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Spare Me! How Do The Top Pros Approach Spares?, Originally Posted: 6/7/2012; Updated: 7/16/2023

In bowling, every pin counts and you only get one shot at picking up a spare. Those are absolutes. Systems for picking up those spares, however, are as varied as the number of spare possibilities.

Sure, there are a handful of accepted general spare systems, but most bowlers make slight adjustments or alterations to even those. Just ask the pros. Tournaments have been won and lost by both the ability and inability to complete even the simplest of spares.

Not surprisingly, nearly every pro utilizes a slightly different system. Where they stand, what angle they take to the pins, what ball they use... all top bowlers tinker with systems until they find one they are comfortable with. What system do you use?

WALTER RAY WILLIAMS, JR.: I don’t really have a set system. I have my only little formulas, but they probably wouldn’t work for most bowlers because I drift kind of funny. When I’m on the right side shooting at a left-hand spare, I walk pretty straight. When I’m shooting at a 10 pin, instead of walking to the right and toward the target I walk away from the target. Basically I walk left and throw right. It doesn’t make much sense and I wouldn’t teach it to bowlers, but it works okay for me. It’s also part of my overall game. When I’m throwing straighter on my strike shot I don’t drift very much left. But when I’m hooking the ball on my strike shot I drift a lot left. When I’m shooting the 10 pin, I’m not trying to hook the ball but my natural instinct is to drift left. Technically you want to walk towards your target. That makes the most sense.

KELLY KULICK: Straighter is greater. Obviously, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. A good spare ball is crucial and I use a plastic spare ball. The only thing I hook at is double wood, 2-8 or 3-6-9-10. For most spares I use board 20, or the fourth arrow, and I pretend like that point is the fulcrum of a pair of scissors. My target doesn’t change, but my feet change the angle. The center of the scissors is board 20, and the handles represent a line to the 7 and 10 pins. Then I just close down the scissors for different pins.

WES MALOTT: Typically, anything in the middle-left — anything with a 1, 2, 5, 8 — I’m always going to hook at. It’s what I’m doing most of my shots, so I feel it’s easier to repeat a shot than to suddenly switch to throwing straight. I will go straight at the 4, 7, 3, 9, 6 or 10. If a pattern has a lot of oil in the middle, I’ll hook at a 3 or 9. The problem is the patterns are flatter on Tour, and once you get into a different zone on the lane you really don’t know how the ball is going to react. In that case you almost have to throw it straight. With house patterns you can pretty much hook at anything because there’s just more built-in area to miss. If you miss right, it’s going to hook. If you miss inside, it’s going to straighten out. On Tour going straight is a necessity. Even at home, if I’m getting ready to go out on Tour or to a tournament where I know the patterns are going to be tougher, I’ll practice throwing straight just to get comfortable with it.

CHRIS BARNES: I have standard places I stand for just about everything. There’s a spot I stand for the 3, 6 and 10 pin. I hook at double wood, except at the U.S. Open. You shoot straight at everything because you don’t open up any room by hooking it there. I throw straight and cross lane with plastic at anything else. Left-side spares are from the right. Interestingly, right-side spares I walk toward my target. Because of the way our bodies and swings are, we’re not really set up to throw right-to-left, so I square up my whole body toward the 2, 4, 7 and walk right at the pin.

MIKE FAGAN: I don’t exactly use a system. I shoot everything pretty straight, unless it’s a double-wood situation. I look at the pin and draw a line back through the arrows. I throw straight with one of my core balls. I don’t use a plastic ball because it’s just another ball that I have to carry. We go to a lot of overseas events where you are restricted in the number of balls you can bring, so I don’t care to waste one of those slots with a plastic ball. For double-wood I try to stay on the same spot and maybe move my target one board left and slow my speed down a little bit.

JASON BELMONTE: I vary. I do have a specific stance for my 7, 4 and 2 pin with my plastic ball, and that’s pretty much at every house I’ve ever bowled in. For the 2 pin my right foot is on 14 and I try to hit the third arrow. Then I move three boards left for the 4 pin, and three more for the 7 pin. Then with the 10 and the 6 I try to get to the left corner of the lane and just throw straight at it. I hook at double wood, and if I leave the 2-8-10, I try to back the ball up. The only time I feel confident throwing a back-up ball is when I have to send pins to the right side of the lane.

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