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Guest column: The gloves are off! by Luke Rosdahl

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2022 7:00 pm
Guest column: The gloves are off! by Luke Rosdahl
Luke Rosdahl. Contributed photo.

Big Mike (Weinert) of Sweep the Rack podcast fired up social media with his guest column offering "My beef with house shot leagues" at 11thFrame.com last Thursday. 

Luke Rosdahl, a Storm staffer whose ball reviews have made his YouTube page a popular page for people looking for Storm products reviews, was among the readers of Big Mike's piece. And he wanted to offer his views on the topic, which he did in offering "A less dramatic perspective on house shots" earlier this week.

Ohio bowling center manager and Eagle winner Jerry Kessler followed up with his take, "Not all house shot bowling is the same!" after Rosdahl.

Rosdahl messaged me today to let me know he had written another piece that was more detailed and direct, and explained why in it. The piece is on his Patreon page and he said I was welcome to run it. So I am.

As this website has always been open for guest columns that bring value to bowling topics of interest, and the legitimacy of house shot bowling definitely is such a topic, I am happy to run these pieces.

The gloves are off!


Enough about house shots, let’s take the gloves off and talk about what people really want to talk about.  House shots are just a punching bag, let’s tape up and get in the ring.  First of all, sure, I’m a staffer for several different companies, but I’m not the guy you think of when you think staffer.  I come from the pro shop world and that’s how I treat it, it’s not my job to try to hype stuff up and move units, it’s the companies’ jobs to make stuff I don’t have to hype up.  When it comes out, I show it off, describe what it does, how it compares to other products we offer, answer questions and provide support, and then people are free to buy whatever they want to buy.  Secondly, they don’t censor us.  I’m sure there are plenty of things some of us say or do that they would rather we didn’t, but if Pete Weber still has a contract, exactly what could I say or do to push it further??

I don’t think there’s anything that makes me hate bowling more than debating with people trying to “save” it or “bring back the integrity.”  I remember very vividly here in town as youth bowlers rose through the ranks and became accomplished and started moving onto bigger and better things, they also rose into more drama and more BS.  They got better, they had fun, they learned about the game and developed a love for it, and as soon as it crossed the line into taking it serious and getting competitive, the fun disappeared and it was like a bowling version of some reality show like Big Brother or The Real World.  Lots of them either pulled back into casual bowling or quit altogether.  I have a friend who was by far the best female youth bowler in the area, she went to Wichita State, she won a medal at the World Youth Championships representing Jr Team USA and SHE DOES NOT BOWL ANY MORE!!  If you can take someone like that with skill and a love for the game that had her in the center virtually every day of the week practicing for hours and ruin them because of the politics and BS, how much easier do you think it is to run someone off that just bowls casually??

Let’s move through this point by point, and we’ll start with lane conditions because that’s the topic of the hour.  Should USBC have stricter regulations on what constitutes a “legal” or fair sanctioned or certified shot?  Maybe.  At some certain point, shots become so easy that they’re hard.  Super cliffed shots only reward unskilled bowlers that fling the ball everywhere, most better bowlers actually hate the super walls because they’re very difficult to execute “good bowling shots” on.  Ton of dry next to a ton of oil, and that’s really only going to help you if you’re chucking it up 10, and even then, when it starts to transition, it gets harder.  Past that, the other part of the argument is that no one should ever average 230 plus, and if they do, it’s time to raise the difficulty level or move up the ranks.  What ranks?  It’s either local bowling or you’re going touring.  Most people don’t have the time or money for that.  I know PLENTY of bowlers in my area who could be at least hitting regionals regularly but don’t because they have a job and a family and a regular life and don’t need to be chasing little Walmart trophies and spending thousands to win hundreds so they can prove something to someone or legitimize their skill. Conversely, they’re good enough that they don’t feel like they have to prove it, and will continue casually participating locally and hitting the occasional larger tournament.  I bowl against collegiate national champions and people with MULTIPLE eagles, do we really need to jack up the difficulty of a regular local weekly league to make them prove it more?  If anyone should be upset and demanding tougher conditions, it’s them, but they still come and enjoy a more relaxed pace and high five the “lesser” bowlers that manage to steal a point from them here and there.

Ultimately what’s being taken issue with is legitimacy at a recreational level . . who cares.  It reminds me of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory when he got upset about the way a game was being played: “They were having fun wrong.”  As much as some of the integrity champions despise house shot heros, lower skilled bowlers despise the elitists and their arrogance.  What is the definition of “fair” bowling?  What constitutes integrity and “real skill?”  Big Mike raised a fair point, why does something have to be easy to be fun?  Plenty of hacks go golfing on nice courses they have no business being on and no chance of doing well on, but they dress up all fancy, fill their coolers up with carbonated piss water (at least drink the good stuff, right?), go blow through a few sleeves of Pro V1s, get sunburnt, bitch the whole time, and then go right back out and do it again next week.  If bowlers have proven anything, it’s that they’re the same way.  No matter how easy it is, no matter how good they have it, if they aren’t bitching about something, they aren’t having fun.  Lineage goes up, drink prices go up, the 10 pin is glued to the floor, the mechanic pushed the wrong button, whatever, so from that angle, sure, make the lanes tougher, they’d probably enjoy it more because they’d have more to bitch about.  However, I’ll say this, the average bowler is more of a true bowler through and through than the big shots are, because they’ll keep showing up regardless because it’s in their blood.  The big shots will actually react.  They’ll stop bowling certain tournaments or at certain centers that they don’t like, they’ll get idealistic and uppity and ACT on it because they think it means something if THEY stop showing up because of how important they are, they think they’ll actually get something done or force changes.

It seems like the only way for bowling to have integrity and be fair is to suck all the fun and enjoyment out of it and make it a hard and humbling gauntlet of challenges.  All your success isn’t actually success because the game wasn’t being played “right.”  For example, all those homeruns you hit in college?  Nah, they don’t count because metal bats are cheating, gotta use wooden bats.  Bowling is apparently only bowling if you’re dumping urethane up the ditch.  Reactive balls?  Cheating, get those out of here, plastic or urethane are the only real bowling balls.  Friction on the gutter?  Too easy, aim the bug sprayer in that direction and fix that nonsense.  39 boards on the lane, but we’re going to narrow it down to using less than 10 of them, and you have to do this specific thing with these specific limited options or you’re not actually that good.  Having to read ball reaction isn’t skill.  Having to manage 30 different pieces of equipment with different layouts and different surfaces isn’t skill at all, it’s noise and a guessing game.  Don’t even talk to me about throwing a ball with two hands.  A 550 rev rate at 18 mph is unfair unless a 5 ½ foot 130 pound guy can do it with one hand and his thumb in the ball, then it’s ok. Lofting and back up balls?  Miss me with that, now we’re just screwing around.

So what are we really talking about here?  So people should want more challenge, what happens when people decide to move up to the big leagues?  PBA Regionals, Team Trials, etc?  Then it’s “what are they doing here??  They think they’re actually good enough to compete? They don’t belong here!”  From every angle, most better bowlers gaslight and gatekeep the shit out of everyone else, because apparently THEIR ego is righteous.  What IS real challenge, what is fair, and who’s allowed to participate at what levels?  What’s the average cutoff?  What equipment is fair?  What lane conditions are fair?  What lane SURFACES are fair??  There are a lot of places where lane surface makes conditions play easier and some places make conditions play harder.

What should be done with lane conditions?  What length range is fair, what volume is fair, what forward to reverse oil ratio is fair, what flatness ratio is fair, etc.  You can’t just say house shots and reactive balls are bullshit and then dip out, we need to nail some stuff down here.  The reality is that bowler styles are so varied that what rewards one style punishes another.  There’s already enough disparity between the left and right sides of the lane to begin with that even among bowlers who have the same style, they’re not having the same experience on different sides of the lane, let alone when you have to figure out a fair range of lane conditions for bowlers with 250 revs at 15 mph and those with 500 revs at 18 mph.  Longer and heavier will favor the crankers, shorter and lighter will favor the strokers.  What’s fair here, how do you balance it, and how do you determine who really has more skill?

