About Bruce on Bowling

PBA professional and titleist, coach, and authority on the sport of bowling.

Saving Tony Reyes and 425,000 Other Americans: The Technology Exists TODAY

140 9/11s?  Since 2001, over 425,000 Americans have died on our roadways.  That’s 140 TIMES the loss of life on 9/11.  This is to say nothing of injuries and property damage.  Traffic accidents are now the #1 cause of death for Americans aged 3 – 34.

When Tony Reyes died on Highway 101 several weeks ago there were actually two accidents.  Tony somehow hit the sidewall of the highway, and while he was inspecting the damage he was hit by a passing car.

BOTH of these accidents were preventable with technology that exists TODAY.

Tony probably wandered from his lane and hit one of the sidewalls of the highway. He needed a technology called Lane Departure Warning (LDW) that would have warned him (such as through a vibrating the steering wheel) when that started to happen.  The car that hit him needed obstacle detection – a camera, LiDAR or other sensor that tells the car that it is about to hit something, and intervenes to do something about it with either a warning or by taking control of steering and/or brake.

These and many other safety technologies have existed for years and could be saving many lives. Why aren’t they on EVERY car?

  1. Lawyers.  New car technology has to be perfect before it is released.  If a technology saves ten lives but might cost one, car companies won’t release it due to legal concerns.
  2. Cost reduction.  New safety technologies must be very cheap because consumers won’t pay more for safety features.  This is why you see new life-saving features on high-end cars first.  If we were all rich enough we could all buy cars with LDW.

NHTSA, do your job.  The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in charge of highway safety.  As evidenced by the body count, I’d say they are doing a pretty crappy job.

The car companies are afraid of NHTSA because they could mandate the kind of safety technology that could have saved Tony.  There is so much great technology that exists NOW to save lives but the car companies don’t want NHTSA to require it before it is fully tested or cost reduced.

As a result of this terrible system many lives are shattered, and not just those killed or injured.

More urgent than walled up lanes.  As bowlers we complain about how the USBC has failed to contain the scoring explosion by inadequately regulating ball technology, lane conditions, etc.  NHTSA is guilty of the same kind of passive negligence but in this case we measure their shortcomings not with lost bowlers, but with lost friends and loved ones.

RIP Tony.

RIP Tony Reyes


RIP Tony Reyes

Tony was killed in a car accident last night. Tragic, tragic. He was always glad to see you with a hearty, firm handshake.  A true ambassador of the sport.  All the stuff I throw now I owe to his advice and his expert drilling staff. My son gained tremendous knowledge and guidance from Tony. He leaves a beautiful new family. It’s hard to even type this.

Beyond Mike Fagan’s Moneybowl: How Do We Get Started Fixing the Average Problem?

Truthfully I have never anxiously awaited my copy of Bowler’s Journal until this month, when of course I had to wait for it to be forwarded since we just moved. I got a call from George Aboud (he of mystery hand problems) telling me that Mike Fagan had written on statistics and averages.  How cool!  Since I wrote on fixing the average system earlier (for the record before the Moneybowl issue came out), I was hotly anticipating what Mike had to say.

Bowling Center “Slope.”  In the article Fagan mentions a bowling center “slope,” that is, an adjustment for each center based on the scoring pace for that particular house.  So, for example, if a bowler averages 210 in one house and 214 in another, there should be a normalization factor that makes those two averages seem equal.  He dismisses oil pattern as a non-factor and focuses solely on a house-to-house adjustment, and since most leagues bowl on easy house shots this makes sense.

The slope idea is perfect but I do see oil pattern as part of the equation for several reasons.  First, any competent lane man can put out a tough or an easy shot, making the same house play like two entirely different centers.  Secondly, we want to ENCOURAGE bowlers to request different, more challenging patterns so they can see how they fare on different conditions at the same center (and become better bowlers). Finally, many tournaments put out different patterns than the house shot and need a way to normalize averages and handicaps beyond letting sandbaggers win and then re-rating them.  Oil pattern is THE ONE additional piece of data USBC has to track and the rest we can derive through the magic of computers and data analysis.  The good news is that factoring in oil pattern isn’t hard – all we have to do is record the pattern in play for any sanctioned score bowled, even if it reads “house shot.”

