Bill Fong came so close to perfection that it nearly killed him.
June 24, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever.
posted by nevercalm (49 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oil evaporating is going to be my new excuse for sucking at bowling. Great story, thanks nevercalm.
posted by arcticseal at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a gut-punch. Great story, well told. Thanks for this.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:17 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, what a rollercoaster, well written! Thanks for posting this, I won't forget Bill Fong.
posted by likeso at 12:25 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules."
posted by Fizz at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Crikey. That's thirty-five strikes, one choke, and two strokes? I'm glad he didn't croak.
posted by pracowity at 12:36 PM on June 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wow, great story.
posted by Hicksu at 12:47 PM on June 24, 2012


pracowity: No joke.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:11 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I'd rather be alive with an 899 than dead with a 900.
posted by localroger at 2:01 PM on June 24, 2012


LOVE this story. (Really dislike being directed straight to the print version.) It makes me afraid to get too obsessed with any pasttime, for fear that I'll begin to heap all sorts of blame upon myself for incidents that are really just pure happenstance.
posted by hermitosis at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really dislike being directed straight to the print version.

Why is that?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:39 PM on June 24, 2012


I don't want to derail, but here's a MeTa discussion about it.
posted by hermitosis at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2012


I challenge anybody who's spent years in league games to admit their heart wasn't racing halfway through the recap of his big game. It's an amazing, gutwrenching thing to read.
posted by ardgedee at 3:22 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember a female Indianapolis area bowler rolling a 897 recently, the indystar actually has local bowling news sometimes. Good story.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 3:28 PM on June 24, 2012


I challenge anybody who's spent years in league games to admit their heart wasn't racing halfway through the recap of his big game. It's an amazing, gutwrenching thing to read.

Hell, I haven't spent years in league games... when I first opened this thread I thought something along the lines of "The *most* amazing bowling story assumes that there are, in general, amazing bowling stories, and I've got my doubts," but the story did indeed set my heart racing.
posted by entropone at 3:38 PM on June 24, 2012


Yeah, came in not expecting much. Left wishing I was a bowler. Great story, well-told.
posted by Night_owl at 4:07 PM on June 24, 2012


I confess that when I first saw the FPP, I thought, "I'm going to wait to see if people say this really is an amazing bowling story before I read it."

THAT WAS AN AMAZING BOWLING STORY
posted by bicyclefish at 4:09 PM on June 24, 2012


Great story.

I'm not much of a bowler, so I don't remember if a series of three games is a standard unit.
I mean, if someone bowls a 900, do they just stop there after three games? Or do they play a fourth game? I imagine that no one has ever bowled four 300 games in a row, but shouldn't the highest score ever include 900 plus whatever the bowler got on the fourth game, the way Fong gets a score of 899 by putting together 600 with whatever he got on the third game? Somebody out there was probably 20 away from a perfect 1200. Does anybody know?

I guess my point is that if we look at success by how far from perfection we are, then no one is really perfect, and the distance away from perfection increases as you do more.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:28 PM on June 24, 2012


Wikipedia's article on the 900 series (because of course there is one) says three games is "the typical number of games in a single league session."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:33 PM on June 24, 2012


the typical number of games in a single league session

That doesn't seem like much of a rule; the "typical number".

I don't think I've ever watched a whole bowling tournament, so please forgive my ignorance.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:36 PM on June 24, 2012


Life quote: "There’s almost never a time when every decision you make is correct and every step is in the right direction."
posted by phaedon at 4:55 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


This guy had 47 strikes in a row.
posted by Xurando at 5:01 PM on June 24, 2012


twoleftfeet: Apparently there are a few five-game series tournaments, but I've only ever seen three games.

articseal: No joke, the last game of a series can feel a lot different from the first game just because of how much oil gets picked up by the ball over time. You have to adjust throughout a series for it.
posted by renataskyfire at 5:27 PM on June 24, 2012


Sounds like he easily could have ended up like my Dad's cousin
posted by jpdoane at 5:32 PM on June 24, 2012


Wait. I thought they scored like hits in baseball. I've been bowling .300 all my life thinking I was rolling like a sir.

