For those reading the title of this blog and assuming I had some kind of monster night or personal best, I did not. Not even close. What I did have was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the grind of a unique sort of night.
There were two important details that affected the lanes and my mental game for the night. First, I bowled against a dummy score due to the anchor bowler of the other team being absent. In my league, the rule is that any individual bowling unopposed must bowl 90 percent of their average plus one pin, which meant I needed to shoot 209 each game. It’s a different sort of animal when you need to bowl a specific score compared to facing off against a living, breathing bowler who is affected by the same lanes you are.
This is particularly relevant when the lanes are tricky, which was the case last night (at least for me). We bowled against a new team in the league, full of new bowlers with different levels of experience, including a bowler who is a beginner that throws the ball basically straight. It’s amazing what a single bowler can do. One bowler playing straighter down the middle really causes two significant changes to the typical transition we see in my league. It’s one less person with a medium to high rev rate that is pulling oil off the lanes, and lots more shots pulling the oil downlane at a different angle than you see from balls hooking from the outside.
As a result, there was significantly more carrydown than usual, and balls were already hooking less than usual by the end of practice. Creating the right angle through the pins was a challenge all night.
How’d it go?
It was pressure-filled in all the right ways, and a fun challenge to deal with lanes in a different way from how I usually see them. Forced to play farther outside because the ball was hooking less, I also had to get my angles matched up downlane or the pin carry wasn’t there, because the back ends didn’t mask mediocre shots.
The night started with a bit of confusion. After starting with two flat 10 pins and then a pocket 7/10, things weren’t looking particularly good. I’d missed the second 10 pin after sticking on the approach, so I was looking at two opens in the first three frames using my Stealth. There was a long way to go, but shooting 209 was already looking a bit perilous.
It’s the key difference when bowling “for score” compared to simply trying to perform well and hoping you win your match. Facing another bowler, I could feel confident in my ability to come back and manage the pair if they also saw some tricky reaction. Staring at 37 after three frames, the math dictated that I needed a four-bagger just to get close to the score I knew I needed. So I changed balls.
With tighter back ends than usual, the Game Breaker 4 Pearl was the obvious choice over the Stealth to help create a bit more shape downlane. I also moved 2-and-1 right, meaning I moved two boards with my feet and one board with my eyes. It worked to the tune of six in a row before leaving a swish 7 pin in the final frame for 225.
Unfortunately, this game started in much the same way as game one. Despite getting a bunch of strikes to save the first game, that weak 7 pin in the tenth was followed by a half-10 and then a dreaded 8/10. Wow. I can’t even remember the last time I left that spare. But I knew it wasn’t me; it was the lanes. These were signs I needed to chase the pattern more to the outside. Without strong back ends to rely on circling the lane, I needed to square up my angles even more.
Then, I flagged another 10 pin in the sixth frame and spared the seventh, meaning I needed to go off the sheet to win my point. Over the past few frames, I’d been gradually getting my hand around the ball more, again to counteract the tightness downlane. As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog, I love stepping up in the tenth and needing a strike or a double to win. It just so happened that my “tenth frame” started in the eighth. I executed good shots and managed to finish with strikes to squeak out the game with my point once again.
While I wasn’t necessarily in love with my reaction, I was having a lot of fun playing the lanes in a very different way from usual, trying to pull the ball over my toe. I almost felt like I was playing it a bit like a urethane ball, trying to get more of the headpin and not relying on a steeper angle through the pins. I felt like I had a good idea of what to do, rather than being confused, and it gave me confidence for the last game. The question was if I could do it.
Staying clean through the game, it once again came down to the tenth frame. While I could strike out for 230 and felt good about those chances, I also knew I needed a spare to get into the 210 range for my point, and it could come down to a clutch spare. Bowling being what it is, I left another 10 pin. So I needed to make a spare I’d already missed twice in the night. Again, it was all about mindset, so I remained confident despite some shaky spare shooting, went through my usual routine, and picked it up.
What a fun night!
Looking back at the night, I’m very happy with the ball change after only three frames. The Stealth has proved to be one of my favorite balls in recent years, but it was clearly struggling by the end of practice, thanks to the carrydown. Smoother balls need fresh back ends to be at their best, and the first three frames showed me very clearly that I needed to do something different. Could I have changed my hand position to make the ball work? Maybe, but I had a lot more confidence in the GB4 Pearl to get the job done.
It was also a matter of risk/reward. I knew I needed a string of strikes. Another open would be the same result as a string of spares. So the higher-risk move of changing balls really didn’t feel like that much of a risk because I didn’t have much to lose. I’d do the same thing at the end of a tournament needing a big game. When you need 230 to make the cut, a 160 is basically the same as a 210, so it’s better to take a chance and see if it pays off.
On the other hand, I was not happy with my spare shooting. Missing two 10 pins, especially on a “grind it out” kind of night, put more pressure on me than needed. In the moment, I always want to keep my focus on the spare in front of me, but looking back I see mistakes that are likely the result of not doing my routine properly. With a bit of an iffy reaction, I didn’t fully separate from the strike shot, thinking about my next adjustment rather than the spare. It’s why I was so focused on my spare routine in the tenth frame of the last game.
I love this game
My strongest feeling coming away from the night was simply how much I love bowling. It’s been a while since I was challenged to really do something different. Even though every night is different, bowling league on the same pattern does get repetitive. I’m usually making similar adjustments, using the same tools, and changing balls at similar times. This week offered some true variety in what the lanes were asking me to do.
Could I have executed a bit better? Yes. Absolutely. Trying to play straighter angles and more of the pocket, I definitely leaked a few shots that all resulted in nine-counts. Obviously, the missed spares were blips as well. But overall, it felt like I was earning every pin. Good shots paid off, and bad shots were penalized.
I’ve always loved the problem-solving aspect of bowling. Every time you go out, you not only need to figure out what the lanes are asking you to do, but you also have to execute it. This past week was a great reminder of both of those things, re-acquainting me with why I fell in love with the sport to begin with. It can be maddening, but it can also be extremely rewarding.
- Trust your gut. Make moves as soon as you think you need them.
- Separate your strike game from your spare game. Focus on the spare, and consider your adjustments when the frame is over.
- “Pressure” is self-inflicted. Appreciating the joy of the game takes that pressure and turns it into positive energy.
Final scores: 225 – 214 – 216