PBA TECH TALK by Ted Thompson
BOWLING Magazine January 2002
Reprinted with permission from the USBC
Forward Thumb Pitch helps Couch get a Better Grip on his Power
The grip of choice among most Professional Bowlers Association touring pros is a “relaxed fingertip grip,” one that lets the player release the ball in a number of ways. Release flexibility, in turn, allows them to fine tune their ball reactions to maximize scoring potential not only from week to week, but from pair to pair and even lane to lane.
Jason Couch is one of those “relaxed fingertip” players, but with an unusual twist. Couch incorporates what many bowlers would consider to be “excessive” forward pitch in his thumbhole. In the good old days, forward pitch in the thumbhole — where the hole is tilted toward the palm of the hand — was unheard of in most finger tip grips. Traditionally, most bowlers would use at least 1/4" to 3/8" reverse pitch to allow the thumb to exit the ball as fast as possible. The longer the span, the more reverse pitch was needed to enable the thumb to exit cleanly and impart “lift.”
The concept is simple: the earlier the thumb exits the ball, the longer it hangs on the fingers, creating lift which makes the ball react earlier. That trend has changed. Most top PBA players today use relaxed fingertip grips — typically 1/8" to 1/4" shorter than a full-tension fingertip — with zero or moderate forward pitch in the thumbhole. More lift is not a commodity today’s top pros want. Thus the trend is to get less lift from the fingers and in doing so helps the ball retain energy as it travels down the lane.
Jason Couch however, exceeds the norm. Up until the fall of 2000, he was using 7/16" forward pitch in his thumbhole. Because of his extremely high back swing, he creates a tremendous amount of gravitational force at the bottom of the swing and this amount of forward pitch was his way of not releasing the ball too early. Or in Jason’s words “dropping it at my toe.”
During the fall of 2000, some new irritation to his thumb began to develop and he felt a decrease in flexibility in his hand might be the cause. Another byproduct to his unusual amount of forward pitch was that he had to “pop” the ball off his hand at the bottom, making it hard for him to vary his rev rate which is a tool many of today’s pros use to combat the extreme variety of lane conditions.
Working with Couch, the PBA Player Services staff reduced his forward pitch to 3/16" and at the same time increased his span 1/8" on both fingers. By doing this, Couch still has that “locked on” feeling in the ball.
The end result was that he alleviated the irritation to his thumb, was able to roll out of the ball smoother at the release point and, at the same time, stay behind the ball a little more.
Layouts and ball choices
For the sake of simplicity, the PBA Tour uses three different lengths of oil patterns — short (less than 36 feet), medium (37-42 feet) and long (43 feet or more). Within these three patterns lie specific characteristics requiring any given player to make specific ball choices.
In 2001, Couch qualified second behind Parker Bohn III on a very short pattern at the Parker Bohn III Empire State Open in Albany, N.Y. It was a milestone accomplishment for Couch because shorter patterns (36 feet and less) have been his biggest challenge. His powerful release and high rev rate make his ball reaction violent and it’s difficult for him to control the pocket under those conditions. Compounding this was the fact that when he missed the pocket, the spares he had to try to convert were very difficult.
On shorter patterns the optimal place to play is usually the extreme outside line. A player must find a way to stay towards the outside portion of the lane and control their break point.
Couch did this during the PBIII Empire State Open by using a three-piece ball (pancake-shaped weight block) from game one. This type of ball has a very low differential value which means it has very little flare potential. In fact, during that tournament the PBA staff drilled him an identical ball later in the week because the first one became too “tracked up.” By using this type of ball, Couch was able to create a very consistent, controllable ball reaction throughout the whole week.
The medium-length patterns (37-42 feet) are the trickiest to play. Usually there is no defined place to play so the options vary greatly. Couch likes to attack these patterns with stronger reactive balls. He will also use layouts that put the pin in the ring finger area and depending on the amount of oil; he may or may not use an extra hole.
This enables Couch to create a breakpoint farther to the left than most other left-handers and therefore create area for himself by using the straighter players’ “carrydown” as hold area and fresher back ends to the left of that for swing area. His great shot-making ability is also a key in taking advantage of his power.
The longer patterns (43 feet and greater) tend to be Couch’s favorite. At the 2000 Brunswick World Tournament of Champions, the pattern was 50 feet long and played against the PBA Gold “Pro Pins” which weigh 3 lb. 10 oz. each. On such patterns, the ball simply doesn’t have enough time to hook a lot, so the place to play is usually more to the inside part of the lane. Couch plays the deep inside line as well as any left-hander since the powerful Steve Cook. With the heavier pins in play, it was no wonder Couch was victorious.
Couch’s ball of choice for this type of pattern is usually either a mild particle or strong reactive cover stock with the pin again around the ring finger area. The change he makes here is the extra hole placement, which is usually one to two inches below his positive axis point on his vertical axis line. This makes the ball react a little earlier and straighter into the pocket, which is imperative on these types of conditions.
Another advantage Couch creates on this type of pattern is that his lay down area is usually to the right of the right-handed players. He is then able to use the drier portion on the front part of the lane created by the right-handers as his “swing” area. Again because of his powerful release, Couch creates a much higher carry percentage than most players on this type of condition.
With the new “best-of-five” single-elimination match play format now being used on the PBA Tour, many of the high rev players struggled during the fall segment of 2001. The tour now bowls on freshly oiled lanes every round of the tournament, which historically has favored the medium to lower rev rate players. These types of players usually get a much smoother and more predictable ball reaction when the back ends are fresh (no oil carrydown).
Couch was one of those who struggled, but with his enormous talent and dedication to practice, you can bet it’s just a matter of time until he figures it out. When the tour resumes in January, don’t be surprised if Jason Couch becomes a major factor again. BOWLING January 2002
More articles by Ted Thompson