Unusual conditions of time off, identical balls help elite bowlers

Scott Salminen has completed a trifecta of U.S. Bowling Congress honor scores this season.

Already with a near-perfect 298 game and three-game series of 803 in January, the 35-year-old Negaunee resident added perfection to his 2012-13 resume on Feb. 22 with a 300 in the Friday 800 Mixed League at Superior Lanes in Marquette.

He opened with the 12-strike game before tacking on 257 and 220 for 777.

Meanwhile, about a week later, Ishpeming resident Mike Kulju rolled a 299 game in an 815 series during a tournament at Sault Ste. Marie’s Dondee Lanes.

Kulju, 25, has been one of the best bowlers in the area since he was in high school, so nothing seemed too unusual about this feat.

Nothing except for the fact that this Michigan State University student hadn’t bowled a single game all season.

I heard that he had to buy a USBC sanction card before he bowled, since his had expired. And these cards are good for a year when you purchase them.

You might call it beginner’s luck, except that Kulju is about the furthest thing you can get from a beginning bowling.

Back to Salminen’s perfect game, his 11th overall but first in three years, he said it was one of the best games he’s bowled in awhile as far as consistently hitting the strike pocket.

“Once I got started, everything just started clicking,” he said.

He thought he could shoot another 800, but couldn’t get all 10 pins to fall on good shots in the final game.

A key to his success was recently getting not just one new ball, but two. Not two different brands, though – no, Salminen got two of the same ball, both of them bright yellow Storm IQ Tour Pearl reactive resin balls.

Sounds a little silly, eh? Unless you need matching bookends in your home library. But Salminen wasn’t about to make expensive bookends or paper weights out of these “weapons.”

Instead, he had each drilled in a different orientation to the ball’s interior weight block, creating balls that act in different ways when they travel down the lane.

I’ve mentioned in this space before that elite bowlers know there’s a lot of physics involved in how the ball travels and the angles and placement of where it hits the pins.

Even if you set Salminen’s two IQ Tour balls side by side, you might be hard-pressed to notice the differences between how they’re drilled. You’d have to look for how the holes are placed in relation to the ball’s labels and its “pin,” a half-inch to inch wide colored dot on the ball surface.

They tell a pro shop operator how the interior weight block is placed and oriented for drilling purposes.

Why is that important? Think of a basketball, but one where a fairly large amount of tinfoil was flattened on the surface in one spot and taped to keep it in place.

Now roll this ball on the floor. Imagine how the ball isn’t going to roll very evenly, either changing direction toward the lump if the tinfoil is to the side in relation to the direction it’s moving, or rolling fairly straight but nearly stopping if it rolls directly over the tinfoil spot.

To a much lesser extent, a bowling ball weight block acts like the tinfoil. In today’s bowling balls, an odd-shaped weight block and not having it placed dead center can make a ball pull a bit. But the USBC has rules stating balls can only be a few ounces off-balance, not much compared to the 14, 15 or 16 pounds of an entire ball.

But with the spin bowlers impart, it still creates a hook in the ball’s path sometimes even wider than the entire lane.

Way back in 1997, I saw righthanded pro bowler Steve Hoskins roll a 300 on TV where he released the ball in the air over the left gutter, sending the ball out to within a few inches of the right gutter then having it come back to the strike pocket.

Let’s see, that’s the full width of the lane to get from the left gutter to the right gutter, then half the lane to return it to the head pin in the middle of the lane.

With a lane being 40 narrow strips of boards wide, that’s about 60 boards his ball hooked.

That would be an impossible feat using a 1950s-era black rubber ball with a little round weight block.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.