Boy, is my face red.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:43 PM on June 24, 2012


grumble derail - "More than 95 million Americans go bowling, but, according to the United States Bowling Congress, there have been only 21 certified 900s since anyone started keeping track." 21 is way too many... This is because the sanctioned oil patterns for house leagues have become way too generous. Take your local house guy with a 230+ average and toss him on a Cheetah pattern and watch him not break 200...
posted by Jacob G at 6:16 PM on June 24, 2012


+
900 series is the equivalent of a 36 game hitting streak with at least one rbi scored in each game. Possible but rare.
posted by pdxpogo at 6:22 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was a great story, thanks for posting it. I love bowling, and I remember my excitement one time at getting a paltry double bagger. I got over 220 on that game and felt like a hero! Needless to say, I've never approached that height since, despite trying to replicate the number of beers I had had ever since...
posted by smoke at 6:47 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is because the sanctioned oil patterns for house leagues have become way too generous. Take your local house guy with a 230+ average and toss him on a Cheetah pattern and watch him not break 200...

I would like to hear more about oil patterns. The surface of my local bowling alley looks like the dark side of the moon, and the balls available like something picked off a local beach.
posted by smoke at 6:52 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is said that makers of Persian carpets deliberately leave one flaw in the design, reflecting the belief that perfection belongs to God alone.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:01 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to hear more about oil patterns.

Here you go!

(My husband just bowled his first 300 about three weeks ago. I've emailed him this article)
posted by Lucinda at 7:28 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This was really great and a crazy story. Made me think of Billy Phelan's Greatest Game.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:47 PM on June 24, 2012


Fascinating, Lucinda, thank you!
posted by smoke at 7:54 PM on June 24, 2012


That was a really great story. What made it better is that I didn't know how it ended beforehand. It really was a genuine holding-my-breath moment.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:22 PM on June 24, 2012


Not satisfied by the descriptions on the PBA site, I went searching for pictures of oil patterns:

Basic patterns - Flat, block, reverse block, and Christmas tree

The Shark

The Scorpion

The Viper

The Cheetah

and finally, The Chamelion.

Thanks for revealing an aspect of the sport that I had no idea existed!
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:16 PM on June 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Never bowled or been in a bowling alley, ever, so I started reading this thing expecting to be under-whelmed, and boy, was I wrong. What a great article, thanks so much, nevercalm.

As with others, I have now become fascinated with the these oil patterns that I had no clue existed. Here is a video showing strokers , tweeners and power-players using the Cheetah pattern.

This kind of post is what makes this such a great place.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:32 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


That is an amazing story. I wish it could have been published before Memorial Day weekend, when my friends and I went from Chicago to visit our other friends in Dallas. Some of us went shooting while the rest of our group went bowling across the street at Plano Super Bowl.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:57 PM on June 24, 2012


Another version of his story from Bowling Industry News "Bill Fong fires 899 with Storm Reign" says that it wasn't a stroke that night... and also mentioned that he is a classmate of Michelle Obama's.
posted by notmtwain at 6:56 AM on June 25, 2012


GREAT story, and has reminded me how I had thought in the past about doing some bowling related FPPs before I dropped the sport a couple years ago for roller derby.

A quick summary for people:

3 games make up a series, and is practically always how many games are thrown in league play. Things change up for tournaments, of course.

Oil patterns on the lanes have a massive impact, and are the reason that someone can have to play the same pair of lanes drastically different on different days. It's actually a very small amount that's ever put down on a lane, but minute variations have a drastic effect. The more oil on the lane, the less contact the ball makes, the less friction and "grip" the ball has, which means it loses speed more slowly, and takes longer to get traction - the "break point".

Typical recreational oil patterns will tend to put less oil on the edges of the lane, and more on the inside. I was used to playing outside of the second arrow, or the tenth board. (lanes are always fourty boards across, even with synthetic materials, because they're used for targeting where to put the ball. Arrows are every five boards) This makes it easier for your average bowler - if you miss your target to the right, the lane is drier, the ball will get traction and hook sooner, making up for needing to hook further. If you miss left, there's more oil, and the ball takes longer to hook, making up for needing to hook less. If you're consistent in your speed and delivery, you don't need to be as accurate.

But oil is not permanent. It not only evaporates over time, but also will get absorbed by the ball - as modern balls are porous and absorb some of the oil to allow them to get traction on the lane more easily - along with sitting on the ball's surface and re-deposited later down the lane, also known as "carry down". So if you have a number of people all bowling on the same area of the lane, that "line" can dry up faster, so your ball now breaks sooner - necessitating either a change in ball, or throwing a different line.

I've been in tournaments where we change lanes after every game. Even with lanes that have all been oiled the same way at the start of the tournament, I can go from having a great line on one pair, to moving to another and being unable to find anything with any of the balls I have, just because of how they've been played by the people on the lane previously.

