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UP AND AWAY: Loft Is Often Overlooked As A Valuable Tool For Your Game

By Bryan O’Keefe

When conditions start to change, bowlers constantly look for ways to change the ball’s reaction without having to move laterally, whether it’s getting the ball farther down the lane or starting the skid phase later.

The most common variables in the bowler’s toolbox are ball speed, rev rate, axis rotation and axis tilt. The forgotten variable is loft. Loft is another great way to change not only the shape of the hook but also when the ball hooks on the lane.

At the pro level, it’s not uncommon to see players loft the ball three or four feet before it hits the lane. You see it a lot with the high-rev bowlers when they really have to get inside. But we’re not talking about Mike Fagan lofting to the arrows, or Osku Palermaa lofting the ball over a bar stool. We’re talking about small loft distances: adding six inches or a foot to your shot can have a huge impact on ball motion.

Loft is simply a way of shortening the lane. Bowlers look to shorten the lane when the lane starts to hook a little earlier, or the front part of the lane starts to break down and get dry. Lofting allows the ball to save energy before it grabs the lane and starts to hook toward the pocket.

Consider that the lane is 60 feet long. If you normally lay the ball down six inches past the foul line, your ball has 59½ feet to travel before it hits the head pin. If you loft the ball a foot farther, you’ve shortened the lane to 58½ feet. The ball starts its motion later on the lane. Simply put, you’re starting the process later. The problem most bowlers have with trying to loft the ball is the tendency to impart loft entirely with the upper body. Most bowlers try to muscle and hit up on the ball. They just try to throw it farther.

The proper way to impart loft is to stand up on the shot a little more when you’re entering the slide-and-release portion of your shot. Instead of getting as low to the line as you can, keep your knee bend a little higher and don’t drive into the line as much as normal.

The keys to loft are the knee bend and posture. We’ve talked before about keeping your posture the same once you start your slide, and that applies here as well. Maintain your posture, just don’t bend so much at the knee. It’s important that you’re not rising on the shot. Concentrate on staying a touch more upright through the shot. Loft shouldn’t really affect your release point much. You’re just releasing the ball from a slightly higher point, which will make it hit the lane further out. You do want to release the ball just a hair past your ankle so that you’re projecting the ball out onto the lane. Remember — out, not up.

Neither should loft affect your follow through. At first, holding your finish a little higher may feel different, but after a while you will get used to how your finish feels. Make sure the things that make your normal shot consistent stay consistent when you’re lofting the ball. You still want to post the shot properly.

— Bryan O’Keefe is Assistant Coach and Facility Manager at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas.