The Power of Moisture in Bowling

by Dave Williams

Once again an article by Jef Goodger in Bowlers Journal International got me to thinking about a particular subject in our game: the power of moisture in bowling. Perhaps Jef was playing upon my article regarding the Limited Distance Dressing (LDD) Committee controversy which was published in journals across the nation in January (“I’m Not Sure Whether to Say I’m Sorry, or You’re Welcome”).

In that article I briefly described the importance of humidity and the effect that it has upon bowling. Having grown up in Northern California, where winter is wet and summer is very hot with low humidity, gave me the perception that applying lane dressing farther down the lane was the secret to higher scores.

However, proprietors across the land proved me wrong when the Limited Distance Dressing Committee findings were put into place in the 1980’s. The result has been a complete obliteration of bowling records in the past 30 years. As I have stated earlier, I’m not sure whether to say I’m sorry, or you’re welcome, in response to the committee’s recommendations.

Goodger’s article (“April Showers Bring May Approach Issues”) focuses on yet another aspect of the power of moisture in bowling, namely the bowling approaches. Anyone that has been bowling at different times of the year can tell you about the “sticky approaches” when it’s raining, or “slippery approaches” when it’s hot and the air conditioning is providing for a low humidity scenario.

Goodger goes on to say that “the only thing about which a bowler can be certain is the weather outside will change the conditions inside to the advantage of every single person in the building except him.”

The greatest bowler that I have ever seen that takes advantage of this moisture phenomenon is Norm Duke. Although my bowling days on the Pro Tour were over before Norm Duke stepped onto the approach for his first title in Cleveland, Ohio (1983), I have enjoyed watching his career that includes 38 PBA titles, earnings of $3,438,000, and 71-300 games.

The first time that I saw him bowl in person was in 1984, at the PBA Long Island Open, at Garden City Bowl in Garden City, New York. Although Duke fared well at the Garden City event with a 32nd place finish ($1,060), the real action was to continue at a nearby bowling center called 300 Bowl in Massapequa, at the completion of the PBA event.

A group of well known action players stepped onto the approach at 300 Bowl, where the entry fee was $1,000 per game. I never saw the money, but it was being held by Mark Brenner, a well known bowling promoter from the area, so I have no reason to doubt his word.

Duke did well, and when the stakes are $1,000 per game, you don’t need to stand out… just win an occasional game. By the end of the evening, there were just two bowlers remaining, Duke and a local favorite name Rudy Kasimakis (“Rudy Revs”). They decided to up the ante to $10,000 per game.

That’s the first time that I saw Norm Duke go into his “check the approach” routine. Anyone that has watched their share of bowling knows that Duke on occasion will hop when shooting at a spare, and then test the approach by taking a couple of cautionary slides.

Whether this is an act or his real concern about the “stickiness” of the approach is known only to Norm, but it certainly has a debilitating effect on his opponent. I have seen him do this on numerous PBA telecasts, and what usually follows is that his rival will step up to the line before their shot to be sure that the approach is not tacky, or perhaps even slippery.

End result? The opponent, who was probably on a string of strikes, throws a shot wide of target or right through the nose, resulting in a big split. For Duke, it’s mission accomplished, and he invariably steps up to throw a couple of perfect strikes.

On this particular evening in Massapequa, Duke was the big winner with a cash prize that probably exceeded the $16,000 first prize being offered at the PBA Long Island Open. And the power of moisture in bowling was once again proven to be a significant factor, thanks to Norm Duke and his “check the approach” defense.