Are today’s two-handed bowler yesterday’s Dodo bowler?

When reading about USBC’s recent quest to coach the two-handed style of bowling, I could not help but think back to some articles that were shared about the early days of the American Bowling Congress and how the leaders of the time governed the game. In those very early times of governance, when the game was still being defined at a rapid pace, a new crop of hotshot bowlers came into vogue because some of the more ingenious players figured out how to make exotic bowling balls and use them to their advantage. Those early high tech balls were known then as ‘dodo balls’ and the players that used them were called ‘dodo bowlers.’

From 1900 to 1913, the hotbed of dodo ball competition was Cleveland, Chicago, and Louisville. There was a great debate on whether these balls should be legalized or outlawed, which divided bowlers from these cities into factions that either supported or opposed the use of dodo balls.

However in 1913 the ABC, in favor of equipment standardization, outlawed the dodo ball and officially adopted a rule limiting the weight of a bowling ball to a maximum of 16 pounds and "required all bowling balls be evenly balanced".

Some of the early ‘dodo’ balls simply exceeded the 16 pound maximum weight limit and a few bowlers in those early years were using balls that weighed up to 22 pounds to knock down those stubborn pins. The extremely heavy ball, called a “phony” at the time, gradually went away as bowlers discovered the greater effectiveness of the unbalanced dodo ball.¹

The most common way of loading a ball in the early 1900’s was called the “7-9” combination; where a 17 pound ball was cut in half and cemented to half of a 19 pound ball. The extra weight was primarily used on the left side of the ball, but not always.

To make the dodo ball as effective as possible, nearly everyone used a two-finger grip and common practice was to drill both finger holes the same size. Then the only thing the dodo bowler needed to do to significantly change the "action of the ball" was reverse their grip.

This is where today’s two-handers may be missing the boat, or at least not hopped on board yet. With today’s bowling balls and their dynamically unbalanced cores, by flipping the ball around 180 degrees, a two-hander can get two distinctly different ball motions out of one bowling ball; much like the dodo bowler of the early 1900’s.

By strategically placing the core in relation to their PAP, if rolled in one direction that one ball could have a significant amount of flare potential but when turned around and rolled the other way, it could result in almost zero flare potential.

Note: Since the article was written in 2010, experimentation has continued and some two-handed players, or no-thumb players, have even used a drilling with three holes, increasing layout options for these players. USBC has even had to explain in more detail what is allowed and not allowed; USBC explains specification related to new gripping layouts. Also, the USBC has added additional limitations to the ball rules of the 2016 US Open.

On the majority of bowling conditions, when side rotation is employed on the bowling ball, the amount of potential hook is directly related to flare potential. Flare is what enables the bowling ball to track over a fresh surface every revolution which increases the amount of friction between the ball surface and the lane surface.

The extreme amount of flare today’s weight blocks create is mainly what prohibits a bowler using a traditional grip from doing this. If two thumb holes were drilled into the ball, not only would it be difficult to statically balance out the ball and the core layout, the flaring action would eventually roll over one of the thumb holes. When the ball track rolls over such a large hole like most thumb holes, it can jump up off the lane causing unpredictable ball motion.

But a two-handed player does not use or need to drill a thumb hole and therefore could drill their finger holes in the middle of the CG and rotate the core as they see fit. When not drilling a thumb hole into a ball, all the player has to do is satisfy the ‘one ounce in any direction limitation’ set forth by the WTBA , the world governing body of tenpin bowling. The UBSC recently changed their balance rules for bowling balls drilled without a thumb hole and now allow up to three ounces top or bottom weight.

In events that limit players to the number of balls they are allowed to check in for competition, like the WTBA World and Zone Championships, this technique could prove to be particularly advantageous over players relegated to using a thumb hole, or not having the ability to turn the ball around 180 degrees. If done strategically, that 6 ball limitation could become 12 balls for the two-hander. Players using thumb holes do not have this option.

In the early 1900’s, even though there was a clear advantage to use a dodo ball, it was not that popular during those years for two reasons; the dodo ball was difficult to control and there was a strong desire by the ABC to bring ‘fair standard conditions’ to the game.¹

As previously mentioned in my I’ve been thinking too article, the modern high tech bowling ball, when used on flatter oil patterns, is also extremely difficult to control and very unpredictable for the less skilled. This volatility is why blocked lane conditions are favored by the majority of bowlers.

Simply put, with the highly sensitive and frictional bowling environment of today, blocked lane conditions are more predictable and therefore just more enjoyable for most bowlers.

Perhaps the two-handed game will also remain a technique for very few since that style is also “difficult to master” and an extreme departure from the style so many have already learned.

As far the game today having ‘fair standard conditions’, like the dodo bowlers of the early 1900’s could do with dodo balls, so can two-handed bowlers with the modern ball. And that contradicts the founding fathers decision that “all bowling balls must be evenly balanced.” A component to the game they felt was necessary in order to have “fair standard conditions.”

¹Bowling Magazine – November 1960 – Dizzy Doings of the Dodo


Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson began his career in the bowling business in 1976 at the age of 15 working for the Florida based Galaxy Lanes chain. Beginning from the ground up in center operations, he has also been a long time Pro Shop proprietor, 40 lane center General Manager, PBA National Tour player, multi PBA Regional Champion, PBA Player Services Director, and even a bowling writer. Since 2004 he has been working with Kegel.

Ted has also coached bowling on many different levels. From basic Learn to Bowl classes and private lessons while in the Pro Shop business, he was also head coach for Florida State University, countless PBA professionals, and even coached Lisa Wagner to her last Player of the Year award in 1993. While working for the PBA, the late great Dick Weber even asked for some of his time. An experience Ted says "he will always cherish". Dick immediately won a Senior Sweeper and gave him $300. It was the most Ted ever received for an hour lesson, and it came from one of the greatest players of all time.

Recently, Ted has been deeply studying topography and the effects it has on ball motion. He is also on the Kegel Team helping make decisions for many of the oil patterns Kegel uses in competitions world wide, which has led to further development of Kegel's lane machines. Ted has a complete and unique understanding of bowling from many different sides.

Ted also named the world's and Kegel's most popular lane machine the "Kustodian ION" (pronounced "EON" in Europe) and spearheaded the creation of Kegel's Navigation Oil Patterns. The creativity may be heredity. In 1968 Ted's father created the famous Dodge Super Bee logo and spearheaded that marketing campaign.