Take the shift in baseball, some people hate it and think it breaks the game.  Myself, I don’t like seeing it because idealistically, I’m on the same wavelength.  However, realistically, the idea that you’re going to restrict the defense to playing certain areas on the diamond even though they KNOW a hitter is predisposed to hitting the ball repeatedly into a certain area is nonsensical to me.  If they want to put every defensive player on the field in one little area and leave the rest of the field wide open, that represents strategy and risk involved with the execution of that strategy.  It’s then back in the batter’s hands to hit the ball where the defense isn’t.  But nooo, we have to force the defense to all play in their specific designated areas because it’s not fair to make the batter have to hit the ball somewhere else, a defensive shift isn’t aligned with the “spirit of the game.”  Theoretically and idealistically I’m down with that, mentally I hate the shift, I hate watching all the infielders line up on one side of the field, and sometimes into the outfield grass, and I hate seeing it actually work.  On the other hand, I love seeing the batter go big brain and drop a bunt to the opposite side of the field and trot down to first base because there isn’t a fielder in that zip code.  Flipping it back around again though, who wants to watch a game played like that?  A bunch of angles and nonsense worked to kind of fake your way through and technically win the game?  Boring and laughable, that’s not real sport or competition.

Same thing with UFC, I don’t really watch UFC any more because it’s turned into the equivalent of what happened in Major League II.  Instead of seeing people beat the living shit out of each other, the fighters started to kind of dink around and jab at each other, every fight started going to a decision because they started trying to win the fights technically based on judging criteria rather than knocking someone out or making them tap.  They stopped trying to fight and started trying to score points.  In Major League II, all the sudden “Wild Thing,” had an agent, cleaned his image up, and got soft trying to milk it rather than going out and playing the game.  UFC got better once they added the women in because they actually fought.  You weren’t going to get in the ring with Ronda Rousey and go to a decision, and while I loved watching highly skilled fighters like Georges St. Pierre, you knew that every fight was going to last 5 rounds and he was going to win on the scorecard.  I think the integrity and challenge crowd wants to live in the down and dirty raw skill world of the bowling of yesteryear where the game is focused on pure skill in shitty conditions with shitty equipment rather than the equipment heavy, layout this, cover formula that, with a million different lane patterns and two handed bowlers lofting it 30 feet state that it’s in now.  They’re fed up with the bullshit, they want to throw Cerrano a sack of marbles and go old school like Johnny Lawrence.  Show up, sack up, screw the equipment, screw the lane patterns, just you, one ball, the lane, the pins, a pitcher of Bud heavy, and let’s see who comes out on top.  I would 100% be down with that, BUT I also appreciate today’s more complicated and involved game, even if some of it crosses into nonsense and bullshit.

So let’s reel it back in a little and talk about the equipment now.  Different equipment in my opinion is the equalizer here, not something that breaks the game!  Different equipment makes it so the 250 rev 15 mph bowler can have a similar overall reaction as the 500 rev 18 mph bowler, so it makes the game MORE fair, not less fair.  If equipment is an issue, why do golfers get to carry around a dozen different clubs?  Do they NEED that many?  Why do we have different drivers and seven different degrees of wedges?  Why don’t we just have one kind of driver, only blade putters, and you get a 3 hybrid, 7 iron, and a pitching wedge and that’s it!  However, comparatively, I hit my 7 iron about 150 yards, the big dogs hit theirs 225.  If we’re talking about fairness and integrity and accuracy, how is this fair?  Isn’t it more fair that I would have an equipment option to help me also hit the ball 225 and then compare accuracy?  The club I need to hit 225 significantly changes the overall shot shape and my approach to get that done, but at least I have the option, and that makes it more about accuracy and execution than power.  Are we going to then limit speeds and rev rates???  After all, more power is unfair to the strokers of the world by the prevailing logic.

The equipment aspect adds a whole different meta and range of skill.  You have to know the equipment, how to use it, and when to use it because it can actually be a detriment if MISused.  Adding more variables that must be considered, understood, and properly used will NEVER be easier to manage or make a game or a sport easier.  The playing field, I.E. lane conditions will also control the equipment used.  However, for the sake of argument, let’s ban reactive balls.  Ironically enough, people ALSO want to ban urethane because it makes tougher conditions “too easy.”  It’s a “crutch” for pros who should be forced to use reactive only because reactive balls apparently make tougher conditions more challenging.  At the same time, any time someone tries to use urethane or plastic in league, they get yelled at by the egos for “ruining the pattern.”  I also don’t follow with the logic that dumping urethane or plastic up 10 will return the challenge and integrity to bowling . . see my comments on that above.  I don’t understand how constricting and restricting the game and challenge down to a small number of very specific things represents integrity and any kind of actual competition of skill.  If you want to turn bowling into darts where it’s just an accuracy challenge, then why do we even need the pins?  They can react and carry unfairly.  Randy Pedersen can tell you all about that.

