Hammers, including the black Hammer, followed by the blue Hammer. Looking for more “hook,” I then tried a Brunswick Edge.

Since I was never one to cross many boards, the new technology had minimal impact on my game or results.

I was blessed, fortunate to shoot a trio of perfect games. The rings were nice and the recognition was appreciated but it was the pure enjoyment of the accomplishment which made it for me.

To shoot the first one, which I did at what was then Don Carter’s All-Star Lanes in Kenner, was huge.

Ironically, the feat was accomplished on the end pair, lanes 63-64, long considered to be a dungeon for scoring.

Lane 63 was clearly tighter and remains that way to this day at the same bowling center, now known as AMF All-Star Lanes. Carry was always an issue.

Having thrown ten good shots, my nerves got to me in the 11th frame. I had never gotten to close to perfection previously.

Finishing on lane 64, my shot in the 11th frame was a chicken-wing special, elbow out, with a tentative release.

The result was predictable.

I missed my target, the eighth board, by a ton, hitting around the 12th board.

The shot was so bad that it turned out to be good.

The U-Dot crossed over and I carried a Brooklyn strike.

It was a matter of fate.

With a reprieve, given the amazing luck, I was able to take a deep breath, settle down and made a good shot in the 12th frame, hitting the eighth board, blowing the five pin into the seven pin.

When the final pin went down, my spirits went up, soaring.

Something I never though I would ever accomplish had occurred.

Once you have cleared the hurdle, I was able to bowl two more 300 games, one in league play and another as part of the Pro-Am of the New Orleans stop on the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour as part of the Treasure Chest Classic in 1996.

Interestingly enough, that event was a “No-Tap” event, meaning knocking down nine pins counted as a strike to expedite moving the event forward and improving scores.

Bowling with Jeanne Maiden as our professional, I did not need the No-Tap format, throwing 12 consecutive strikes. Maiden was one of the top players in the world and won 10 titles on tour. She once threw 40 consecutive strikes in competition and is still outstanding, having won the 2019 Senior Queens Championship.

She wanted to know what equipment I was using, looking for every advantage.

Currently, the PBA Tour uses eight different “Animal” oil patterns and 13 different “Legend” oil patterns.

Are you suitably confused?

When progress takes place, equipment evolves in every sport.

That includes racquets in tennis, clubs in golf, bats in baseball and sticks in hockey.

Very seldom, if ever, does a sport go backwards with regard to the evolution and the purported improvement of equipment.

Bowling has done that at the highest level, for better or for worse.

One can only wonder if the bowling ball companies are seething at the latest development where the pros and others with the definitive capability of generating serious revolutions are going backwards to purchase or pull out urethane balls. Seldom to we see any sports industry go backwards with equipment. Companies want the consumer to purchase the newest, shiniest piece of equipment, which, of course, is likely to cost more than its predecessors.

I was a huge fan of Dick Weber, who is the all-time champion, the all-time ambassador of the sport.

I was a huge fan of his son, Pete, who had the best release I have ever seen and had flair like no other player, though some may call it something else.

I was amazed at the violence of Roth’s game and how he turned the ball. I was engrossed in the unusual style of Petraglia.

The shot-making ability of Williams Jr., Duke, Voss, Aulby and Davis was so impressive.

The game is still fun and great to watch.

Belmonte is tremendous. He is 36. With 24 titles, he is only halfway to catching Williams Jr. for the most PBA titles ever (47). He now holds the record already for the most major titles ever.

Whether Belmonte and the other top players, including Bill O’Neill, Kris Prather, EJ Tackett, Sean Rash, Tommy Jones and Darren Tang use one hand or two, use urethane or reactive resin, the game is still fun to watch, though I miss the days of the Pro Bowlers Tour on ABC every Saturday afternoon from 1962-1997.

The exposure was great for the game and it popularized the sport and had it at its zenith nationally in terms of participation.

Of course, that exposure will now disappear as well on television as the PBA Tour follows the lead of other sports and shuts down for now. At least I got to watch Sunday. At least I got to reminisce for a day.

Unfortunately, we will be reminiscing about past sporting events, at least for the next month.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Chief Executive Officer

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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