Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't sweat the single pins

Single pin spares are annoying. If you knocked down nine pins, chances are you threw a pretty decent first ball. All that stands between you and a mark is one stupid pin. It shouldn't be that hard to get it, but for some reason, on some nights, it seems like a major chore. I watch the PBA with amazement at the ease with which professional bowlers can take out any single pin. Professional bowlers are all well above 90% in their single pin conversion rates. As for me, this season I have converted 92 out of 132 tries, or just about 70%. I'm actually pretty happy with that number for this stage of my bowling career. As for the rest of the Movements, Johnebob is at 65%, JD is a 50% single pin guy, and the Rookie is at 49%.

In this post, I want to explain why it shouldn't be a very difficult thing to do, especially for a pin that's not the 7 or 10. The most satisfying single pin conversion occurs when the ball strikes the center of the pin, sending it cleanly straight back into the pit, but you can miss by quite a bit and still get that lone duck. Shown below is the situation drawn to scale. A standard bowling pin has a diameter of 4.766". From where this odd measurement is derived, I do not know. The diameters of legal bowling balls range from 8.5 to 8.595". Let's assume that all bowling balls come in at the top of that range. What is the total width of the area in which you have to throw the ball to pick up a single pin? Well, it's twice the diameter of a bowling ball plus the diameter of a pin. It comes in at just under 22 inches.

A ball that just brushes against a single pin often will not knock it down, so let's deduct 1/8" from each side. So, to collect a single pin spare (not the 7 or 10 pin), you have to deliver the ball somewhere within an area that is about 21 5/8" in width. That's a fairly large area. In fact, it's more than half the width of the entire lane!

Now ask yourself this. If I asked you to throw a shot where the entire ball exited the lane on the right side between the midline and gutter, could you do it? What about the left? Of course you could. That's all you have to do to pick up a single pin spare. You just have to shift that lane "half" to the appropriate position.

Now, what about those pesky corner pins? To be honest, both of them put me a little on edge. I pretty much hate 'em. Well, the center of the 7 and 10 pins stand 2 3/4" from the edge of the gutter, so there's only about 1/3 of an inch between the edge of the pin and the gutter. By the same process, we can figure out how much room you have to play with over there. It comes out to an area with a width of about 13.6", or just about 1/3 of the lane. Can you deliver the ball to a a given third of the lane. Sure, you can. So stop worrying about it.


  1. For a bowler of my stature, you will also have to figure in the length of the lane for which I can place a ball in the gutter. My off-hand guess is somewhere near 20 feet of the 7/10 pin on the respective side. It sounds a lot more difficult when I have 43 feet to deal with....

  2. Nope. None of us do. I decided to throw a straight ball at the 6 and 10 pins. Any ball thrown straight will roll straight.

  3. This is like Communism. Looks good on paper... However, a bowler like me who knows what to do, where to throw, etc. STILL misses more than he should. This week I missed a number of 2-/3-pin spares by barely a board. I missed those damned corner pins. Bowling really is elementary (especially as your lesson explains it). It's The Three Ms: Mental strength, Muscle memory, and Move to adjust. There really ARE just three spare balls in most situations-- strike, 4-pin, and 6-pin.

    See? I know all of this, but my average has dropped faster than an anvil on Wile E. Coyote's head. On Tuesday night, somewhere in the pall of my third game (while the seemingly possessed-- and amusingly oblivious-- dude on the other team with a 167 avg. was on his way to a 261), I surrendered and raised my mug to the pins in homage to their worthiness as opponents; once again, they had their way with me.


  4. I agree that it is the divide between theory and practice that is so frustrating. I haven't been bowling since I wrote this, but I thought it might be helpful. We'll see. Do you golf? Think of it like a lag put in golf. If you have to putt the ball 40 ft across the green, it's much easier to aim for a circle 6 ft in diameter around the cup than the cup itself. In this stupid game, I will now try to imagine half a lane around the pin and aim for that. Don't know if it will help.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.