We at Kegel hear it all the time with statements like “man, the lanes are really flooded today” when a player has trouble hooking the ball or “wow, the lanes are really dry” when the ball hooks more than they are used to seeing. The variables that make up the playing environment today are so complex that one would need a super computer and a physics degree to decipher everything involved. There are so many factors other than oil that make up our playing environment but oil is the one factor everyone likes to focus on and for the purpose of this article, we will discuss this elusive, controversial and unseen variable as it relates to length and volume.
The length of a competition oil pattern may be the most important factor in how the bowler plays the lanes. While I was PBA Tour Player Services Director and Kegel was the official lane maintenance provider for the PBA Tour, there was a flood of information provided each week by Kegel to the players. Some of the more observant players began to take notice of how each of the patterns played and correlated their observations to the posted pattern.
The one item that seemed to be consistent with how a pattern played and developed was the length. I’ll never forget PBA Champion Ryan Shafer telling me he only looked at the length and the number of 2 to 2 loads on the weekly posted program sheet. The length gave him an idea of where he was going to play and the number of 2 to 2 loads gave him an idea of the difficulty - it's no different today. Knowing the length of the oil pattern and how it relates to your style of play may be the most important information you can learn about oil patterns.
In basic terms, the length of the pattern will determine how much time the bowling ball spends in the dry part of the lane (back end) and therefore how much time it is able to hook. For example; a length of 34 feet using modern bowling balls will usually force a player to play a more outside line because of the excessive amount of hook the ball will incur as it spends over 26 feet in the dry backend.
On the other end of the spectrum, a length of 44 feet will only give the ball 16 feet of dry backends, and therefore less time to hook towards the pocket. Therefore the player will normally play a line that is “closer to the pocket” since the ball has minimal time to hook into the pocket.
When using pattern lengths in the 37-40 foot range, the lane surface is usually the greatest factor in determining where the optimal place to play is, and that is never really known until competition begins and players experiment with different lines and ball choices. In this case a player must keep a very open mind when it comes to strategy.
Volume of oil on the other hand is not really a good barometer of how lanes will play since knowing the volume in itself does not tell you where the oil is applied to the lane surface. This reality can be found by looking no further than a short-long pattern example of the 2005 WTBA World Ranking Masters patterns. In those two patterns, the short pattern had a total oil volume of 20.76 milliliters while the long pattern had a total volume of 20.02 milliliters of oil. This is because the basic structure of shorter oil patterns normally have more "wide loads" than longer oil patterns, which increases the overall volume.
Every player at this event would tell you the short pattern had more “hook” than the long pattern. The greater amount of hook is because of the longer amount of time the ball spends on the drier back end.
In short, assuming equal lane surfaces, the load structure (width) of a pattern and where the oil is applied to the lane front-to-back determines how much overall hook a specific pattern allows the bowling ball to have - not necessarily how much overall volume is on the lane.