I have been bowling since I was 12
September 26 — I have been bowling as a bowler, fan or journalist since I was 12 years old.
Believe it or not, my first shot in 10 pin bowling was a strike at Coastal Bend Lanes in Aransas Pass on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Many years later, I tried five pin bowling while on vacation in Vancouver, Canada. My first shot there was also a strike.
The five pin bowling is very different from its more famous counterpart here in the United States. There are five fewer pins to knock down and the ball is much smaller and fits in the palm of your hand. It doesn’t have finger or thumb holes. For me it was like rolling the wooden ball in the Skee-Ball arcade game. I’m pretty good at Skee-Ball so I had a good 185 in my first five-pin game. Much higher than my first 10pin game!
But while I enjoyed the success on the first few balls I threw in both 10pin and 5pin bowling, I learned that 10pin bowling is much more difficult to master. that it seems. I started by throwing a straight ball and didn’t manage to hit a lot. I would hit the pocket with the bullet but I would leave only one pin. So I worked on hanging the ball and bought a ball that would grip better on the slopes. My strikes increased and so did my scores, but controlling the hook wasn’t always easy.
After you have mastered your bowling technique, you learn to adapt to the conditions of the lane. The bowling center sets oil patterns on the lanes. Oil helps bowlers control their shots, but if you’re not aligned properly it can be frustrating.
I watched one of the Professional Bowler’s Association tour bowlers shoot 22 straight goals in two qualifying games on a Thursday at the Quaker State Open at the Forum Bowl in Grand Prairie. But when he made the televised stepladder final on Saturday, poor Justin Hromek couldn’t buy a strike. Lights for the TV dry the oil on the lanes and force bowlers to adapt on the fly. Some make the right adjustments and some don’t. And they only have a few blows to lock themselves in or they are beaten.
When I was younger, the top bowlers on the PBA tour were Mark Roth, a right-hander who really threw the ball, and Earl Anthony, a left-hander with a smooth delivery. What a contrast it was to see them on the alleys.
I watched them and the other top bowlers compete against each other on ABC-TV on Saturdays with Chris Schenkel play by play and Nelson “Bo” Burton Jr. providing the expert commentary. Schenkel and Burton were the best.
One bowler I have long admired is Walter Ray Williams Jr. He is nicknamed “Deadeye” because he is so precise with a bowling ball and is also a nine-time National Horseshoe Throw Champion. In two different seasons from 2005 to 2006, Williams never failed to pick up a single spare spindle in 475 attempts. Williams leads the PBA in career wins with 47. Anthony is second at 43 and Roth sixth at 34.
I have long been a huge fan of Texan bowler Norm Duke from New Boston, near Texarkana. His parents operated bowling centers in two cities in Northeast Texas. So Norm literally grew up on the slopes. He ranks third on the career list with 40 wins.
I participated in pro-ams in Grand Prairie with Pete Weber, Mike Aulby, Roger Bowker and Mike Miller. Weber ranks fourth on the career list with 37 wins. Aulby is eighth at 29 years old. Weber, known for losing his temper in televised games, was likable and very knowledgeable about the sport. Aulby, a former president of PBA, was a really nice guy. Miller was known to play bowling without a thumbhole for his ball.
There have been a few big bowlers in Greenville. Chris Barnes, who ranks 17th on the career roster and former US Open champion, won a regional title at what used to be called DB’s but is now Shenaniganz.
Wes Malott, who won 10 PBA titles and a former US Open champion, played in one of the regional tournaments here. They call him the “Big Nasty” because he’s so powerful.
Two other US Open champions, Del Ballard Jr. and Gary Dickinson, competed in regional tournaments in Greenville. Ballard had a perfect 300 match in qualifying but didn’t win the tournament.
12-time tour winner Danny Wiseman played a few practice games at the old Hilltop Lanes in Greenville when he was in Hunt County visiting family. I looked at his score sheet. All games over 200.
Bobby Cooper, the 1970 US Open champion, was a former Hilltop manager. He told me about an embarrassing moment he slit his pants while bowling live on national television.
Donna Dillon, who has won the prestigious Bluebonnet Queens Women’s State title multiple times, also managed the tracks at Hilltop. I watched her averaging 222 for nine games in a tournament in town once.
I loved walking behind the bowlers as they competed in the regional tournament. While their approach and deliveries were generally different, their follow-ups were very similar.
Successful bowlers today put a lot of revolutions on the ball with their outing. More turns create more spit action which generally leads to more hits. But not always, which makes the game interesting.
Two-handed bowlers can put a lot of tricks on the ball, so now you see two-handed bowlers like Jason Belmonte and Texan Anthony Simonsen finishing among the tournament leaders on the tour. “Belmo,” who is from Australia, is probably the top bowler on the PBA tour right now. But I wonder. Would Belmo use both hands for five pin bowling? It would be something to see.
David Claybourn is sports editor for the Herald-Banner.