Deriving “Pattern-to-Par” (PTP) multipliers. Once we have this data we can, as Mike points out, analyze scores for bowlers in that and other centers, with one big lynch pin being the same bowlers who bowl in multiple leagues in multiple centers.  From here we derive our PTP (Pattern to Par) multipliers, which allow us to MULTIPLY an average to normalize that average to par, then DIVIDE to take the normalized average and predict what that same bowler will average at a different house and/or on a different pattern.  Normalizing an average to par (i.e. multiplying it by the PTP) is the first step in comparing all bowlers to the same standard and achieves the unbiased comparison of players Fagan is looking for.

Let’s Get Started!  How do we start?  Easy.  USBC has all the data – all we have to do is extract it and start analyzing.  We need them to change their average databases to include oil pattern.  For previous years, we can generally just say “house shot” for most leagues and get the starting point we are looking for.  PTPs will evolve over the years and become more accurate as scores from more different patterns are recorded.  The rest are computer algorithms that aren’t very hard to write and apply.

We Have The Technology. Len Nicholson told me I was crazy to try and implement this idea.  Others have told me that “bowling isn’t like golf, you don’t have the same talent and you will never get this done.”  Hogwash! National champion Mike Fagan is calling for change.  I am a 25-year software and database guy.  My fellow junior coach Mark Schipp is an applied math expert.  We have many friends who are Information Technology experts and are passionate about bowing.  I don’t speak for Mark, but I am willing to contribute time and expertise on how to do this, (read: fly me down to Arlington and we’ll brainstorm) both in analyzing prior years’ scores to arrive at baseline PTPs and how to start recording and analyzing the right data to refine those PTPs going forward.  It wouldn’t cost a lot of money, and wouldn’t be that hard! The main obstacle is USBC acknowledging the need for such a system and asking for help from the bowling community to get it done. Mike Fagan thinks this is a good idea and so does every other bowler I’ve ever explained it to. LET’S GET STARTED!

Jeff Frankos

Jeff Frankos is the best player in the west, and arguably the country, without a national title.  He just finished second at the 4th Street Bowl regional in San Jose where Sean Rash shot 279, 300 for the last two games to pass him and win.

“This won’t hurt a bit!”

Jeff is the player nobody minds losing to.  The super-human Greg Thompson, Jr. once wrote an ode to him on Facebook, calling himself Frankos’ “Human Bye.”  Jeff takes your money and you’re glad to hand it over just to watch him operate.  His opponents have actually been accused of laying down for him (not true, ever!).  Afterwards he’s the guy laughing the loudest in the bar along with the 400 friends surrounding him.

Jeff does not have a dominant style.  He’s generally behind it with medium to slow speed, but with deadly touch.  It’s not the kind of game that will average 260 for the day, and he rarely wins if they are walled up. He will ALWAYS average 220 though, even if they are absolute garbage.  He is guaranteed a check whenever he bowls and is usually the odds-on favorite to win.  And, you will face him in every bracket.

Jeff with Joe Goldstein Sr. Two class acts!

I met Jeff for the first time at a tournament when I had just moved to the Bay Area in 2002.  They were flying for me so I moved in to about 17 (not to brag, but I will – most lefties cannot or will not do this).  Jeff said to me, “You aren’t from around here, are you?  Because if you were, I would know you.”  Jeff knows everybody and takes everybody’s money (including mine).  Bay Area bowling is a cottage industry for him to augment his stockbroker gig.

To watch Jeff strut after throwing a strike might make you think he is overly cocky.  I asked him about that once – he told me there is a very fine line between confidence, which is essential, and overconfidence, which is fatal.  NOBODY walks this line better than Frankos.

He gave me another piece of advice I have used more than once.  If you can’t find a shot on the lanes, it usually messes up your timing, rhythm, and confidence too, making things worse.  When this happens, get back to a line that you can be firm on and get your timing and stroke back.  Then go back to trying to figure out the lanes.

Both Jeff’s kids are bowlers; he wouldn’t be the first father to forego a tour career.  His son Jay recently won a YBT (Youth Bowler’s Tour, shout out to Mike Hillman and Leanne Hulsenberg for launching and running a great youth organization). We were once watching our sons bowl.  WIth his son a lefty and my son a righty, we commented that “payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?”

A Better Average System, Or, How Good Are You, Really?