“Oh, but the way you use your skill to read the ball reaction and make speed, hand position, angle, axis tilt and rotation adjustments to get the ball through the pins correctly is a big part of it.”  Ok . . that’s not a thing with reactive balls??  A large part of bowling right now and something I make the focus of NUMEROUS videos on is teaching people how to use the available equipment CORRECTLY!!  I can’t count the number of times I’ve won points in league or done better than someone else in a tournament because they didn’t understand their equipment or how to use it and played the lanes wrong all day.  If you remove equipment from the equation, there’s really no such thing as playing the lanes wrong unless you blatantly intend to.  You line up where everyone else does, throw the same ball from the same place, and the one that is the most accurate and repeats the best wins.  Is that real bowling?  Stripping it down to a physical accuracy and power contest?  I’d think the equipment game we play now gives more of an advantage to better bowlers!  Those that know how to use it, what to use, and when to use it in addition to being more accurate than the rest have more of an advantage, and isn’t that what we’re really after??  More skill being more rewarded?  If you remove reactive equipment, a large part of that skill advantage is lost, and matter of fact that’s a large complaint and complete misconception on the part of the egos that say “well if I had a ball contract and rep following me around, I could be on tour too.”  Highly unlikely.  The equipment of today in my opinion creates a much larger skill gap than would exist if it was banned.  Let the egos and the house shot heros puff their chests out and parade around, they know better than to show up at a regional acting like that, and if they don’t, they’ll find out real quick.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a significant skill gap that will exist regardless, and old PBA/PWBA telecasts put that on full display.  Anyone who watches my videos, watches The Bowler’s Show or The Break Down Pair will hear me repeatedly reference my admiration for the old school skill and the sixth sense it takes to just get the pins down.  Wood lanes, bug sprayer, black and brown urethane balls and splashing pins, it doesn’t get any better than that for me, so don’t for a second think that I’m using this as a facade to do my stafferly duty of pushing equipment and technology.  Watching people master a game using crude tools in less than desirable conditions IS quite a skill, and one I hold in very high regard.  At the same time, lane surface was a nightmare, topography was a nightmare, hand oiled lanes had very little consistency, and quite often your league night or tournament finish wasn’t a result of your skill or lack thereof, it was a result of you drawing a bad pair or a dozen other things outside your control.

Bowling itself, even stripped down to its bare essentials, is largely a game of chance.  In the local tournaments in this area, you know which pairs in which houses you want to avoid, and while we move pairs enough in the sweepers that everyone is going to “take their turn,” if you get put on certain pairs in certain centers in tournaments like city or state where you don’t move, you might as well pack up and go home.  There’s also certain centers that are lefty friendly, and some that lefties won’t be able to keep up in.  Beyond that, certain conditions in certain centers will favor certain styles regardless of the side of the lane they’re on.  Success in bowling is a collection of individual successes on individual days.  If you were to win 10 PBA tournaments in 20 years, and miss cashing in all the other tournaments, that would be a hall of fame career.  If you instead cashed in every single event for 20 years but never made tv, let alone won, you wouldn’t even be a one hit wonder, let alone sniff the hall.  Even if controlled as much as possible, the incalculable amount of variables inherent to the game is maddening, BUT provides significant opportunity for skill to manifest itself and overcome the variables in a myriad of different ways.

