We hear it all the time; “the heads are hooking”, “carrydown is happening quickly today”, “time to move again”, “my ball’s burning up – grab the fire extinguisher!”...ok maybe not the last one. But with the amount of oil needed in today’s environment in order to protect the lane surface and keep the modern ball from hooking into the gutter at the arrows, rapid and chaotic change is often the result. Even the best of players can get confused in today's game over the course of a few games.
In this month’s piece we'll try and give some sense of order to that chaos, but the first thing many will have to do is let go of what you’ve learned and experienced in the past – today’s pattern mutation, carrydown, and resulting bowling environment is different, very different.
Oil Pattern Change
The first thing we need to understand about oil pattern change is how bowling balls with different amounts of track flare change the oil pattern.
Prior to the 1980’s, when bowling balls did not significantly flare, the ball essentially picked up all the oil it could within the first couple revolutions - the first 8’ to 16’ of the oil pattern. It was in the head area where the oil pattern dried out the most, and after that, the oil pattern basically remained unchanged. Only once we got to a point of about 24 games per lane or more, did the rest of the pattern began to “dry out”.
As lower flaring more aggressive coverstock balls were introduced in the mid to late 1980’s, the amount of oil on the lanes had to increase, and oil pattern mutation changed because of that. John Davis' research showed the latter half of the oil pattern actually increased in volume during this era.
Back then the bowling ball picked up so much oil in the front part of the lane, it re-deposited some of that oil towards the end of the pattern, and then a lot more of that oil on the dry back-end. This is the time when carrydown quickly became a big problem.
When ball manufactures figured out that track flare increased the friction between the ball surface and the lane surface, bowling balls became unbalanced again - only this time it was by way of significant Radius of gyration (Rg) differential, It was then, oil pattern mutation, and the resulting ball motion, changed dramatically.
However, bowler "lingo" hasn't seemed to change as much as pattern mutation has, which can cause a lot of confusion and misinformation in our world of bowling.
Bowling balls with track flare (pictured below far right) pick up and erase oil off the lane with every revolution, causing a much different type of oil pattern breakdown. It’s not just the heads that breakdown down anymore, it’s the entire length of the oil pattern that breaks down, and it begins with the first ball thrown on the oil pattern.
In our research, when starting with 80 units in the front part of the lane, our after tapes show that about half the oil has been depleted during a normal league session, which is 15 games per lane. We see the same trend in high level events bowling 12 games per lane.
That means there are still about 40 units left in the heads, but many in our industry still talk about the “heads hooking”. Anyone want to bowl on a pattern with 40 units on the outsides? Of course you don’t - your ball will never hook! So what causes the players to move left in today’s bowling environment? It’s more about the removal of oil from the mid-lane towards the end of the pattern.
Because of oil pattern taper, the mid and end part of the oil pattern has much less oil than the front part of the oil pattern. As the ball erases the oil off the lane, the modern “mountain range” like coverstock can easily poke through that thin film of oil towards the back part of the pattern. This causes the ball to read the friction much sooner there than in the front part of the pattern, and that is what makes players move left, not the oil pattern breaking down in the heads.
What this flaring ball pattern breakdown does to ball motion is simple – the ball simply slows down sooner and therefore hooks more. For high rev and high ball speed players, this pattern mutation falls right into their wheel house as finesse has been removed from the equation for them - its flat out every shot without having to worry about “throwing it through the break point”.
For rev challenged and slower ball speed players, this pattern mutation becomes more difficult to overcome – their bowling balls slow too early and begin to lose axis rotation too soon causing less room for error and decreased pin carry.
Of course this type player could switch to a less aggressive ball to combat the increased friction towards the end of the pattern, but then that type ball is more susceptible to carrydown. It’s a delicate balance for these styles of players.
Can the heads (the first 16 feet) still give the ball the perception it is hooking early? Sure they can, but in today’s bowling environment, more often than not it’s not because of the lack of oil.
With synthetic lanes it’s normally a side hill slope issue where the ball is thrown into a hill and trying to rotate up that hill. This topography issue will make the ball “check up” or move in the direction of the slope, which is more of a gravity issue, with a bit of friction thrown in for the banked curve affect.
For wood lanes or really old synthetics, it could be a severely roughed up lane surface, which therefore is a friction issue. However no reasonable amount of oil will significantly help in either of these situations simply because the depth of the scratches in the lane surface are deeper than the oil film – resurfacing or re-leveling the lane surface is the only solution to combat that kind of "early hook".
In short, bowling balls that do not flare tend to break an oil pattern down from front-to-back, and today's high flaring balls tend to break down oil patterns from back-to-front.
With high flare balls the oil pattern is literally getting shorter in the ball traffic area with every shot thrown, and by moving left we are increasing our launch angles to that area in order to give the ball more time to hook. Of course when missing inside of target, we are now in a "longer pattern" again so the ball holds pocket. This is why sport and challenge patterns get "easier" and scores often increase after a few games.