The scoring explosion is even further out of hand.  I joined a new league last week in Auburn, MA.  I had a great look with my pin down Major 52 (thanks Larry Litchstein!) and was in the process of shooting 773 (update – in week two I went -1, that is I shot 772).  My book average last year was 219, which means that based on 90% of 240, I get 19 pins of handicap.  My opponent asked how I got so much handicap, and I told him my 219 was because my other league used different patterns throughout the year, including one quarter with a Challenge Series Pattern (1:3.61 ratio) – like a Sport shot.  Since I didn’t bowl on the usual walled up house shot all year (like this league did, which is why they had to move the handicap base up to 240), my average was more reasonable. The truth is if my look stays like it is you could easily argue I shouldn’t have had any handicap from the beginning.

There’s no system to adjust averages. So what’s wrong with the current handicap system?  There’s no adjustment for what pattern(s) you bowled on and in which house you bowled in.  There’s no reason why my 219 average in my last league shouldn’t translate to at least 235 or higher on this walled up shot.

Many bowlers are bowling on an easy shot and think they are better than they are. The bowling scoring explosion is worse than ever There’s been plenty of blame assigned to the ABC/USBC on this front, so I won’t pile on. Like alcoholism, the first step to recovery is to ADMIT YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.  We must first let people know how easy the lanes they are bowling on actually are, compared to, say, a PBA animal pattern, the USBC Sport shot, the Kegel Challenge patterns, or any other more challenging shot.

What pattern were the scores bowled on?  We need to get the USBC to add only one very important piece of data to league and tournament scores as they are captured: the pattern the score was bowled on.  If this were captured, statistics could be analyzed for scores bowled on that pattern for each house.  That could be compared scores bowled on other patterns at that and other houses.  You could even go back in time for leagues that had the same patterns out in previous years to jump start the analysis.

Out of this analysis could come a “normalized” average, that is, an average that allows us to compare everyone in the country in exactly the same way based on talent, not lane conditions.  We could also figure out what is “par” – that is, return to the idea that a true scratch score in bowling is 200 and compare the bowler’s talent against par with the pattern taken out of the equation. True scratch bowlers will average 200 or higher after their averages are normalized, just as true scratch golfers shoot par or better.

Pattern to Par (PTP) conversion.  To adjust a bowler’s average relative to par an average multiplier is needed.  Let’s call it the PTP – Pattern to Par.  Again, par in bowling is supposed to be 200.  The PTP would be applied to an average and it would “normalize” that average relative to a par of 200.

Example.  Let’s say a scratch (par) bowler averages 220 on the “Easy Street” pattern, a walled up house shot.  Let’s say the same scratch bowler averages 185 on a USBC Sport pattern – one of the tougher patterns out there.  Statistics have shown that the PTPs for those two patterns might look something like this:

Pattern To Par (PTP):

Easy Street PTP: .91

USBC Sport Shot PTP: 1.08

We then take the bowler’s average and multiply it by the PTP.  So on Easy Street, the 220 average * PTP (.91) = 200.  For the Sport pattern, the 185 average * PTP (1.08) = 200.

Real world example.  Let’s say a bowler averages 212 on Easy Street.  That bowler’s average compared to par is 193 (212 * .91).  If the bowler wants to be a “scratch” bowler, s/he needs to practice and improve enough to average at least 220 on the Easy Street shot.

Par average to pattern.  Now let’s say our 212 bowler bowls on a Sport shot.  What would s/he be expected to average? We need a way to take the bowler’s normalized average and convert it to the average expected for the Sport shot. To calculate this, we simply divide the bowler’s normalized average by the PTP.  So, our 212 bowler, who’s actual average compared to par is 193, now needs to have that 193 divided by the Sport pattern PTP, or 1.08.  193 / 1.08 = 178, so the bowler would be expected to average 178 on the sport shot.

Now let’s tell the bowler their true averages.  “178?  I’m better than that – I average 212!”  No, you are actually a 193 bowler compared to a 200 par and you should expect to only average 178 on the Sport shot where par is 185.  You need to practice!

“I really average 178??”

One more example.  Let’s say our bowler wants to bowl on the Route 66 pattern, one of the Kegel Challenge patterns.  Route 66 is easier than the Sport shot, but harder than Easy Street.  For Route 66 let’s say the “par” average is 195, making the PTP 1.03 (200/195).  Again, the PTP needs to be determined by analyzing scores across the country and the world.  As above, the bowler’s 212 average first goes to a normalized 193 (212 * the Easy Street PTP of .91), then is divided by the Route 66 PTP of 1.03 to arrive at an expected average of 187.  The 212 bowler’s average gets adjusted to 187 for Route 66.

