Although a great release is the envy of every bowler not blessed with this talent, it becomes ineffective, actually worthless, if it is not executed at the proper point. What is the proper point and why is it important?

An ideal release point allows a bowler to launch the ball into the lane from his strongest leverage area. This is one of the most important elements for consistent scoring but, unfortunately, one of the most difficult flaws to detect. A faulty release point feels natural and doesn’t affect balance, yet the ball is ineffective. It is usually the result of an early swing, i.e. the release point is beyond the leverage area.

Here is a perfect analogy for determining an ideal release point: Envision a double ball bag in line with the shoulder-ankle line. Lifting weight at this position places little or no stress on the strongest leverage area, yet maintains proper balance. Place this same weight slightly behind the shoulder-ankle area. This also affords easy projection on the lane yet retains proper balance. Conversely, if you set the identical load beyond the ankle-shoulder area, the weight of the ball will force the body forward, adversely affecting leverage and disrupting proper balance.

Preventing early swings

There are two strategies for executing proper release points and preventing early swings.

  • In a four-step delivery, you can initiate the first step a fraction ahead of the pushaway. In a five-step approach, begin the second step a tad ahead of the pushaway.
  • You can speed up your approach.

Preventing late swings

If the swing is late, it indicates a late pushaway and possibly a rushed approach. A late swing will inadvertently result in a forced forward swing (pull), if the armswing isn’t loose. Prompting the pushaway or slowing the approach can alter a late swing just as it alters an early swing. Because slowing down the approach is detrimental to good rhythm and timing, I strongly suggest an earlier pushaway to overcome a late swing.

The objective is to place the release point in its strongest position. Bowlers come in all sizes, so you must take into account the length of your arms and legs to reach a positive point of release. If a release point is beyond the leverage area, this is a sign of an early swing. Early swings can be attributed to two things: a premature pushaway or a slow approach. Therefore, you must take measures to either delay the pushaway or speed up the approach. You can accomplish this through a process of elimination. Try both methods until you determine the objective in the most comfortable manner.

Release

Hundreds of PBA players, as well as countless high-ranking amateurs, are blessed with great releases. Unfortunately, a great release does not ensure success. Contrary to popular belief, revolutions are not necessarily the key to great strike percentage. Average revs, accurately delivered, are far more effective than wide arching shots that cover 15-20 boards and enter the pocket at extreme angles.

These explosive missiles look awesome as they clear the decks with incredible force, but they may leave ringing 10 pins, solid 9 pins, hard 7 pins, occasional 4 pins, and the dreadful 7-10 split. Moreover, when back ends have been altered by oil carrydown, a wide-arching ball often produces the ugliest of all splits, the 2-8-10.

Although a ball with less rotation lacks the hitting power of high-rev missiles, its entry angle can equalize the strike percentage. Rather than execute a powerful release, this type of bowler performs with a smooth stroke, accuracy, and proper balance. Although a great release is a coveted advantage, its does not ensure stardom.

An ideal release is delivered with the hand well under the ball, the fingers starting from the 6 o’clock to the 7 o’clock position. At the release point, a rapid exit of the thumb is a must. The weight is then shifted fully to the fingers, which rotate to the 3 o’clock position. Any rotation of the fingers beyond the 3 o’clock position or the thumb past 12 o’clock, will create spin instead of roll.

The major disparity between successful bowlers and less successful players is the release point, i.e. the point of the downswing that arrives at the flattest plane and affords the strongest leverage opportunity. The rapid exit of the thumb is paramount because any ball delivered with the thumb in the ball beyond the sliding foot will result in “hitting up” in the shot – that is, releasing the ball in an upward direction instead of out on the lane.

release figure 1

Release point, just prior to the thumb exit

release figure 2

Release point, just after the thumb exits the ball

Hitting up destroys the ball’s effectiveness in several ways. A ball released in an upward manner is automatically spinning in midair before making contact with the lane. This can result in overreaction, an early hook, and a marked weakness in rotation.

Staying under the ball

Bowling manuals have suggested numerous methods for staying under the ball. Some have suggested closing the armpit from the top of the swing to the point of release. Or you may prefer keeping the forearm facing the target from the release point to the follow through or perhaps keeping the elbow tucked into your side on the downswing.

These methods have been successful for many bowlers, but one fact remains: There are no set patterns. Bowling manuals merely serve as guides for attaining a desired purpose. I do not disprove any of the methods mentioned earlier. Yet, in each case, there is undue strain to the forearm that may initiate muscle tension and deter the flow of a free armswing.

I devised a method to stay under the ball yet maintain a free armswing. I refer to my system as a ring finger lead. In the ring finger lead, all movement is initiated from the hand (the lowest and heaviest part of the swing) requiring no muscle tension.

After reaching the top of the backswing, lead the downswing with the ring finger preceding the middle finger until the release point. At this time, the ring finger should be at about a 9 o’clock position. Then the thumb exits the ball and the weight of the ball is transferred to the fingers. The fingers then rotate from the bottom to the 3 o’clock position, simultaneously projecting the ball outward on the lane.

Experimenting with different releases

Power players such as Pete Weber, Ryan Shafer, Amleto Monacelli, and Robert Smith all begin with the fingers at approximately 9 o’clock. Power strokers like Parker Bohn and Brian Voss initiate their releases with fingers at 6 o’clock, seldom rotating beyond 3 o’clock.