Carrydown is also much different by balls that don’t flare versus balls that do flare. Bowling balls that do not flare leave long three to four foot streaks of carrydown beyond the end of the pattern. Because the footprint of the bowling ball is so small, a shot hitting these long streaks of carrydown can all of a sudden make a pattern feel like it is much longer, mainly because to the bowling ball, on that single shot, the oil pattern has become longer!
With the amount in the middle of today's oil patterns, it is not uncommon for those streaks of oil to be in the 5-8 unit range.
As noted before, significant carrydown was not a problem in bowling until the 1980’s - especially towards the middle to end part of the decade. With the advent of ever stronger urethane balls, as well as increased dynamic weight blocks, an increased amount of oil was necessary as more and more customers bought these new balls.
And as players began sanding the covers and using drilling techniques to create more dynamic imbalance, more oil was needed to help protect the lane surface and keep these new higher friction balls on the lane, and of course, keep the customers who bought these new balls happy.
It was only then that we saw carrydown become such a significant part of the playing environment in so few games. Prior to that, when fairly dynamically balanced rubber and polyester balls were mainly in use, there was simply not enough oil needed nor used on the lanes to cause significant carrydown issues.
Sure there was carrydown after a few days of play, when lanes were not cleaned but once a week, but nothing like what happened in the 1980’s to tournament organizations like the PBA Tour, who cleaned the lanes every day.
Carrydown that is created with balls that flare however is much different, as well as how these much more aggressive and diverse internal dynamic balls allow players to play the lanes.
Meaning, because the amount of dynamic imbalance is much greater, this increases the range of available hook and allows players to play the lanes in a much wider area than in the past. When balls were more balanced and didn’t hook as much, everyone played the lanes near the same area, causing a much narrower spread of carrydown.
This dynamic imbalance causes track flare, and track flare creates what are called “bow ties” (where the flare rings come together) at only two points on the balls surface. Those two points are the only parts of the ball with oil on it that touches the lane every revolution.
The higher the differential Rg, the wider the track flare is, and the smaller those touching points are. This in turn creates random 2” to 3” strips of carrydown. For instance, using a 40’ pattern as an example, one track flare carrydown strip may be at 41’ to 41’ 3”, another small strip at 41’ 6” to 41’ 9”, and another one at 42’ to 42’ 3”, etc.
Therefore, when a fresh part of the modern flare balls surface comes in contact with these small strips of carrydown, ball motion is hardly affected at all. As these strips build up however, along with the longer three to four plus foot random strips of carrydown created by the many low flaring spare balls going down the lane, the back-ends will “tighten up” somewhat, but not as soon, or as much, as lanes did in the late 1980’s.
There was a very good article written by the PBA that represents what happened in the late 1980’s. It stated how after a few games of bowling the “fronts go away” and significant carrydown happens beyond the pattern at the balls exit point.
When this occurs, the player who greatly hooks the ball can move left and effectively “go around” the carrydown, creating an increased margin of area from that of a fresher oil pattern, and clean dry back ends. Low flare carrydown gives this style of player hold area inside of target.
On the PBA Tour in the mid to late 1980’s it was not uncommon for big hook ball players to average 20-30 pins a game more in the evening blocks versus the morning blocks.
Today however, even though high rev and high ball speed players can often struggle right out of the gate because their ball motion is too “skid-snappy” on the fresh, with today’s expeditious pattern breakdown, and high friction balls, high rev players can hit their stride much sooner. Today it doesn’t take more than a couple games to “smooth out” their ball motion from front to back.
In addition, as we stated before, carrydown at the end of the pattern with high flaring balls is not as defined as it was in the 1980’s, or when lower flaring urethane balls were in use. Therefore today there is simply not enough defined carrydown to go around and use as hold area.
High rev players tend to get their advantage today more from rapid pattern breakdown towards the mid and end part of the pattern, not carrydown. As most know, low to non-flaring balls today are most often regulated to shooting spares and therefore, those long strips of carrydown are more random across the lane surface - sometime you’ll hit a strip, and sometimes you won’t.
Remember, today you must think different. No longer are we using non-flaring balls on less than 5 milliliters of solvent based lane conditioner like we did in the 1970’s. No longer are we using low flaring balls on 12 milliliters of oil with massive carrydown like we did in the mid to late 1980’s. No longer are we bowling on lanes that are resurfaced every year like was mandated until deletion of the rule. No longer is levelness being maintained regularly like we did prior to advent of synthetic lanes.
The bowling environment today is much more varied, much more complex, and does not always make sense, or play “how it’s supposed to play”.
The best piece of advice we can give you is what the late great PBA National Tour tournament director Harry “Goose” Golden use to say to the players after every roll call; “bowlers, let your ball be your guide”.