Keep it fair!  This system would make handicap tournaments much fairer.  It would let bowlers know where they stand relative to par, and where they stand relative to other bowlers from other houses on different patterns.  It would provide a credible answer to my opponent when they question why I am getting 21 pins when I should get just a few pins if any.  EVERYONE WILL FIND OUT HOW GOOD THEY REALLY ARE.

Is the USBC up to this challenge?  The USBC is the ONLY institution that can implement this system.  They have a view of scores on all patterns in houses across the entire country.  Ideally, the system would be implemented across the globe so all bowlers of all abilities anywhere in the world could find out how good they really are.

The USBC tried to address the scoring explosion with the Sport shot.  The good news is that they have an average conversion chart that converts Sport shot averages to “normal” averages and back again.  The bad news is that there is no way they had enough data to properly  populate such a chart.  One must know the PTPs for patterns and houses across the country before such a conversion chart can be created with any kind of accuracy.

So how about it USBC – are you ready to take the first step in fixing the scoring explosion? Who’s ready to take up the call with me to the USBC to implement this system?

Hugh Miller

Hugh Miller is flat out great.  I just watched him win the DV8 South Shore Open in Hammond, Ind.  He drew 11-12 for the title matches and when I hit that pair 11 hooked about 3 boards more than 12 – one of the more challenging pairs in the house.  Hugh made them look easy, even getting a couple shots in on 11 and getting them to hold.  He has tremendous hand-eye coordination, like many of the greats, that lets him adjust his release based on his balance, position and timing for each particular shot.

Hugh told me one of his secrets.  He studied thousands of his games and came to realize an inescapable fact: you are going to strike about 72% of the time you hit the pocket.  If you miss the pocket there is little chance of striking and a much higher chance of a split or other badness.  So, above all else, figure out how to hit the pocket and stay there. If you are getting rapped, be very wary of making a move, either to a new ball or with your feet, that might cost you the pocket.  If you are hitting the pocket the strikes will come.

UPDATE: My friend Jeff Valentine, a longtime friend of left-handers, points out that if the scoring pace is high you might indeed need to adjust based on bad carry.  Remember that  Hugh was bowling on very challenging tour conditions where a small move or ball change might cost you the pocket.  If it’s easy to hit the pocket, you might need to adjust for carry to keep up.  One such move is BACK with your feet on the approach if you are leaving corners.

The other Miller “revelation” is never, ever, ever miss a spare.  Maybe kind of obvious, but you’d be amazed how many bowlers take this way too lightly.  Opens of any kind cost you more than a double to make up.  I could have taken this advice in Hammond when I missed the cut by 5 pins after 16 games, missing a 3 pin, a 4 pin, a 3-10, a 4-7, and some other easy ones.

Good luck in Decator Hugh – going for POY!

Why Your Local Bowling Center May Be Closing Soon

Bowling centers are closing left and right.  Seems as if you hear daily about another bowling center closing.  In the S.F. bay area Palo Alto Bowl, Mel’s in Redwood City, Serra Bowl in Daly City and Cedar Lanes in Fresno have all closed recently.


Mel’s in Redwood City is closed, but the sign remains

I grew up in Bloomfield, Connecticut, and learned to bowl at Earl Anthony’s Bloomfield Bowl  (shout out to Pat Bosco, the best bowling center manager I’ve ever known).  I won my first PBA regional title at Paramus Bowl, beating the likes of Petraglia and Roth.  I shot my first 300 at Fantasy Lanes in Upper Saddle River, NJ (my PBA 300 ring says “Fantasy” on it).  Guess what?  All are closed today and the properties redeveloped.

This is a tragedy to me.  But the reality is that a few basic facts explain this phenomenon.  Let’s start with a sign I saw recently at Sea Bowl in Pacifica, Ca.:

Weekend Rates:

Bowling: $29.00 per hour

Billiards: $14.00 per hour

Bowling’s revenue per square foot math doesn’t work.  Let’s talk real estate and revenue per square foot.  A bowling center building requires at least 1,000 square feet per lane, so that a 32-lane center would need at least 32,000 square feet to operate.  A billiard table takes up about 100 square feet.  According to the Sea Bowl sign above, the bowling lane would generate about 2.9 cents per square foot per hour, while the billiard table would generate about 14 cents per square foot per hour.  The billiard table nets nearly 5 times the revenue per square foot, and uses about 1/10th of the bowling lane’s footprint to earn its money for the center.

