The Long and the Short of It: Pattern Play and Ball Choices

At various high level events the last few years, dual lane conditions have become more common. These lane patterns are categorized as long and short, or could also be referred to as "inside" and "outside", as John Davis likes to refer to them. The long patterns normally range from 42 to 45 feet in length and the short patterns range from 32 to 35 feet in length, with both of these lengths having very similar required ball motion characteristics.

Most players normally play on oil patterns that are in the 38 to 41 foot range at their home bowling center, or single condition events. These medium length patterns are used mainly because it puts most players in an area of the lane that is more comfortable to most of the participants. In addition, when these pattern lengths are used, high flare balls and layouts, which most ball drillers employ in their customers arsenal, normally work the best.

Medium length patterns also tend to allow the lane surface to be the determining factor when the pattern is not a blocked recreational oil pattern. These non-blocked medium oil pattern lengths however tend to favor a certain style, breakpoint, or "match up" too often, which can lead to social nonacceptance.

Unfortunately for the players, the ball choices used on medium length oil patterns may not be the best choices for World Championship dual condition events. (Note: World Bowling has since gone to single pattern events; medium length patterns may be the prevailing choice most often.)

For patterns that are shorter or longer than this 38-41 feet range, the breakpoint must be managed in a more defined and minimal manner. One must also look at the oil patterns being used, how they relate to ball motion, and what motion would be most advantageous to create the greatest margin for error.

Maximizing margin for error is what all players, coaches, and ball drillers should be looking for when deciding on where to play, how to play, and what equipment should be used for a specific oil pattern. Not withstanding a specific lane surface characteristics (topography and wear) and who you follow - different styles of play can affect oil pattern breakdown drastically.

Let's start with the short pattern since it seems to be most challenging for today's modern player, available equipment choices, and layouts. As stated before in John Davis's article, "The long and the short of it", the short condition will be 32 to 35 feet in length.

The high point of the short oil pattern will normally begin from the forth board and rise to the eighth board. Inside the eighth board, the pattern is usually completely flat. Since the oil pattern is on the relatively short side (this used to be the normal pattern length before aggressive bowling balls) there is a lot of lane left, which other than topographical influences, has no definable shape or guidance.

Therefore the player should be targeting along the oil line as long as possible to maximize their room for error. More than likely a player will need to make a few technique adjustments as well. This entails foot placement during the slide, swing direction, hand position, and last but not least, correct ball motion.

If a player chooses a ball that is designed to go long and break sharp, it will not be able to read the oil line. If a player chooses a ball that is to aggressive and hooks to soon, it will force the player away from the oil pattern slope (from least to most amount of oil).

How should the short pattern be attacked? Here are some points and characteristics a player and coach should be looking for when playing the short pattern. Note: Line up techniques are for a right handed player, left handers should reverse the information:

The main thing a player must do first is make sure they are lining up the correct way. Most people will release the ball about 4-8 boards right (right handed player) of their sliding foot. Since the low point of the pattern has been stated to be outside of the forth board, if a player is sliding left of 15, most likely they are playing in the flat part of the pattern way too long, which minimizes their room for error.

Depending on the player and amount of free hook to the right, the sliding foot should be somewhere as far right as the sixth board to not much left of the 15th board.

If a player's swing is coming from the inside to the outside too much, they will have a launch angle that is too high which will make it very difficult to target along the oil line early enough or long enough.

The more inside out your swing path is, the more difficult it is to go "up the lane". Swing directions that are straighter down the target line will normally be more advantageous on the short patterns.

SWING DIRECTION TIP: Place your ball into the swing either straight down the target line or even a little to the right of your target line. This will keep the swing direction in a more "up the lane" direction. If you place your ball into the swing inside the target line, this will make your swing a "figure 8" type swing path, causing a launch angle that is often too high for short patterns.

Historically, players that excel on conditions that allow the extreme outside to play tend to be quieter in their release. What that means is there is not a lot of un-cupping and re-cupping of the wrist through the release point. It really does not matter if your axis rotation is high or low. Pete Weber is one of the best gutter players of the time, and his axis rotation is almost 90 degrees, but his release is very "quiet".

Get with a qualified coach to experiment what works best for your game and mental mindset.

Choose bowling balls and/or layouts that create an elongated break point! Bowling balls that have high differential RG values, or layouts that maximize the differential in a high differential ball, tend to have a break point that is very short in nature. Basically the ball releases energy in a very short length wise area.

If you do not know your Positive Axis Point, find it before you layout or choose balls for the short and long patterns.

When Chris Barnes won his first PBA Title in Portland Oregon on a 32 foot oil pattern on freshly resurface wood lanes, his ball reps set him up a Navy Quantum with the pin located in his track (about 6 ¾ from his PAP). This helped him keep the ball in play because the weight block was already in a very stable position, and therefore flare was virtually eliminated.

When you eliminate flare, you minimize backend reaction. Most players on the PBA Tour will use layouts that place the pin farther from their PAP rather than closer to their PAP. Another option is to use a ball that already has a low flare core, preferably less than .026 differential.

However, the best option for most players is probably a low differential urethane, or even a polyester ball. These ball types will allow you target along the oil line for an extended period of time because they release energy in a more continual manner, which will maximize your room for error.


On the long patterns, the same type of ball motion philosophy should be used. The only difference is within the aggressiveness of the cover stock and how aggressive a player can go with the layout or ball core.

While I was Player Services Director for the PBA Tour, a.k.a. the PBA Ball Drilling Truck, when the players bowled on longer patterns, their ball layout choices were in the 4 ¾" to 6 ¼" layout spectrum from their PAP.

The reason for this is they are trying to control the breakpoint and minimize the backend change of direction, much like the short pattern philosophy. To refer again to John Davis' article again, "the long pattern dictates the ball will hook a minimal amount; a player's break point will usually need to be closer to the pocket." Since the breakpoint needs to be closer to the pocket, backend change of direction must be minimized while at the same time retaining energy.

Many high level players will strategically place an extra hole or the mass bias in a position to enhance these characteristics.

The long oil pattern slope will usually begin at the 10 board and increase to its peak at the 15th board. If your dominant ball path is either outside the 10 board or inside the 15th board, you will be playing in the flattest area of the pattern.

To maximize your margin for error, much like the short pattern, you should be targeting along the slope of the oil pattern.


The dual patterns used at the World Championship level are more defined than most of the patterns used in single condition events, and therefore should actually be simpler to figure out. As a player and coach, it is up to you to figure out exactly how to attack a specific oil pattern, and lane surface characteristic, for your particular style of play. (2016 Note: World Bowling has since gone to single pattern events where medium patterns will most likely dominate the pattern choice.)

The spectrum of available equipment is very wide these days so don't be so close minded you don't use it. There is definitely not a rule that says you must use the strongest ball in your bag, so don't be afraid to try the weakest ball in your arsenal if the environment warrants it.

One last thought everyone should remember about today's bowling environment. The group of players as a whole can and will make a pattern develop more predictable, more unpredictable, easier, or tougher. On top of that, with today's synthetic lane surfaces, topography can be anything on any part of the lane. Don't think for a moment topography can't change a way the oil pattern plays from lane-to-lane or center-to-center; it can, and does greatly.

Until LaneMap Guides become common place at all high level events, and oil patterns change less than they do now throughout any given period of games, these unknowns to the players will ultimately determine what happens to the development of the oil pattern, and what the resulting scoring pace will be.

So when competing in today's environment, let your ball be your guide more than ever, and get all you can get. What one squad does means very little to what the following squad may do.



Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson began his career in the bowling business in 1976 at the age of 15 working for the Florida based Galaxy Lanes chain. Beginning from the ground up in center operations, he has also been a long time Pro Shop proprietor, 40 lane center General Manager, PBA National Tour player, multi PBA Regional Champion, PBA Player Services Director, and even a bowling writer. Since 2004 he has been working with Kegel.

Ted has also coached bowling on many different levels. From basic Learn to Bowl classes and private lessons while in the Pro Shop business, he was also head coach for Florida State University, countless PBA professionals, and even coached Lisa Wagner to her last Player of the Year award in 1993. While working for the PBA, the late great Dick Weber even asked for some of his time. An experience Ted says "he will always cherish". Dick immediately won a Senior Sweeper and gave him $300. It was the most Ted ever received for an hour lesson, and it came from one of the greatest players of all time.

Recently, Ted has been deeply studying topography and the effects it has on ball motion. He is also on the Kegel Team helping make decisions for many of the oil patterns Kegel uses in competitions world wide, which has led to further development of Kegel's lane machines. Ted has a complete and unique understanding of bowling from many different sides.

Ted also named the world's and Kegel's most popular lane machine the "Kustodian ION" (pronounced "EON" in Europe) and spearheaded the creation of Kegel's Navigation Oil Patterns. The creativity may be heredity. In 1968 Ted's father created the famous Dodge Super Bee logo and spearheaded that marketing campaign.