The game of bowling can trace its origins back to ancient Egypt, circa 5000 B.C.E. Without a doubt, the game has been adapted and evolved in many ways over the centuries, in to the traditional game we know today, 10 pins, 1 ball, 2 fingers, 1 thumb (traditionally). In recent years, with the rise in popularity of certain Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tour bowlers (Jason Belmonte, Osku Palermaa, Jesper Svenson to name a few) more and more local league bowlers, have gone to a thumbless grip technique using 2 hands to control the ball through the backswing. For the most part, these bowler struggle to score consistently, and have a very difficult time adjusting to new and changing lane conditions.
Okay, maybe it was mean of me to title the entry as “Why…(they)…Suck” but to put not too fine a point on it, they do. In my experience, working with and watching the typical 2-handed league bowler they are unable to find “it” on a nightly or weekly basis. It seems as if they think they can just “power through” the difficulties they are having in any given series. The decision to go thumbless, I believe, stem from a desire to see the ball hook and hit the pins hard. Not having a thumb in the ball does make it easier to generate the revolutions on the ball that creates hooking motion; however, it take away a measure of control that tradition grip bowlers have; the ability to square themselves to their target more easily, an even swing plane, smooth footwork, and an extended release.
A player who uses 2-hands puts a lot more of their body into the action than is necessary. To help keep the ball steady in their hands they must keep both hands on the ball through the entire delivery; whereas the traditional bowler pushes the ball away and the offhand is used exclusively for balance through the approach. As a result, they twist their body, over rotating their shoulders; granted, if done correctly, this will help generate a great deal of power that most traditional players can’t, causing the ball to read the lane more aggressively, more on that in a minute. The possibility to get back into the proper position a release is greatly reduced, and each shot will have varied differences. When it comes to ball swing, a traditional bowler extends their arm away from their body and allows gravity to generate the momentum for the balls speed down the lane, a thumbless bowler is incapable of doing that, to keep ahold of the ball they must bend the elbow and cradle at the apex of the (now non-existent) backswing. This also help generate power and revolution that many, but not all, traditional players can match. It still amounts to repetition and consistency, it is easier to repeat something that has 1 or 2 steps rather than something that has 5, 6, or 7 steps.
The shoulders and swing are not the only thing that a 2-handed player has going against them. As a matter of fact, those cause other problems with consistency. The shortened back swing causes issues with footwork, particularly “fast feet.” A traditional bowler with the arc of a back swing has the ability to use more measured step through their approach, some still accelerate through the release, but it is still measured. The 2-hander with their abbreviated backswing, typically take very quick steps to keep themselves “in time.” This rush through the approach emphasizes any problems that may have arisen with the shoulders and swing and the ability to correct the body position granting a quality shot. The release is also hampered by the swing, specifically. To generated consistent revolutions, to recreate the proper angle off the hand, a bowler needs to reach out and follow through, projecting the ball toward the area of the lane it needs to be…the target. So many thumbless bowlers do not do this. While the revolutions may be astounding the ball is pushed down the lane, not rolled toward the target, and the off-balance posture the player has at release causes misses either left or right of the target. All these variables will cause a wildly inconsistent look for the player and a lack of a true read what ball is doing, down lane, on a given shot. It may look pretty and spectacular, in my experience, the style lacks substance.
Do all thumbless 2-handed bowler suck? No, they don’t, if they did, there wouldn’t be any on the PBA tour. Not allowing for raw talent, the difference between pro and amateur 2- handers is the same as the difference between pro and amateur traditionalists, the amount of quality practice and work they put into perfecting their game to make repetitive, quality shot, time after time after time. Professional bowlers put in dozens of hours and hundreds of games per week honing their ability, if the average player in a league, puts in even a fraction of that practice, even 2-handers have the chance to repeat quality shots and be consistent day in, and day out.