Don Carter," said a leading bowling instructor in 1952, "has an awkward style and an ineffective ball. His performance must be regarded as a fluke." This observation was made in the knowledge of the fact that Carter (pictured at left) had just finished fourth in the All-Star, a tournament whose winner is recognized generally as U.S. match game champion. Then in 1953 Carter won the match game crown and became the first man in history to bowl more than 1,900 pins for nine games in three consecutive American Bowling Congress Championships. Last December he scored an unprecedented third All-Star victory. Some old-line experts still criticize the revolutionary Carter style, though conceding that he is the man to beat in the world championships opening December 4 in Chicago and in the All-Star next January in Minneapolis. "He has awful form," they assert, "but he makes up for it with his uncanny accuracy." The illogic behind such statements is blatant. Carter is accurate because of his style. What he has done, as the following pages reveal, is develop—step by step—a method of bowling which reduces the margin of human error so that the ball will achieve its objective: knock down pins.
None of this came easily. The 6-foot, 190-pound St. Louisan practiced constantly for seven years before he hit the big time; five years more before he proved himself head and shoulders above the field. He still spends from two to 10 hours on the lanes daily. His years of search for better methods, and hours of practice to improve the ones he discovered, have paid off handsomely. His annual income from exhibitions ($20,000), tournament prize money ($15,000), television (more than $10,000), endorsements and other fees ($10,000), plus promotion-department salaries from Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) Brewery and the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., make him one of the highest paid men in sports. He also is president of two corporations which recently erected plush bowling establishments in St. Louis and Rockford, Ill. His wife, La Verne, a former Hollywood starlet, is among the nation's best women bowlers. Kathy, 7, and Jimmy, 3, already show promise of following their parents' shuffle to stardom.
Carter was born in St. Louis 31 years ago. A stellar all-round athlete, he felt certain his future lay in sports. He tried baseball first, but gave it up when, as pitcher-outfielder for a Philadelphia A's farm club, his weight dropped from 180 to 140 in a single season. Like many ballplayers, he had bowled to strengthen his arm, "and I found myself getting better and better," he recalled recently. "After quitting baseball I began devoting practically all my waking hours to bowling." In January 1952, aged 25, he qualified for the All-Star from St. Louis and made a good enough showing to receive a bid from a top Detroit team. From that point on, competing weekly against the biggest names in the sport, he worked even harder to improve his game. He did not stop experimenting when he returned to St. Louis three years ago to join the Budweisers, nor has he stopped studying the game today. In the illustrated guide starting on the next page, Carter and Artist Anthony Ravielli show you, in lucid detail, 10 of the reasons why he is the world's best bowler—and how you can radically improve your game. Although Carter deals entirely with fundamentals—"Learn them first and the rest comes easy," he says—you can pick up valuable information there, no matter how good a bowler you are. And to the champion it is a matter of pure delight that the same instructor who laughed at his "bent arm" form in 1952 is teaching the Carter method today.
1 The Grip
November 18, 1957
The first basic step toward proficiency is to grip the ball properly. Place your thumb in the thumb hole first, as deeply as it will go without your having to force it. It should feel comfortable.
Rest your fingers naturally on the ball, as illustrated above. As they cross the finger holes, the first joints of the middle and third fingers should extend about¼ inch past the edge of the holes.
Now, without raising your thumb, place your fingers in the holes. Note that mine grip the ball between the first and the second joints. I have found this grip to be most natural and most effective.
My "secret weapon," as far as gripping the ball is concerned, is to crook my pinky. This acts as a cushion for the ball, relieving strain on the fingers. More important, it increases accuracy.
Here is another view of the hand, illustrating how the little finger is eliminated from play so that it cannot "turn" the ball at the point of release. Keep the wrist firm to avoid violent hooking.
2 The Stance
In bowling, unlike fiction, you must have a perfect beginning and a smooth middle course to achieve a happy end. The start, or "stance," will fulfill two vital aims: you locate a starting position on the lane and get ready to address your target. I stand just behind the 12-foot marker, my left foot slightly in front of the right and the toe on a direct line with the No. 3 pin. If alley conditions warrant, I may move as many as five boards to the right or left, but for my first ball—the strike shot—my left foot is never to the left of the head pin. Note that the ball is supported by my left hand to ease strain. Shoulders are parallel with the foul line and eyes see only the target. Now I am set for...
3 The Address
This stage, given the once-over-lightly treatment even by better bowlers, is one of the most important to your game. A misstep here will be costly, for your ball is heavy and it is all but impossible to correct errors once it—and you—are in motion. In the illustration at the left I'm in the stance position, with my weight on the right foot. I lift the ball above eye level, then move it to the right so that my right arm is close to, and parallel with, my side. As I lower the ball to the starting position (figures at right) I lean forward slightly and my weight shifts to the left foot. Note that my right arm is free to swing like a pendulum without danger of the ball brushing against my leg or forcing me to twist my body. With my wrist firm, I can keep the ball in an arc, true from moment of motion to point of release. If I kept my ball in front of me, as most bowlers do, I would have to swing it to the right later, and thus lose control. I am now ready for the approach.
