PBA TECH TALK by Ted Thompson
BOWLING Magazine July 2002
Reprinted with permission from the USBC
Sticking to established Ball Layout Parameters helps Duke Maximize his Natural Abilities
In the last “PBA Tech Talk", we featured Walter Ray Williams Jr., a player who doesn’t really concern himself with the technical “mumbo jumbo” of bowling ball dynamics. This time, we’re featuring Norm Duke as another player who drills a lot of balls throughout the year, but also remains pretty conservative in his choice of layouts.
There are a lot of bowling fans who believe the professionals use every ball-drilling trick in the book to knock down pins. While that may be true for a handful of players, most of the Professional Bowlers Association’s top players use pretty basic layouts and make adjustments using their talent. Duke is one of the latter types of players and his credentials speak loudly.
Norm Duke has been PBA Player of the Year twice. The first time, in 1994, he predominately used a ball (Columbia Beast) that had fairly low differential and, therefore, was a ball that he could manipulate using physical adjustments to get the reactions he wanted. When he won Player of the Year honors again in 2000, Duke predominately used the AMF Menace Tour (actually a dark-colored Columbia Pulse). This was also a low flare ball and he again used his physical talents to make lane adjustments.
Unfortunately for Duke, technology changes so fast these days that this type of ball did not work very well with the new “slicker” oils that came into use on the PBA Tour during the 2001-02 season. Basically, the cover stock was not strong enough to grip the lane and Duke had to search for “another look.” Duke experimented more during the 2001 season with different layouts and types of balls than he had in years, but he also stayed within his philosophies. One thing that Duke does not change is his grip. Most of the top players don’t change grip very often. Duke uses a standard fingertip grip with a couple of idiosyncrasies that separate him from others.
The first thing you might notice when looking at one of Duke’s balls is the shape of his thumbhole. He begins by drilling a 15/16 or 61/64 size pilot hole, depending on the swelling of his thumb at the time, and then “notches” it out with a 23/32 end mill to a side-to-side measurement of .986" at 38 1⁄2 degrees. Duke uses the sharp edge created by the notch to hang onto the ball during his swing. He will also use a cork insert in the front of the thumbhole for added texture to ensure a solid grip in the ball. Duke also places white tape behind the cork insert and adds and removes pieces of tape to adjust the size of the hole during competition. He places small strips of white tape into and out of the notch to adjust the size of the hole. If you ever see Duke on TV “fiddling” with his thumbhole, this is what he is doing. A professional is always trying to get that perfect feel and some players are more sensitive than others. Duke is one of the more sensitive players on the PBA Tour.
Duke uses very little bevel in all of his gripping holes. This lack of bevel keeps the ball hanging onto his hand with minimal grip pressure. I would say his finger holes are some of the least-beveled on the tour today. He also uses zero lateral (left or right) pitch in his thumbhole. This “zero pitch” in his thumbhole enables him to either release the ball in a “thumb down or thumb out” position. If the lanes call for a delayed reaction, Duke will spin the ball or lower his roll, by rotating his thumb down at the release point. If he is trying to roll the ball end over end, Duke will keep his “thumb out” or right of 12 o’clock at the release point. This release will enable the ball to read the lane sooner.
If Duke were to use either right or left pitch in his thumbhole, it would limit his release options to the characteristics produced by right and left pitches. In theory, right pitch promotes a “thumb down” release where left pitch promotes a “thumb out” release.
When Duke is in the PBA Mobile Service Center drilling balls for a particular block or condition, he will lay out all of his balls in a way he describes as “inside the box.” Duke has a limit on how strong or how weak he will lay out a ball and he won’t go “outside this box.” Why? Because he wants to be able to throw the ball any way he sees fit not only during the course of a tournament, but also during the course of a block or even a game at times. By using layouts that stay within these limits, Duke feels he is not limited in his choices of deliveries with any particular ball.
Duke’s limit for a weak layout or when he wants to “minimize a weight block’s imbalance” is on the vertical centerline of his grip, usually above the finger holes. This would place the pin about 6 1⁄2" from his positive axis point.
His limit for a strong layout is “shorter and stronger” or maximum leverage which puts the pin 3 3⁄8" from his positive axis point. Duke will lay out all of his equipment between these two parameters. If Duke is looking for a stronger or weaker reaction, he would rather make adjustments with cover stocks than with excessive pin placements, especially if he is trying to weaken his reaction.
Another constant in Duke’s choice of layouts is that he will almost exclusively use an extra hole. Usually he will place the extra hole on his PAP. The extra hole, Duke says, “livens up the overall ball reaction for him” and gives him a look he can read and use to make adjustments.
Norm Duke has built his game, grip and layout philosophy around one premise: versatility. He is arguably the most versatile player in bowling history. He has won 19 PBA titles plus the 1993 ABC Masters by “hooking the whole lane", "piping it to the pocket", "playing the twig” and everywhere in between.
Even though he failed to win a PBA title during the extended 2001-02 PBA season, he did cash in 26 of 30 events and ranked ninth in average. A testament to his ability was his induction into the ABC Hall of Fame in 2002.
By keeping his layouts within known constants, Duke can make the necessary adjustments the way that works best for him — with his physical talent. ■ Bowling July 2002
More articles by Ted Thompson