Many of you are preparing for a trip to the USBC Open Championships, the BTM, and the 1-2-3 tournaments. This year, for the first time, there will be two different lane patterns used for the USBC event. Our first question addresses how having to bowl on more than one condition in a tournament might change our planning and preparation. The advice that our panel of experts has to offer will help all of you have a more enjoyable and profitable experience.

Our second topic of discussion deals with drifting. This can be one of the more tricky things to work on and change, unless you know what’s causing it. Even then, it can be a process to have your body become comfortable with not only a different feel, but a different perception of how you see the lane and your shot. As you’ll see in our responses, different coaches have different ideas about drift and footwork. Try out everything to test what works for you.

On a side note, I’m happy to say that this season I’ll be celebrating my 15th year of coaching on Lane 81 at the National Bowling Stadium. I feel very lucky to be able to have met and worked with so many great people and bowlers over the years. I look forward to another busy season of helping bowlers bowl better. If you’re making the trip to Reno this year, please stop in and say hello.

Editor’s note: The format of The Round Table column consists of posing technical questions submitted by readers to several top bowling coaches and educators and having them respond in “round-robin” style.

this month's panel

This month’s panel

Now that the USBC Open Championships is going to be using two different oil patterns and considering that I usually take only four balls, what is your advice for preparing for this change?

Bill Spigner

Even though there are going to be two different oiling patterns for this year’s Championship, you would attack both fresh patterns the same way. USBC uses sport compliant patterns for the Championship and they have a 3 to 1 or less blend in the oil. This means there is more oil in the middle of the lane and less to the edge. The best way to start on many fresh sport patterns is somewhere between the 5th and 10th boards with straighter lines until some oil is erased there and you can move in.

The first ball I would have for the fresh is a smooth rolling ball with a drilling that starts hooking in the midlane and doesn’t jump off the back of the pattern. This ball should be drilled for a stable front to back reaction with a 1000 to 2000 surface. You don’t want a polished ball for the fresh. This would be your starting ball in team and doubles, even if you only use it to erase the oil between 5 and 10.

The second ball out of your bag should complement your starting ball. You would want it drilled to go a little longer with more reaction when it starts to hook so you can arc the ball more as you move in. This ball can have some surface on it, but less than your fresh condition ball.

Your third ball should be drilled to go longer and have a stronger down lane reaction than ball #2. It should have less surface or be slightly shined.

Your arsenal design should be to go with more length and less surface when you move inside as the lanes change. You don’t want anything that gives you a skid/snap reaction. You need to be able to control the lengthwise ball motion as you don’t have the wet/dry conditions like a house shot to automatically make the ball recover when you miss outside.

Your fourth ball needs to be a spare ball. Never leave home without one. Hooking balls at spares on unfamiliar lane conditions is a recipe for disaster.

Keep your drillings simple and familiar to you. All your balls should be drilled so that if you make a release change the ball does what you do to the ball. Starting out on the fresh, you need less axis rotation and as the lanes transition when you have to play deeper, you will need more axis rotation. You don’t have time to find the miracle shot and there isn’t one on the fresh. Have your lane play and ball selection plan in place before you go.

Joe Slowinski

With a four ball arsenal, excluding a spare ball, layouts and surface preparation are both essential to matching up on the patterns. At this time, without knowing the exact pattern volume, ratio, and lengths, it remains difficult to make specific recommendations on layouts or surfaces. With the history of the tournament, it is likely that both patterns will be medium with slight structural and volume differences. My guess is that the patterns will be 39 and 41 feet. Therefore, I would recommend being prepared for medium sport patterns.

For fresh medium patterns, I recommend more cover surface (1000/1500) on a ball with a larger VAL angle (pin down for most). Since the cover friction dominates the skid phase, you can alter the ball motion significantly. A solid cover with a lower grit surface will cause the ball to slow down more quickly with the ball entering the hook phase sooner, reducing the back end reaction. The combination of layout and surface will help you play more direct up the lane on the fresh in team and at the start of doubles, leading to controllability. Be sure to refresh the surface at the conclusion of the team event.

For the first time in doubles and singles, bowlers will have six bowlers per pair, rather than four, but will remain on the same lanes. This provides a great opportunity to manipulate the pattern on the fresh.

To be sure you can be best prepared for dealing with lane transition, you should have a weaker polished symmetrical ball, hybrid, or pearl, with a longer pin to PAP and lower VAL angle (pin up for most). This will help the ball get down the lane, while still creating entry angle when moving inside to counter the developing friction. This is especially true in games five and six in doubles as well as game three in team.

Once the patterns are released, consult your IBPSIA pro shop professional and USBC Silver level or higher certified coach to match layouts to your game based on your individual release characteristics like speed, rev rate, axis of rotation, and axis tilt.

Mike Shady

I suggest all bowlers have an asymmetrical low RG/high differential ball with a strong layout and a 2000 surface. Another ball should be an asymmetric low RG/high differential ball with a weaker layout and a 4000 cover. This would be a great ball as the lanes transition and ball number one starts to motion too early.

