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Don Johnson’s Favorite Bowling Tip, Originally Posted: 4/15/2011; Updated: 9/16/2023
continues in our series of Editorial articles following a recent tribute to PBA Hall of Fame Champion, Don Johnson. We thought it might be fun for everyone if we shared Don Johnson's favorite bowling tip as a follow-up article. As a close friend of Don's during the ten years prior to his passing and as one who bowled on Tour with and against Don for many years in the 1970's, I had the opportunity to share many moments of personal times with Don both socially and professionally. Whenever we discussed coaching or instructional topics, Don always related to me the same general theme he felt was important to all skill levels of players. Here now is a recap of Don Johnson's favorite bowling tip shared in my words and with the hope it benefits many of you reading this article:

"Don't lift the ball, release the ball."

To paraphrase Don's thinking and comments will shed some insight into why Don felt this tip was important. First, it is worth knowing that Don was a straightforward person who tended not to amplify his coaching but rather seek a direct and simple solution with any of his students. After Don retired circa 1980 from the PBA Tour when his bowling thumb injury would not heal, he became a successful instructor in Las Vegas, Nevada for many years.

Having observed Don coach many, many students domestically and internationally and share his coaching insight with me personally during social occasions, I would always hear Don refer to a new concept of the "urethane release." Don studied every pro bowlers tour telecast religiously for ten years and witnessed the general change the pro's used in releasing the newly popularized urethane coverstock bowling balls of the 1980's in comparison to the plastic and rubber balls Don and I used back in the day.

Don would say that bowlers were taught years ago to "lift" the bowling ball at the moment of release in an attempt to get the very low friction surface bowling balls to roll heavily. As the industry developed new lane finishes and as manufacturers developed new bowling ball coverstocks with the objective of increasing surface friction, Don noted that the pro's began to change the technique they used from the old "lift technique" to a more modern "urethane" technique of unhinging the wrist at the moment the bowling thumb exited the bowling ball and releasing the ball smoothly off of the bowling hand as opposed to hinging the wrist and snapping the bowling fingers violently toward the palm of the hand while the thumb exited the ball.

Don's observations proved true as he would show close-up slow motion video during his training sessions demonstrating how the pro bowlers would actually unhinge the wrist from a somewhat "cupped wrist position" while the thumb exited the ball. Don studied power players of that era such as Steve Cook, Marshall Holman, Mark Roth, Bob Handley, Amleto Monacelli, and others. Don pointed out these players would rotate the bowling fingers varying degrees of motion so the axis tilt of the bowling ball could be controlled to match lane conditions with the given bowler's rev-rates or ball speed capabilities.

No doubt, Don was ahead of the training curve as far as coaching techniques in the decade of the 1980's. Don saw the modern equipment of that period in history as the time for release change if bowlers wished to excel and use the modern bowling ball equipment to their full advantage. As players success on Tour developed during the 1990's and beyond into the new century, Don's coaching techniques were more and more widely accepted by former critics.

Along with the release change, Don also taught that the swing path must change to accommodate a greater hook potential and a powerful release. Don taught his students to change the direction of their footwork to match the release and to match the desired arm swing path to release the ball down the lane to the targeted break point. In fact, Don filmed two instructional videos to further develop his techniques in an effort to reach more and more bowlers across America. These videos may likely still be available with some research into where they might be accessed online for anyone caring to do so.

Today when we carefully watch power players, we see a slightly bent elbow in the forward arm swing in many cases and a cupped wrist position where the ball almost rests on the bowler's forearm until the wrist unhinges and the ball falls off of the hand onto the lane surface. This technique today was Don's observation back in the 1970's - he saw the changes coming. Part of Don's training technique was to ask bowler's to practice releasing the ball using a two handed release such as we see today.

We see far less fingers snapping through the holes of the ball toward the palm of a given bowlers hand today than in years past. Highly skilled players today allow the the ball dynamics developed by manufacturer's and layout patterns used in drilling high tech bowling balls to do the job as opposed to purely forcing the ball to hook by snapping the wrist and fingers at the point of release.

Don Johnson's views were not always shared by everyone in the 1980's and he was often openly criticized by bowlers rejecting the notion of a "urethane release." Not until the 1990's rolled around and virtually all Tour players used a more modern release did Don's teachings become widely accepted. After the year 2000 had arrived and the Tour stars of the 80's, 90's, and 2000's all used similar techniques matching the evolution in bowling ball technology did Don's release technique observations become commonly used by USBC certified coaches across the country.
Don Johnson said it simply and best, "don't lift the ball, release the ball."

Thanks for allowing me time to share Don Johnson's favorite bowling tip with you and present the information in my words. I hope I have not done an injustice in any way to the memory of my friend and legendary bowling champion, Don Johnson.
Rich Carrubba,

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