Last month in the
Firestone Tournament of Champions, the showcase event of the Professional
Bowlers Association $1 million winter tour, 10 lefthanders were entered in the
invitational field of 48. When the entry list was halved at the end of 24
qualifying games, nine of the 10 lefthanders remained; when the field was
further cut to five for the nationally televised finals, four of the survivors
were southpaws. The winner was Johnny Petraglia, a skinny, 24-year-old lefty
from Brooklyn, N.Y., who, with about 20 tour events to go in 1971, is within
$222 of breaking the PBA one-year money record. Overall, the 10 lefties at
Akron took home over 45% of the $100,000 prize money.
Although it was
just one event, the Tournament of Champions typified an emerging problem for
the PBA, and indeed for bowling at every level: a surge of success among
left-handed bowlers far out of proportion to their numbers. Through innocent
error, miscalculation and perhaps even design, bowling stands in peril of
becoming a sport that caters to 10% of the population. Equally disturbing is
the fact that the rulemakers, the conservative and ossified bowling hierarchy
of the American Bowling Congress, as well as the PBA, don't know for sure what
to do about it.
Until the 1970
winter tour, left-handed domination was never considered much of a problem.
Southpaws made up 13% of an average PBA field and scored and made money
accordingly. On the 13-event swing in 1969, for example, lefties placed in the
16- or 24-man finals 13% of the time and in the five-man television finals 12%
of the time. But in 1970 those figures jumped to 25% and 32% respectively, and
this year they are up to 29% and 34%. On the overall money lists the southpaws
also fared proportionately until last year, when they took six of the top 12
spots. So far in 1971 the figure is six of the top 16, and they have won nearly
30% of the dough.
The height of
absurdity was reached in San Jose, Calif. in early February, when the entire
16-man finals was composed of lefthanders. Nor is the problem limited to the
men. On the 1970 ladies' PWBA tour, seven of the nine titlists were
left-handed, as were the last four women bowlers of the year and the last three
something drastic has happened. The otherwise well-ordered world of pro bowling
is in turmoil over it, and the trend has provided fodder for press conferences,
barroom bull sessions and locker-room complaints among bowlers themselves.
There are indications that the amateur game also has been affected. Whatever it
is that has caused the left-handed surge is probably behind the higher scores
recorded of late by many relative duffers. The import is not lost on the
multimillion-dollar bowling industry, which can hardly be expected to continue
its growth of recent years if the sport penalizes an overwhelming majority—the
90% who are right-handed.
Eddie Elias, the
founder of the PBA, sees a credibility gap opening. "The PBA is the
showcase of the sport," he says, "and if the fans see that our
champions are mostly left-handed, then the ABC and the bowling proprietors
won't be able to sell the sport, and the manufacturers the equipment."
happened? There are two basic theories. The first involves lane conditions, the
second the bowling pins.
lane-condition theory is based on two obvious facts: 90% of the play is on the
right side of the lane, and the houses where the PBA tour stops are used by
league and recreational bowlers 51 weeks of the year. Thus the right side
receives much more wear and tear than the left does. A 60-foot track is formed
on the right side of every lane from the foul line to the pocket. If the track
were uniform everywhere, righthanders could capitalize on it, or at least make
a uniform adjustment. But the track is not the same, being affected by such
things as the number of women bowlers, the number of league bowlers, the
quality of the bowlers, the relative humidity, the average temperature and a
score of other factors. This can be fatal to a pro bowler, whose income depends
on having his ball enter the pocket between the 1 and 3 pins at the proper
angle. To do this, he will usually try to throw a hook—that is, a ball that
will start out headed straight down the right side of the alley, or even
angling slightly toward the gutter, and then about 20 feet from the pocket
break sharply back in toward the pins.
Because the house
track is such a no-man's-land, however, the righthander must bowl either
outside the track, using a gutter shot, or inside the track and sacrifice the
angle on his hook.
Don Johnson, a
top righthander, sums it up: "You've got to avoid the weeds and