The third ball should be a symmetric high RG/low differential ball with a smooth and shiny surface (layout would be bowler dependent). This would provide the needed ball motion when the fronts break down and you need the core and surface to save energy. The fourth ball must be a spare ball. I believe the spare ball is one of the most important pieces of a ball arsenal today, especially on challenging environments.

Preparation is still the most important ingredient for success at these national events. It will be vital to pay attention to the details and “chatter” of the tournament. I highly recommend you study the lane graph in detail (See Susie Minshew’s article this month and last), practice on the pattern on multiple surfaces, create a minimum four ball arsenal, and develop a specific game plan for yourself and your team. This tournament is all about preparation and game planning.

Chuck Gardner

This is a great question and I hope my answer helps. First of all, I will say this is not a huge deal and not to worry too much about this. The strongest muscle in the body is between the ears and we need to not make a bigger deal out of things than they are.

As for balls, I would create a little more separation in your arsenal than you have in the past – not just a pin up and pin down ball with the same basic layout. I feel you need to use different types of balls as well as different layouts. If you are primarily a fan of symmetric core balls, please bring your favorite layout in an asymmetric ball along for the ride. The shape these asymmetric balls create is quite a bit different. Have pads available to adjust surfaces. At the start, you need to have a strong enough ball in your hand for the fresh.

When the pros travel overseas, which many of them do now, they usually travel with only six balls. It is also not uncommon for them to have not seen or bowled on the pattern being presented. So, the key is to create more versatility out of a small arsenal. In my opinion, there are two things that make certain bowlers better travelers than many others:

  • They are very efficient at using loft.
  • They can increase or decrease axis rotation.

Learning these two skills will triple the size of your arsenal. Increasing loft by a foot can drastically change the entry angle on the same ball. The best bowlers who travel around the world are all very good at these options. Mika Koivuniemi, Chris Barnes, Mike Fagan, and Sean Rash come to mind as some of the best. These guys have been the top four of the World Bowlers Tour for the last few years.

Become efficient repeating shots with your “A” game and become versatile at utilizing more loft and more axis rotation. This will give you a complete arsenal and prepare you to have an awesome outcome at these events. Work with your team to devise a game plan to get the lanes prepared for competition and how you would like to see them transition.

I’m a righthanded bowler who tends to drift consistently about eight boards to the right, mostly at the end of my four-step approach. I’ve been told drifting is bad but I don’t know why I do it or how to stop. What is your opinion on drift? Is it bad and, if so, how do I fix it?

Bill Spigner

The way I look at it for a righthander is that straight is great, right is wrong, and left is right. The problem with walking right, especially at the end of your approach, is that you are potentially walking in front of your swing. If you do, your swing will have to go around your body to be released. That can cause severe accuracy problems.

Early off the hand is a miss right and late is a miss left, so your shot dispersion is very wide. If your swing is outside enough on the backswing so it doesn’t get trapped behind your body and is able to tuck inside out or straight on the downswing, you can create a consistent release. Either way your lane play capabilities are limited.

Playing inside is difficult because you can’t stay far enough left to play 3rd arrow or deeper unless you walk straight or left. Walking right is also bad for playing on sport conditions since you don’t have automatic hook outside to disguise your early-off-the-hand misses.

Without seeing you, it’s difficult to know the cause. Because your drift/right walk is consistent, I would assume you have been standing too far left relative to your target for a long time and have gotten used to walking right to hit your target. It could be that you have been bowling on wet/dry conditions for a long time and missing right is not a penalty, so standing way left and walking and throwing to the right works.

This type of approach to lane play is really bad if you want to compete on tougher conditions. The more competitive tournaments have higher level players who change the lanes drastically and a lot faster than league play. The shot always moves in on tougher, longer patterns and there is no free hook spot in the early games. Once the lanes start to break down and the shot moves to the middle of the lane, you have to be able to play inside to compete. Walking right is a killer if you need to be able to play inside angles.

One common cause of walking to the right starts at the beginning of the approach. If your pushaway is to the right and you open up your hips and shoulders early in the approach, the feet will also face right and you can walk in the direction the body is facing.

Walking a couple of boards right or left of where you start is no big deal as long as it’s consistent. Eight right is too much and too many bad things can happen, especially with the swing. To repair this, work on your set up and start. Make sure your ball placement/pushaway is straight and keep your hips facing straight ahead. The shoulders can open, but the hips need to stay straight so the feet can walk in a straight path. Get a lesson from a certified coach who uses video analysis. Seeing what’s going on will help you get a better understanding of what you are doing. If your desire is to play at a higher level, you need to correct this liability.

Joe Slowinski

Drift is neither good nor bad in itself. In fact, most elite bowlers drift but away from their swing line. A righthanded bowler who drifts to the right is moving into their swing path, facilitating a poor directional swing change. One potential cause is targeting too far to the right in the setup. This causes the bowler to walk to the right to throw on the intended line.

From my experience, most players actually have different drifts depending upon where they play the lane. Specifically, most players will drift more when playing outside, a little less when playing the middle, and even less while playing inside lines. It is important to test your drift in different zones.