4 First Step
Push the ball straight ahead and shuffle forward, at the same moment, onto your right foot. Always move forward in a perfectly straight line.
Note that my left hand is on the ball throughout the first step. This not only helps me to push away the ball, but it keeps the ball in its arc.
5 Second Step
The ball begins its backward arc at the start of the second step. Note that my "pendulum" arm remains bent. This assures controlled backswing.
Because of the way I bend my arm, many people think I push the ball. Actually, the arm swing is free, originating at the shoulder. Try it.
6 Third Step
As the second step ends—on the left foot—the left arm moves out for balance. Right arm continues backward swing in the same pendulum motion.
Until this point you merely have leaned forward. Now the body starts to bend and your speed accelerates slightly. The big moment is nearing.
At the end of the third step, when the right foot is forward, the ball is at the top of the back-swing. Note that my wrist has not turned.
7 Fourth Step
Up to here you have generated and stored power—and now you are ready to release it. At the start of the fourth step (A) the weight is on your right foot. Your right arm and left foot move forward simultaneously. As the step, generally referred to as a "slide," continues (B), some of your weight shifts to the ball of your left foot, but the right carries most of the load. The right, in fact, pushes your body forward as you slide on your leather-soled left shoe. Now (C) the weight gradually is taken by the left foot; the right's work now is mainly to balance.
Your left foot in the above figure (C) should be on the same board that you started from when you addressed your target, 12 feet and four steps ago.
8 Slide and Stop
Experts generally consider the complete "stop" either as the end of the fourth step or as part of the "release." It is treated as a separate stage here because few bowlers are aware of the pitfalls at this critical point. During the fourth step, your weight has gradually shifted to the ball of your left foot. Now, your right foot gives a final push and leaves the floor. Your entire weight is on your left foot. Your left arm and right foot help balance you. As your right arm, accelerated by the weight of the ball, catches up to your left foot, you apply weight on the left (rubber) heel, bringing you to a stop. This is the point at which the ball starts sliding off your fingers.
This is the crucial moment, the split second in which our previous moves are dramatized. It is too late to turn back.
Note, in figure at left, that ball, arm and toe are still at right angle to foul line as the ball is released.
9 The Release
Now that we have reached the crucial point in delivering the ball, let us review what we have done—and why. The mechanics will come easier if you understand the reason for each move. The idea, oversimply stated, is to start from 12 to 15 feet behind the foul line, approach the line, then roll the ball so that it will knock down all the pins. To do this with any degree of consistency, it is necessary to bowl in exactly the same way every time; in other words, keep the ball in the same arc. The key actions to meet this objective are: swing your arm freely, in pendulum fashion, and approach the foul line in a straight line with your eyes on the target and shoulders parallel with it. Thus, while addressing the target pins I consciously place the ball to my right side—by first breaking my line of vision to the target. This forces me to pause. Before adopting this measure, I used to hurry to the foul line, pushing the ball out and to the right as I stepped forward, with the result that the ball often wound up either behind me or too far from my body. Your arm cannot act like a pendulum every time unless its initial forward movement (first step) is directly to the front. The wrist also affects this motion. If your wrist is too loose, the weight of the ball will sway your arm from its intended path. The drawings on the left show how slightly my wrist turns during the entire delivery. From address to just before release it holds the same position (A). I start releasing the ball at the precise moment that the ball, which has been on a downward arc through the fourth step, reaches my left foot. The thumb comes out first. I "lift" the ball with my fingers, which gives my wrist a natural turn (B) of an inch or so. My hand continues its upward swing after the ball has been released. Thus, the ball crosses the foul line on an upward arc. Many good bowlers twist or snap their wrists upon releasing the ball. Do not try to copy them. They merely are compensating for some other bad habit, or sacrificing accuracy for unnecessary power. You do not need a wide, or sharp, hook to knock down pins.
Here is the start of the follow-through. Foot has stopped about four inches from foul line. Hand carries ball over line.
10 The Follow-Through
This is one of the most important, yet ignored, stages of the delivery. Follow through, or your smooth approach will have been wasted. Note "lift" by fingers, which imparts spin (hook) to the ball.
The follow-through will come naturally if you "throw" your hand toward the target. Your hand ends in a "shaking hands" position. Keep this position until the ball is well down the lane.
Sequence: From Start to Finish
Study these figures, from stance to follow-through, and you will see that my delivery is one coordinated motion; I divided it into 10 parts in this article simply to explain what was occurring at each key stage. There are no steps, as such, in the delivery. You shuffle, or flow, toward the foul line, as if you and your ball were dancing partners. Note that at no point, until the release, does either foot leave the floor. As a result, my head lowers gradually and continuously from stance through release, then raises with the upswing. If I actually took steps, my head would bobble—and so would the ball, moving it out of its intended arc. You see here, too, the importance of bending my arm. I cannot overswing (a fault caused by too high a backswing) and it is far easier to control the ball. If you have ever swung a Yo-yo you know that the less string you allow, the easier it is to keep the Yo-yo in a constant arc. The same applies to less arm swing. The illustration on the opposite page shows the paths of my feet and ball. My target, you see, is close to the line, therefore easy to hit. If my ball goes over the target, it most likely will knock down the pins.
