Why Hitting the Head Pin Won't Guarantee a Strike

Here's the truth behind this bowling myth

Bowling ball
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Bowlers get "robbed" all the time. You know the shots: A ball looks perfect, hooks into the pocket and leaves a 10 pin standing, or perhaps an 8 pin. Or any pin. But these robberies are typically reserved for, at a minimum, moderately experienced bowlers. What about beginners?

The Importance of Hitting the Head Pin

In order to throw a strike, you have to knock down the head pin. In almost all cases, this requires hitting it with the ball.

There are instances in which you can miss the head pin, get a series of strange pin deflections and knock it down from behind, but in general, you have to hit the head pin with the ball in order to get a strike. However, simply hitting the head pin does not guarantee you a strike.

Head Pins and Straight Shots

Particularly for beginners and infrequent recreational bowlers, common knowledge seems to say throwing the ball straight down the lane and hitting the head pin will deflect all the pins perfectly throughout the pin deck and give you a strike. What you'll notice from watching people who consistently throw the ball straight at the head pin is a lot of 5 pins remaining.

This is because, unless the ball is perfectly straight, making contact between the center of the ball and the center of the pin, the ball will hit to either side of the head pin, deflecting it in one direction. The ball will then change direction and move its way down the outside of the pin deck, spraying the pins everywhere but into the 5 pin.

Conversely, if you do hit the head pin straight on, you're likely to leave a 7 pin, 10 pin or even a 7-10 split. The ball will plow right through the middle of the deck, knocking each pin horizontally. Depending on the speed of the shot, the 8 and/or 9 pins will miss the 7 or 10 pins.

Head Pins and Hooks

A good way to combat leaving 5 pins with a straight shot is to develop a hook.

But, if bowling were that easy, everyone who puts rotation on the ball would throw a perfect game every time out.

If you're a right-handed bowler and you put a little too much hook on the ball, you'll hit to the left (Brooklyn side) and the head pin will redirect to the right, possibly without taking out even one other pin. If you don't put enough hook on the ball, the head pin will fly left, again not doing much to help you knock down any other pins.

The better your entry angle, the more likely you are to strike. The optimum entry angle is perpendicular to the 1 and 3 pins for right-handers and the 2 and 4 pins for left-handers. Anything less, and you have science against you. As stated earlier, it takes a lot more than simply hitting the head pin to get a strike.

Next time you or a fellow bowler thinks you got robbed, analyze a bit deeper. Did you really get robbed? Or do you simply think you deserved a strike because you hit the head pin? For bowling success, follow this rule of thumb: Hit the head pin correctly, and the rest of the pins will go down in unison.