To test your zonal drift pattern, play the following lines:

Lines for zonal drift pattern test

Lines for zonal drift pattern test

Drift is a result of the body seeking balance throughout the approach. That’s a biomechanical response to timing and body position while swinging a heavy object. Drift patterns can also be impacted with poor swing lines. From my experience and research, footwork patterns are a function of the cause and effect associated with the trunk/torso angle.

With lateral spine tilt in the setup and swing start, bowlers improve their footwork patterns naturally and holistically. Most righthanded elite bowlers follow a common five step footwork sequence of beside – over (cross in front) – beside – over (cross in front) – slide in front. This footwork sequence aids in the creation of space for the upswing and downswing.

In such a scenario, most bowlers have some drift to the left. Many coaches try to teach a crossover. The crossover is actually the effect rather than the cause. Trying to crossover, the bowler will deal with another unintended effect. Focus on creating more lateral trunk angle with your neck and upper body and your footwork will improve.

Mike Shady

A drift in bowling is caused by several factors and should be a concern. Some of the effects of drifting include swing misdirection, ineffective hand position at the release, poor balance, and lack of accuracy. Before a drift can be addressed and eliminated, the cause must be determined. Drifting is the effect of a cause.


Bowlers who have late swing starts (swing is delayed relative to the feet) will develop poor footwork technique (usually the second step). The misdirection is often left which causes the pivot step to follow in the same direction, resulting in a drift left.

Early swing starts (feet are delayed relative to the swing) will cause the apex (top of swing) to be out of time, resulting in the transitional downswing that is much too early. This causes the slide foot to reach the finish position too early, forcing it to the ball side to maintain balance and creating drift to the right.

Pushaway direction

Players who have exaggerated push directions to the right create swing paths that “wrap” behind the back (inside). The pivot step will naturally follow the swing left, resulting in a drift to the left.


Improper footwork is the most common cause of drifting. In order to develop proper footwork, proper timing must be achieved. The ball must swing past the ball side knee after the completion of the second step. Proper footwork technique in a four-step approach is tight rope – side by side – tight rope – slide straight into finish position.

The first step is a crossover step or tight rope step. This creates the needed space for the swing to fall into the slot. The second step is a side by side (everyday walking step). This will create a swing path that is straight. The third step (pivot step) is another step over or tight rope, recreating the space for the swing. The fourth and final step is the slide step, which is straight ahead. This footwork will create a start to finish variance of three boards or less, which is optimal for repetitive shotmaking, versatility in hand positions, and peak performance balance at the finish position.


Improper alignment on the approach in relation to your target could cause your drift. If you are setting up too far left, you will tend to drift to the right in order to get closer to your target. This can often happen in the last step or two.

Conversely, if you are setting up too close to your target, you’ll have to drift to the left to get your body out of the way of your swing. This drift can often happen earlier in the approach. If, as a righthanded bowler, your left foot is less than six to seven boards (for playing straighter) or more than 13 boards or so (for playing more open) left of your target, your alignment may be causing the drift.

It is vital that you develop proper technique in timing, swing path, and footwork. This will create the swing and elite footwork needed for repetitive shotmaking and versatility in a variety of environments.

Chuck Gardner

My thoughts on this may not be very popular and may not be what you want to hear. I am a huge fan of just plain and simple shot repetition. If you can drift eight boards and you are walking into your slide, I can live with that. One of the best bowlers in the country, in my opinion, is a guy named Tony Yarbrough from Springfield Missouri. He drifts at least eight to the right and has done so for many years.

There are a couple of things that could naturally eliminate some of the drift without focusing on trying to do so – keeping your head over the ball during setup and throughout your approach. This can eliminate some of the drift since having your head over the ball and walking to the right would give you the sensation of falling over.

Another technique with a natural positive effect is being sure your ball side shoulder is down. This also helps keep your head over the ball throughout the swing and, more importantly, puts you in a very strong position to stick your finish. This has many positive effects on your shotmaking, including the ability to see the ball going through your target line. Take a look at any of the top players in the world and you will see that none of them have level shoulders.

I feel trying to fix something that’s not a real hindrance to your ability to repeat shots is not important at all. Take a look at many of the greats. Very few of them get to the line the same, but the way they look after “posting the shot” sure looks very similar. I like to refer to Jim Furyk, the many time winner and a Major Champion on the PGA Tour. You surely wouldn’t teach exactly what he does, but boy, does it look great at the point of impact. The top of his finish is one of the best ever. Same can be said for PBA Champion Walter Ray Williams.

I think it would be wonderful if all players could throw it just like the people that look perfect every shot like Chris Barnes, Parker Bohn, and Mike Machuga. That is just not going to happen and we, as coaches should not try to create these players. We should teach players to get the very most out of what they do well and can repeat. My goal every time I work with a student, whether it is Suzie the school teacher or Sean Rash, is to help them enjoy our great sport at the level in which they wish to compete.

Mike Jasnau

About Mike Jasnau

Mike Jasnau is a Teaching Pro / CATS Instructor at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, NV. He is a PBA Champion, USBC Silver Level Coach, and Storm Instructional Staff Member.