Paths to the Targets
The figures above show the path of my ball to the "strike pocket" and various spare shots. At the left you see where I stand for each spare leave. Note the broken line at the foul line for the spare ball. This is an imaginary line, with which my shoulders remain parallel throughout the delivery. No one can tell you exactly where to stand for each spare. My spot will not be the same as yours if your ball hooks more or less than mine. The only general rule regarding spare bowling is this: move to right of center when the target pins are on the left side of the lane, to left of center when the pins are on the right. Now, then, to sum up. Never take your eyes off your target (whether it is a spot on the lanes, a line, an area, or the pins themselves). Always move forward in a straight line, shoulders parallel to your foul line and ball held in the same groove. Follow these basic rules and you will be balanced at the foul line when you release the ball. Then follow through—and hold your position at least a second or two after the ball has gone.
RIGHT ANGLE TO FOUL LINE
1-, 2-, 5-, 8-PINS
Now for beginners: Don Carter answers 13 questions
Q. Is it true that anyone can bowl?
A. Yes. The nation's 20 million bowlers include children aged 5, women of 90, the lame and the blind.
Q. Where can I find a clean, modern bowling center?
A. If you live in a city of 20,000 population or more, your telephone directory almost certainly will list at least one. There are more than 10,000 establishments in the United States.
Q. What equipment do I need?
A. Wear clothes that will allow your arms and legs freedom of movement. For men a sports shirt will do. For women I suggest a dress or blouse-skirt combination. Slacks are acceptable in some parts of the country. All you need after that are special bowling shoes and a ball—and these will be available at the lanes. Shoes are rented for 10¢ to 25¢. There is no charge for the use of balls. If you plan to bowl regularly, you should buy your own equipment. The ball is especially important, because no "house" ball will fit your hand exactly.
Q. Is it an expensive pastime?
A. Each game, or line, costs 40¢ to 50¢. If you are with a group of six or eight persons it will take longer to bowl three games than to see a movie. Your custom-fitted ball, at a cost of $24.95, could last you a lifetime. Shoes are priced at $4.95 and up.
Q. Why do I need special shoes?
A. You must slide to the foul line on your left foot (see the fourth step, page 32). Your left shoe, therefore, has a leather sole and composition rubber heel. Your right shoe is all rubber. (If you are left-handed, the opposite is true.) Furthermore, rubber heels of ordinary street shoes will leave marks on the approaches. These may trip, and certainly would distract, other bowlers.
Q. How heavy is a ball?
A. It weighs from 10 to 16 pounds. Junior balls weigh nine.
Q. I have heard that the heavier the ball, the better my chances of knocking down pins. Is this true?
A. Only to a point. You should not use a ball that feels uncomfortably heavy, because you will lose in accuracy much more than you will gain in power. If the weight of the ball forces your wrist to turn or your shoulder to drop before the release, you will be off balance at the foul line. Try balls of varying weights until you find one that feels most comfortable. Let me add, however, that "house" balls always feel heavier than your own. Because of improper fit the fingers undergo strain, tiring the arm. Generally speaking, most men have no difficulty with a 16-pound ball and most women are capable of rolling 14- to 15-pounders. Women weighing in the neighborhood of 100 pounds should try lighter balls.
Q. Where can I learn more about the game?
A. You can get qualified instruction at most local bowling establishments. There usually is no charge for lessons.
Q. When is the best time to practice?
A. In the mornings or afternoons, after 11 at night and any hour Saturdays or Sundays. Practically all bowling centers have regularly scheduled leagues between 5 and 11 p.m.
Q. How good must I become before I can join a league?
A. You could start league competition almost at once. Your local proprietor might have an opening in a handicap league in which you would participate on an equal basis with other bowlers. Bowling is a fine game, but its thrills are multiplied many times when you bowl against someone else.
Q. You mean I could learn the game that soon?
A. You probably will bowl between 50 and 100 your first game. Your improvement after that will depend upon how much time and effort you are willing to spend practicing.
Q. What do you consider a good average?
A. The American Bowling Congress, which has more than 2 million members—all league bowlers whose scores are computed weekly—reports that the national average is 154. My guess is that if they developed a smooth delivery, based on the principles I set down in this SPORTS ILLUSTRATED series, most twice-a-week bowlers would average at least 180. Women would score about 10 pins less. I consider these good averages. To bowl on a top major league team, however, you would have to average 200.
Q. How long is the bowling season?
A. Air-conditioning and automatic pin-setting machines have practically eliminated seasons in bowling. Today it is a yearlong, around-the-clock sport. A so-called winter league usually starts in early September and continues 35 or 36 weeks, well into May, when summer league competition begins for 11 or 12 weeks. If there is no spot in a league now, I suggest that you learn the fundamentals and enroll for summer competition.