Recent PBA Hall of Fame inductee Danny Wiseman, a pure stroker, is an exception to the rule. He actually begins his hand position in the same manner as power players, yet he strokes the ball gently. Stokers rarely have excessive rotation of the ball. It is important to note that all these players execute with minimum effort and a soft, flowing follow through.

Several other types of releases have proven very effective. The most notable is the one used by Walter Ray Williams. Walter Ray defies all odds for proper execution. He releases with extra effort, rears up at the line, and seems off balance. However, he has a rhythmic approach, a loose swing, and the most incredible hand-eye coordination of anyone on tour. These traits earned him not only more PBA titles than anyone in history but six World Horseshoe Championships.

Williams’s forte is his ability to keep his hand directly behind the ball. He applies little or no finger rotation, rolls the ball in an end-over-end rotation, and almost always places the ball in the 1/3 pocket. High-powered reactive balls with sophisticated core configurations have enhanced his strike percentage.

Several players on the PBA tour have experimented with different hand releases that converted them from mediocrity to stardom. Norm Duke is a prime example. Norm was merely a journeyman bowler for many years until he began to experiment with assorted hand positions, different speeds, and different angles. He mastered this craft and, since this transformation, has become a major force on the PBA tour. Nonetheless, power players have become dominant on the current PBA tour. Jason Belmonte and Osku Palermaa, the two international two-handed experts, plus power player Sean Rash have been picking up most of the marbles.

Cup and collapse release

Numerous players on the PBA tour use a technique I call the “cup and collapse” release. Chris Barnes has this type of delivery.

It can be performed in two manners: using a free swing or using a controlled/semi-controlled swing. In a free swing, you place the ball into the pushaway and let if fall into the backswing with its own gravitational force. At the top of the backswing, cup your wrist and maintain this hand position until the release point. Then, collapse your wrist and deliver the ball into the lane. This type of release creates heavy roll and presents greater strike potential.

In a controlled cup and collapse release, the ball rests back in the palm of the hand at the beginning of the stance. It is drawn back with a bent elbow. The elbow remains bent throughout the swing. At the release point, the wrist collapses and the fingers drive the ball onto the lane. Although this is the ultimate method for staying under the ball, it can take a toll on the hand, wrist, and elbow. It can also affect the knees and legs.

A number of PBA players can trace their injuries to the strenuous controlled cup and collapse release. This method of execution, in great part, curtailed and possibly ended the career of former touring player Bob Vespi. It also sidelined Mike Miller, whose thumbless delivery placed severe strain on his wrist and knees.

Many players who have been blessed with great releases have failed to take advantage of this gift. As stated earlier, a great release is not a guarantee for successful bowling. Average releases at ideal release points, accuracy, and balance are the principal ingredients for a top quality bowling game.

Release checklist

Release checklist

Follow through

One essential element of a quality shot in bowling is a sound follow through. It is the result of proper execution resulting in balance, accuracy, power, carry percentage, and most of all, consistency. A quality follow through is delivered with a fully extended arm with minimum arm bend; that is, the projection of the ball is initiated from the shoulder joint, not the elbow. This is the essence of extension.

In a proper extension, the weight of the swing must be generated from the shoulder throughout the entire swing and follow through. Any exertion from the elbow is counterproductive. Bending the elbow to influence power in the shot will destroy the flow of the follow through. Moreover, it will create undesired ball reaction.

The majority of instructional books recommend some or all of the following: reach for the ceiling, follow through with your hand behind your ear, lift-and-loft. I have subscribed to the lift-and-loft philosophy. I opposed this manner of execution in the era of old rubber balls and shellac surfaces.

After observing the greatest bowlers in the world for the past 50 years, I feel confident that these antiquated methods of execution are far more detrimental than beneficial, particularly in the modern bowling environment. This is not meant to demean the techniques recommended by qualified instructors; rather, it is an enforcement of personal beliefs that have proven successful during my coaching career.

Delivering the ball into the lane

Before the advent of high-powered balls, it may have been advantageous for some players to subscribe to the lift-and-loft method for releasing the ball, but I have always suggested throwing the ball into the lane from a low position. In this manner, the bouncing effect is greatly minimized and the ball is permitted to proceed uninterrupted on its course. It’s akin to landing a plane. Skillful pilots skim the landing strips and touch down with barely any bouncing effect, thus accomplishing a smooth landing.

I feel secure in my conviction that releasing the ball in an upward trajectory is counterproductive. It results in the ball’s bouncing, overreacting, and veering off course. This delivery is referred to as hitting up on the ball. Releasing balls on the upswing results in weak 10 pins, buckets, and abominable splits.

A ball driven into the lane with a low outward follow through will react as a flat rock thrown across a lake does, skimming along unimpeded. The principal thing to remember: keep the arm long, extended, and out toward the pins, with no bend of the elbow. Direct the fingers to the breakpoint in a smooth fashion.

John Jowdy

About John Jowdy

John Jowdy has been a bowler, author, instructor, and speaker over the last 60 years. He was coach to some of the most successful bowlers on tour. John’s awards and accomplishments include: Bowling Coaches Hall of Fame, ABC and PBA Halls of Fame, International Bowling Coach of the Year. He was a contributing writer for Bowling This Month for 13 years. John Jowdy passed away in 2013 at age 93.