As much as I hate how “extra” the game has gotten with all the focus on equipment and patterns, I hate how random bowling used to be as a whole.  I WANT consistency, I want regulation, I want structure, and I want rules because I want my skill to matter and I want it to matter consistently.  I don’t want to run into a situation where the outcome is more heavily influenced by variables outside my control, or where I’m just blocked out because equipment or a pattern gives someone else an advantage (which is frequently the case on the left side and which sends me to the moon), but I also don’t want to go back to unpredictability and inconsistency.  I don’t think anyone really wants that though to be fair, I think the desire is to combine technology with rules and standards that both maintain the spirit of the game as it was intended to be played, and elevate and improve it, not bastardize it by adding a bunch of frivolous nonsense and distractions.  While I obviously have no issue with all the equipment we have today and appreciate the extra challenge it provides, it DOES frustrate me how obsessed some people are with the details.  At some point we all have to actually have to get out of the pro shop and our own heads and go throw the ball . . people have begun to rely on technology more than their own skill and experience and I think that specifically is what the integrity crowd has an issue with.  Again, they want to strip away all the bullshit and equipment and gadgets and just go bowl.  Trust me, I answer enough questions and chat enough with people completely lost in theorycrafting and layouts and balls and spreadsheets and analysis to sicken anyone.  Some people are experts on paper and have zero idea how to apply any of it, and that fries me because the point of all the knowledge is to use it with experience to get the job done, not stay lost in the tech because you like complicating things.

So for those that thought I was dodging the issue or didn’t really say anything in my previous article because I’m trying to toe the line and not ruffle any feathers or threaten my precious contracts, here it is.  This is what I think, this is where I stand, no lines toed, no punches pulled, gloves off, and no contracts violated.  The bottom line is that you CANNOT dictate or control how someone wants to enjoy the game.  If you have an issue with the legitimacy that is given to people shooting big scores on house shots, sure, I get that.  If you have an issue with people staying in smaller pools than they belong in, I get that too.  However, this exists in every game, every sport, and every walk of life.  There are always teams in your local co-rec softball league that are in waaaay too easy of a league.  Some golfers would rather go shoot par on some dinky wide open municipal course than go challenge themselves on something tougher.  Some people no matter how good they are at something still would rather enjoy just participating in it over competing in it.  I don’t get that because the fun for me is in accomplishing something, I don’t really care what the activity is, I want to be challenged and do it well, the accomplishment is the fun, not the actual game or activity.  Bowling however is so uniquely challenging and unmasterable that even if you bowl exclusively at one center on walled up conditions, you’ll never truly conquer it.  No matter how good you get, it can provide a constant source of enjoyment because you can always be better or get better.  At the same time, I used to waste a whole lot of energy getting upset at clueless blowhards, and that significantly dampened my love for the game.  I moved on and away from the drama and debates, and while I still don’t necessarily enjoy bowling (I’m a lefty now after all), it’s not nearly as irritating as it used to be.

Ironically, after reading through this and seeing myself complain throughout about egos, elitists, arrogance, and condescension, what do I sound like??  That’s par for the course though, whenever you have a firm opinion about something, you’re gonna sound like an asshole when you preach about it.  I’m complaining about everyone though, including myself.  I’m talking about leaving well enough alone and letting people be and enjoying the game the way they want while putting everyone on blast.  I get it, I’m self aware enough, and I realize I’m not that great of a bowler myself, but you don’t have to be to want the best for a game you love.  Most of the people out there that are doing the most for the game aren’t the ones that play it the best, a lot of the best coaches out there aren’t or weren’t the best players.  I’m just saying all this as someone who has been deeply and heavily involved with it for a couple decades.  I’ve almost gone bankrupt because of bowling, I’ve made significant career and life choices because of and based around bowling.  I decided not to take an IT and computer science class at a local college a couple decades ago when it was getting big because the class night conflicted with a summer sport league, don’t think I don’t consider how much different and likely better my life could be right now if I’d have done the smart thing instead of choosing some stupid bowling league.

I also left a nice cushy solid job 7 or 8 years ago and took a $15,000 a year pay cut to go run a pro shop, and now I’m an eccentric, conceited (that’s assumed anyway, but maybe accurate), douche canoe who spends thousands of dollars and hours a year making BOWLING BALL VIDEOS and arguing with people on the internet about the legitimacy and integrity of throwing a ball across the floor at some funny looking sticks.  A quote that’s relevant: “You’ll have to excuse my friend, he’s a little slow . .”  Rant off, and I’d advise you to do the same with this article that I do with people that make me hate bowling: go have a Coke (spiked, of course) and a smile, ignore the noise, find what you like best about this game, and even if you’re the only one doing it, JUST KEEP BOWLING.