Tinted Oil on PBA WSOB V Finals

PBA Commissioner Tom Clark has announced that they are experimenting with dyed or tinted bowling oil for the upcoming animal pattern telecasts at the World Series of Bowling 5. The idea is to make the oil visible so you can see how it transitions, and why pro shots are different from typical league shots. Obviously there are several good things about this, but are they enough to outweigh the cons? Clark said that so far only Norm Duke has tested it, and was fairly mum about the results. Being that I’ve lightly considered this before, I’ve already developed some opinions or thoughts about how this would affect the game of bowling. Because this is such a drastic and rather monumental step, I’ll start with the pros.

This is guaranteed to be controversial. People have already said for a long time that league bowling as it is now on easy house shots makes the game too simple. Where the challenge still lies is in conceptual understanding of a few other elements, mainly in lane transition. Yeah a guy can pull out a big new house shot killer of a ball and pop in a big game out of the gates with it, but can he adjust and put a good set together? If you can see the oil, you can teach people fundamental concepts so much easier. If they’re able to see what happens to the oil pattern throughout league or tournaments, they would be able to see why their ball is all the sudden hooking more, or be able to adjust accordingly before they got that surprise big 4.

It would also eliminate a factor that makes bowling frustrating. Even if you are paying attention to your ball reaction and other’s ball reactions, you don’t know when the transition has started until ball reaction changes. You may be able to predict it, you may be able to try and prevent it, but while the ball is still rolling true and hitting the pocket, there’s no reason to adjust anything you’re doing. If you are able to physically see the transition, you can begin to make moves before the invisible burn spot costs you pins. There are few things more frustrating in bowling than making a good shot only to watch it hook early and leave you something nasty simply because you couldn’t see the dry. It’s akin to hitting a golf shot over a hill blind, and striking it cleanly, only to go over the hill and find you’re in a sand trap or water hazard, it just doesn’t feel fair.

It would make it much easier to teach people about ball surfaces. You would have a visual illustration of how much quickly a sanded ball makes a lane transition than a polished ball. You would also be able to figure out how to play the lanes and why you should play them a certain way. If you are bowling a tournament and moving lanes every set or even every game, instead of throwing shots blind and trying to adjust as quickly as possible, you’d be able to see the differences in the pattern and be able to adjust before you even threw a ball.

Let’s move onto the cons. A big part of bowling is intuition and feel. Some bowlers take advantage of a great sixth sense for things and use those to adjust rather than just their eyes. These are the bowlers who are most likely the ones that would be upset over the change. It essentially reduces bowling to execution, something that would take a lot of the fun and magic out of the game. I myself love being able to make moves before others see the transition, I love being able to see things and pick up on things that the more mechanical, mathematical bowlers have trouble with. It drastically reduces the impact and importance of experience, which because of the sight unseen nature of this game keeps veteran bowlers competitive even after their physical skills have begun to diminish.

As was also pointed out in the article, lane topography still comes into play, something that can affect the ball almost as much as the lane pattern. Clark said as well that it was difficult to differentiate between volume, but that there were subtle differences. If that’s the case, most bowlers will only be able to see that it’s either there, or it’s not there, and could possibly be more confusing than helpful. Also, due to lane topography and characteristics, you could see what you feel is a dry spot developing and make a move before your ball reaction has told you to and run into problems. Or in other words, what you see visually may not always equal what you think it does. Bowlers will throw shots on the lane to develop a mental picture of where the oil is at and how it’s moving around, but I’m almost certain that how they see it in their head and how this tint may visually display it may contradict from time to time, and it may be hard to shut out the visual.

After throwing shot after shot so many times on the lanes as they are, the tint could be incredibly distracting. Arrows, dots, and tracer boards may become harder to see depending on how dark the tint is, but therein lies another problem. If the oil is too dark, it becomes hard to see targets. However, if it’s too light, it becomes hard to see transition and turns into nothing more than a nuisance. These are things I’m sure they will or have considered, and have no doubt it will be addressed, though dropping this on the bowlers on the finals telecast will ruffle some feathers I imagine.

What are your thoughts or opinions? Post them below, and we’ll discuss them!