Left-handed bowlers often have an easier time in the sport, simply because fewer lefties means fewer people playing your line. You'll often be able to keep your same shot longer, since you may be the only person playing there.
posted by evilangela at 8:55 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:17 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The oil pattern thing is pretty interesting stuff. I never knew more than that they oiled the lanes, period. I can definitely tell the difference at the local lane by mouse though between 2 in the afternoon & 7 at night. If I go earlier in the day, I find myself throwing more slowly, with a little more spin, & later in the day, just heaving on down there.

I've only been bowling for a couple of years, and have a cheap ball, but I'm getting the hang of it I think, and have thrown 4 strikes in a row a couple times. It's really cool to get into that zone where you know one's a strike the second it leaves your hand. I also get the nerves, and will usually choke when I've got two or three strikes in a row, & toss the damn thing in the gutter because I overthink. I'm nowhere near even league play yet, but I'd like to be there in another couple years or so. Still averaging about 140, which is utter crap, but can get into the low 200's once in a while.

I've found that bowling rewards consistency as much as anything. If you can consistently take advantage of your spares & strikes by racking up points on the subsequent rolls, you do okay, but one ill-timed brick can ruin a game. Fun stuff so far -- this post & the comments have been great educational reading for a neophyte.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:05 AM on June 25, 2012


*mouse = my house* Auto-correct is weird.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2012


Still averaging about 140, which is utter crap, but can get into the low 200's once in a while.

Speaking *relatively* of course. 140-150 is a respectable average. I'd take it.

I was pretty surprised that Fong's *average* was like 230. That seemed ridiculously high. I mean, that's better than some pros average, right? Why couldn't he go pro if he's that good?

With a 900, he theorizes, he might have made SportsCenter, and he would surely have sponsors. He thinks he might have had a chance to join the pro tour.

Why on earth would 900 matter that much more than 899? It's not likely it's arbitrary. The best bowlers are the ones who score the highest. ?!?!

And then I read this interesting article:

The Great Misconception About Professional Bowling
posted by mrgrimm at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found that bowling rewards consistency as much as anything.

Yep. It's really all about no open frames (and sure, stringing your strikes together in as long a chain as possible.) That's really what separates the pros. They do not miss 1-2 pin spares. Ever.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:20 PM on June 25, 2012


I bowl maybe once every five years and my bowling score in any given game will be somewhere between 40 and 140. So I'm not a bowler. But that was an amazing bowling story. Poor guy.
posted by JamesVasile at 2:28 PM on June 25, 2012


They do not miss 1-2 pin spares. Ever.

I'm left-handed and I leave the 4 & 7 pins all the time because my ball curves early and plows into the lead pin from the left, then I've got to roll in the opposite direct from my natural curve to get those two pins, and it kills me every single time. When I try to throw faster or harder to keep it from curving too early, it just goes in the left gutter.

This shit is hard.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:43 PM on June 25, 2012


When I try to throw faster or harder to keep it from curving too early, it just goes in the left gutter.

Though I'm a righty, I have a pretty strong hook and here's what works for me:

1- Rather than holding your wrist straight or cupped, relax it and let it open up. Keep it in that position throughout your entire swing.
2- Spread your index and pinky fingers as wide as possible.
3- Follow through straight at your target.
posted by Jacob G at 7:55 PM on June 25, 2012


I'm left-handed ...

"Only 15 percent of professional bowlers are left handed. However, they collect 60 percent of all the earnings!"

Even more than relief pitching in baseball, bowling is a game made for left handers ... if only b/c most people are right-handed.

According to "left-handed star" Johnny Petraglia:

"... on the left side of the lane, the leftie grows up on smooth boards; on the right side of the lane, so he develops a release to get the ball to hook 'in time.' The right side of the lane has rough boards, so the rightie develops a lot of turn to skid the ball through the early part of the lane"

"Sounds sensible. Let's take a look."
posted by mrgrimm at 8:10 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


That seems about right. I went down to the Highball (more of a bar with a few poorly-maintained lanes to give it hipster cred) where they've got natural wood floors without much oil, & all my throws veered way off to the right -- some of them went into the right gutter Until I straightened my throw out. If I go to Dart bowl early in the afternoon, my ball comes back up the return just covered in oil. I'd hazard a guess that I'm the first person to bowl on the left side of those lanes, a lot of days.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:18 AM on June 26, 2012


FRESH LANES!

I agree the Bill Fong story is interesting (and to be honest, FWIW, I'd almost rather have the 899 with the 9 on the last ball than the 900), but I am now much more fascinated by the whole oil pattern thing. I bowled A LOT in high school and never considered it.

Cool stuff. Makes me want to hit the lanes (though I have a titanium plate in my right hip now and it's amazing how much stress bowling puts on your legs ... I think my days on the lanes are unfortunately numbered ... or I switch to a 10-lb ball or something ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2012


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