Also important is that the billiard capital investment is vastly less than bowling; have you priced pinsetters and scoring systems lately compared to even the nicest billiard table?  And, there is virtually no billiard table maintenance compared to the parts, supplies, lane machine, support staff and the many other costs involved with maintaining a bowling lane.  From a financial point of view, one is much better off in the billiards business.

Let’s look at it another way.  Say a 32-lane bowling center, between the lineage, snack bar, lounge, and other revenue such as vending machines generates $2 million per year, and uses 35,000 square feet of space.  That’s $57.14 of revenue per square foot per year.  Indeed, I’ve compared notes with several center managers and a very typical figure is $50 – $60 per square foot per year.  The best number I’ve ever heard was from Jim Carter in Winter Garden Florida (Don’s son and a fantastic person and manager), who proudly said he once earned $74 per square foot per year.

Now let’s talk about Pier One Imports.  Who?  They recently published a 3-year plan in which they announced a goal to increase yearly revenue from $200 to $225 per square foot.  That’s 4 times what a bowling center can generate in the same space!  These numbers vary by store of course (Macy’s take is $161 per square foot for example), and they have higher cost of good sold, but they all handily beat bowling’s earnings potential per square foot.

You can pick almost any business and the revenue per square foot is better than bowling’s.  Restaurants generally lose money at $150 per square foot, and some can net as high as $400 per square foot and up.

I recently toyed with the idea of opening a bowling center in a populated area of Massachusetts.  I found the perfect location – 40,000 square feet in an old Filene’s Basement location in Framingham, Mass.  There used to be three houses in Framingham – today there are none.  I contacted the landlord and was told that the lease would be about $1M per year, and there would have to be a 15-year minimum lease due to all the capital improvements I would have to make to the property.  Doing some quick math, if I opened a center making $2.5 million a year, I would spend 40% of my revenue on rent – a non-starter. The fact is, that location needs to generate in the $200 per square foot range (about $8M per year) to make the property pay.  No bowling center in the world can do that. So much for that idea!


My perfect location in Framingham.  Too bad the rent is $1M a year.

Land value.  The revenue per square foot argument is just one problem.  The other is land value, and what else could be built on the property.  Let’s take Palo Alto Bowl.  It sat on a 3.62-acre site that is now under construction for a 4 story 167-room hotel and 26 condos and duplexes.  Let’s say each condo alone goes for $500,000.  That’s $13M right there – many, many years of a bowling center’s potential profits.

Real estate in Palo Alto is an extreme example, going for millions per acre.  But the same math can be applied to most any bowling center and the end result is that there are a lot more centers still operating where the revenue is too low, the rent is too high, the land is too valuable, or some combination of the above are conspiring to cause the center to close in the not-too-distant future.

In some cases, centers remain open because of rent deals they made long ago.  This was Serra Bowl’s situation.  In 1962 they signed a 50-year lease for $5,000 per month.  It expired in 2012.  I was there the Friday night before it closed, bowling pot games.  The place was packed, with hundreds of people having a great time.  It closed that Sunday.  The new rent would have been so high that keeping it open couldn’t even be discussed.

There is no other social activity like bowling.  When was the last time you saw a group of friends or family bowling who weren’t have a great time?  Bowling centers need to be treated more like parks – community-preserved spots that help provide a safe recreation location and to help maintain a community’s sense of itself.

Turn your local bowling center into a protected area, like a park.  The only way to save some bowling centers is to petition the town.  Ask about your local center and find out if it might close.  if so, go to the town hall and ask about your center’s zoning and if the center’s location is a candidate for redevelopment.  If the land is available for redevelopment, in almost all cases the financial incentive to redevelop that land into almost anything besides a bowling center will in fact cause the center to close, and perhaps in the not too distant future.  The town will be motivated because it will collect more taxes on higher real estate values and/or more revenue.  Tell the town no!

Please help preserve the sport we love.  Get involved to keep your local bowling center open!