PBA TECH TALK with Ted Thompson
BOWLING Magazine May 2002
Reprinted with permission from the USBC
Basic grip, cover stock management are keys to Williams’ 15 years of PBA dominance
Walter Ray Williams Jr. arguably has been the most dominant bowler over the last 15 years. Over that span of years, Williams has found a way to be victorious despite a multitude of technological advances. His rise to stardom began at the end of the low to no-flare urethane era, continued into the low-flare reactive era and today he’s a consistent threat in the high-flare reactive and particle era.
He has endured changes in not only equipment, but also in formats. He clearly dominated in the PBA’s old “marathon” 42 and 56 game formats, winning 33 times from 1986 to 2001. More recently, Williams also conquered the PBA’s new match play “sprint” format. When the PBA went to the match play format in the fall of 2001, he made the TV finals a tour-best seven times including a remarkable five straight. Some thought the new format would make it impossible for anyone to dominate, let alone have a TV streak like Williams put together. But his accomplishments again confirmed his greatness.
With all of Williams’ titles and the fact that he earned a degree in physics at Cal Poly-Pomona, you might think he’s an expert in taking advantage of today’s technologically-advanced bowling balls. Well, the opposite is actually true. Williams doesn’t really concern himself with exacting pin placements, extra holes, mass bias positions and CG placements.
Using either a ball company representative’s recommendations or a PBA player services rep’s input, Williams will simply drill a new ball and see what it does in relation to his other equipment. Because of his naturally straight type of shot, he normally uses layouts that will maximize a particular ball’s flare potential. He’ll then vary the cover stock by either sanding or polishing it to get the amount of friction that looks good to his eye and gives him the kind of carry he’s after.
Keep in mind that the number one influence in ball reaction is the aggressiveness and preparation of the cover stock. Therefore, all of today’s weight block technology and layouts can be wasted unless the cover stock matches up with a person’s particular style on a particular lane condition at a particular time.
During the fall of 2001, Williams used balls that had highly aggressive cover stocks with strong pin placements. The layout we saw him use most was one that placed the pin 3 3⁄4" from his positive axis point and positioned up toward his vertical axis line. For Williams, this layout produced a high amount of flare early and more of an “end over end” roll type reaction on the backend.
The oil patterns at the time were fairly flat and relatively on the short side. This layout gave Williams “a look” that for him was very readable and controllable on the backend, and therefore allowed him to put up some impressive numbers.
Like most of the top PBA players, Williams has a very basic grip. He uses a standard fingertip grip with Contour soft oval grips in both fingers. He uses no forward or reverse pitch in any of his gripping holes. The soft finger grips he uses “give me a tacky feel” for comfort. His thumbhole is a “Custom Thumb” mold which has an extreme amount of bevel; also done for comfort because of a pinched nerve he developed in his thumb in the early 1990s.
When a lot of bevel is used, it can make it difficult to hang onto the ball because there is less of a pressure point at the base of the thumb. Without these pressure points, excessive grip pressure would have to be used to simply hang onto the ball.
At the suggestion of ball rep Rick Benoit, Williams began using a cork thumb insert to provide a textured surface to solve that problem. The cork insert enables him to maintain a relaxed grip pressure which is essential to good bowling.
If your grip pressure is too excessive, it’s impossible to have a loose arm swing. Without a relatively loose arm swing, it’s very difficult to repeat shots because muscle tension is hard to repeat. Too much muscle in your swing also makes you lose “feel."
Gravity is a constant so work with gravity more and muscle less. If you use gravity as your friend, you’ll have a better chance of repeating your shots and increasing your scores and finishing better in your tournaments. If you’ve ever wondered how professional bowlers’ bowl 16 or more games per day, day after day, it’s because of good technique, being relaxed and letting the ball swing.
Williams’ record proves that no matter how unorthodox his style may look, one thing is certain: He knows how to repeat. And his repetition involves winning, and winning, and winning... ■BOWLING May 2002