Behind the scene of the PBA Print
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The cut to the Round of 32 at the PBA Greater Nashville Open is starting within the hour. Parker Bohn III, PBA Hall of Famer, stands at a chest-high table in the PBA locker room, wearing red-framed safety glasses. Bohn is preparing a ball that was drilled by the PBA mobile service truck and delivered to the locker room in advance of his next game, and taking advantage of the tolls the PBA provides to customize his ball.

On the other side of the table, PBA professional Patrick Allen is also working on his ball fitting.

"We work with the ball representatives to develop the specifications to drill," Bohn explains. "The truck drills the holes; three or four. Pat Nolan [PBA Player Services] checks them in, and then we work the ball to make it fit our hands."

Armed with electric drills, files, and bevel knives, the pros custom-fit the balls to their grip. Each bowler has a unique grip and hand span. Unlike the standard issue bowling balls for rent at the local lanes, these balls are measured and drilled for precision placement of thumb and finger holes for each pro.

"It's the players' prerogative to make the ball fit their hands. If it doesn't work out, it's the players' own fault," Bohn continues. "The balls come off the service truck with sharp edges from the drilling. Some come with slugs. We soften the edges of the holes, sometimes add slugs, and some players, like Patrick Allen, put in rubber grips in the finger holes." PBA pro Patrick Allen drills in the locker room.

Allen's inserted rubber finger grips because he prefers a softer feel than the slugs give. He's working a drill on a large hole. "That's my thumbhole." Allen holds out both thumbs - his left thumb is twice as big as the right: his left side is his throwing side.

How many balls do pros bring for a touring season? "Maybe fifteen or twenty for the first tournament. I brought in eight for this one, and after practice I drilled two more," says Bohn. "I drilled five yesterday," adds Allen.

"You're always looking for that little advantage, even if it's one pin," Bohn says. "If you talk to guys who didn't make the cut, they're still looking for the right ball."

Allen says, "If you're striking with the ball you're throwing, you won't need more balls. But if the lanes start to change, you might go through two or three more balls in a game."

Across the other side of the room, Pat Nolan stands behind the weigh-in counter. On one end are stacks of balls and a file containing player records. On the other is a scale and a machine that marks approved balls. Two cartloads of balls were brought in for weighing before this round.

"We have cards for all the players who've bowled from 1997 on," says Nolan. "The sheets have a record of the balls by serial number; the durometer, or hardness, of the ball; and any grips or slugs and extra holes."
PBA Player Services staff Pat Nolan weighing in a ball prior to competition.

"We use the scale to check the weight and balance, and the PBA rules are the same as the American Bowling Congress rules. For left versus right, the weight difference must be one ounce or less; for thumb versus finger hole, it must be one ounce or less; and for top versus bottom, it must be three ounces or less. The balls can't weigh more than 16 pounds total. We also check the hardness of the balls."

"If the ball is approved, we mark it with the PBA millhole." Nolan takes the ball he's just checked to the machine that mills the mark into the finish, to record its official approval. "That mark stays on the ball for its lifetime. We use the card to identify what's been worked on since the ball was first checked in."

"Most pros use particle or reactive balls for their main ball; urethane only occasionally," Nolan says. "And many use plastic for their spare balls."

Bowling balls have advanced technically over the years, since the first wooden, then rubber, balls were used. Columbia was the first to manufacture a plastic ball. Then around 1980, ball manufacturers started making urethane balls, the first popular one being the AMF Angle. In 1992 the first popular resin ball, the Excalibur, premiered. Reactive balls have a chemical additive that reacts to oil, making the ball hook stronger on dry areas and skid more on the oiled areas of the lane. The ball 'reacts' to oil more strongly.

The next innovation was the particle ball, in 1998. It was a reactive resin ball, with a particle added to give the ball more traction, making it roll more smoothly than the reactive ball and stronger than the urethane ball. Ball technology's not the whole game, though.

"The most important thing in ball reaction is the bowler," Nolan says. "They work really hard and know what the ball does. It's their time and dedication that makes the difference."

Nolan comes across a ball that's not legal - its sideweight is 1 and 5/16 of an ounce. "When a ball is illegal, I put a note on it in grease pencil and send it back to the truck. Then they can make the extra hole bigger or deeper to make it legal."

"I also mark the player's ball card to show that it's oversized," Nolan adds. "Then I'll make another note and initial it when it's legal. I can't put the mill hole on till it's corrected."

When new players come to a PBA national event, all their balls have to be weighed and checked in before they can play. Each player can store up to eight balls in the locker room during qualifying rounds. Once elimination begins, those who've made the cut can each store an unlimited number of balls.

The locker room also keeps supplies of hand conditioner and skin patches that are dispensed free to players, as well as rosin and tape. "It's always available to them, even if I'm not here," says Nolan. Bowlers use the patches to cover blisters and the conditioner to counteract the drying effect of the rosin. Tape also helps keep down the wear and tear on bowlers' hands.

Players gather in the locker room before games to prep their equipment and grab a bite to eat. Fans often gather outside, to chat and ask for autographs. Sometimes after a tough match, fans approach and want to know how the losing players feel. "Most guys are real accessible and real good to talk to," says Nolan. "But you might want to go a little easy on them if they lost."

Note: Interesting insight!