This article was written by Ron Clifton for Bowling This Month Magazine and may not be copied or reproduced without written consent from Bowling This Month.

The Six Basic Fundamentals Part 3

Criteria for ball fit continued


In this series I am going through my six basic fundamentals and how they are interconnected. With ball fit being #1 on my list and it being so critical to the armswing and release, I decided to continue the discussion as part three of “The Six Basic Fundamentals”. I last left you in charge of getting your thumbhole snugness sorted out so next we move into checking your span and pitches.

Hopefully a competent pro shop near by can get you close on the span as well as finger and thumb pitches but there is no substitute for trial and error. That means drilling balls and making single small changes until you get it right… and what is right today may not be right next year. This is a very fluid sport and everyone that strives to stay on top of it is doomed to be forever changing their ball fit.

The best that we can hope for is a fit that allows us to throw the ball better today than we did yesterday and without injury. Just in case you run into a driller that is cocky enough to say “I can fit you perfectly the first time” just ask him how many times he has re-fit himself. I personally thought I was pretty much finished with changing my ball fit, but between the time I wrote part one of this series and finished part two I lengthened my span one eighth of an inch and I like it much better. 


Span; the long and short of it


Having a span that is too long or too short can not only make it harder to perform a good release it can injure your hand over time. A stretched span pulls hard on the tendons of the fingers, hand and wrist, possibly causing injury, often requiring surgery to repair.  The stretched span can also cause problems with the thumb, requiring excessive reverse pitch in the thumbhole and large calluses at the base of the thumb. Don’t make the mistake of making the span stretched tight because you think it adds a few more revs to the ball. Over stretching your tendons is a poor substitute for a good release and you won’t be revving the ball at all if you pop a tendon.

A span that is too short can cause the bowler to squeeze the ball harder or require the thumbhole to be excessively tight. The extra squeezing can cause pain in the hand and other parts of the arm. A too short span reduces the rev rate and makes repeating shots with consistency more difficult.  

Just like all the other variables in ball fitting the criteria for a proper span has changed over the years. I think that it is most important that your span fall into a “safe zone” that will not injure your hand. If your span is in the “safe zone” then you can try it a little longer or a little shorter for your personal comfort and best performance without having to worry about injury.

 You can check your own span to see if it is in the “safe zone” by following these easy steps. (If you wear a wrist brace always make sure it is on when checking your span.)

1.      Locate the two creases at your finger joints and mark a line in the middle between the two as shown in photo.

2.      Set your ball on a table, fully insert your thumb and lay your fingers across the holes and stretch them pretty taught, then relax the hand.

3.      Once the hand is relaxed the line you drew between the two creases should fall within one eighth of an inch to the edge of each fingerhole.



Some bowlers may like their span one eighth inch longer or shorter than what I have demonstrated in the photos but don’t stray outside that “safe zone” or risk injury.


Thumb and finger pitches


I think I could write a book on thumb pitches alone but the idea behind this series is to hit the basics so I will keep it simple. First a brief explanation of what pitches are is in order. The pitch of a fingerhole or thumbhole refers to the angle the hole is drilled into the ball in relation to the ball’s center of core. For example if a fingerhole or thumbhole was drilled straight into the ball so the bottom of the hole lined up with the center of the core then that hole would have “zero pitch”. If you drill a fingerhole or thumbhole so the bottom of the hole is moved more toward the center of your grip then that hole will have “forward pitch”; conversely if the hole moves the bottom away from the center of your grip the hole will have “reverse pitch”

I like to use the example of palming a ball to help people better understand forward and reverse pitches, especially thumb pitches. If you drill the thumbhole with a lot of reverse pitch then you will be trying to palm a basketball and if you drill the thumbhole with a lot of forward pitch then you will be palming a baseball.

Obviously only those with the largest hands can palm a basketball but I think the illustration helps bowlers understand why they tend to drop the ball off the thumb if it is drilled with too much reverse pitch. Since our thumbs go “into” a bowling ball instead of around it like a baseball we can’t just drill the ball with a lot of forward pitch to make it easier to palm ether. If the pitch is too far forward for the bowler the thumb will get trapped in the hole and the ball will hang.

Finding just the right thumb pitch can only be achieved by the trial and error of drilling thumbholes. If you start with a pitch in the thumbhole that you know is too much reverse (you have to squeeze too much) and start drilling one quarter inch more forward each time you will eventually reach a thumb pitch that is too far forward and you will have trouble clearing the thumb without hanging. Once that “too much pitch” has been found then back up one eighth of an inch and try throwing that pitch for a while.

You must give your hand time to get acclimated to the new pitch each time you drill a new hole; with each quarter inch forward change your hand will have to squeeze the ball less. This will take some effort on your part because it is human nature to “over squeeze” a bowling ball. Don’t be surprised that after a while you can move the pitch more forward after your hand learns not to squeeze so much.  

If you keep your span in the “safe zone” then you will be free to move your thumb pitch forward without having to change your span. This may be a point of contention with your ball driller. The drilling industry has produced drilling charts that recommend a thumb pitch with each length of span; as the span lengths increase on the chart the thumb pitch moves slightly more reverse. Examples are a span that is four inches in length shows a recommend thumb pitch of one eighth inch forward. A span that is four and one quarter inches in length corresponds to a thumb pitch of zero.  The chart is recommending that for each one eighth of an inch the span grows the thumb pitch should be moved back (reverse direction) by one sixteenth of an inch. A problem arises when ball drillers try to reverse the chart and say that with each thumb pitch change the span must be changed as well, to correspond to the chart.

The chart may be a good starting point but most of the best bowlers in the world have thumb pitches that are more forward than the charts suggest. I know for a fact that if the span is in the “safe zone” the thumb pitch can be moved forward without changing the span; otherwise I would not have been able to take a bowler with a “safe” span of five and one half inches (big hand that guy has) from his former thumb pitch of five eights of an inch REVERSE to three eights of an inch FORWARD in just one drilling and lesson.

Before anyone starts screaming that this guy was some young buck freak of nature with a double jointed thumb or something that was not the case at all, he is a 50 year old senior PBA member with no special flexibility in the thumb.

 It is much better to only change one thing at the time so you will know exactly the outcome of each change. I am not saying that there is no relationship between the span and the thumb pitch; I am just saying they are not nearly as locked together as many people think. Once you are close to your limit on thumb pitch then you can tweak the span a little if you need too.

The reason I recently moved my own span one eighth inch longer was because the snugness of my thumbhole was just too critical and I was constantly having to add or remove tape (more than normal) and found myself having to squeeze the ball too often even with one half inch forward thumb pitch. My span was on the short side of the “safe zone” so I could add the extra one eighth inch in length and still stay in the zone. The change solved the problem and now I am finished with grip changes…for the one hundredth time.

Thumb pitches can be moved left and right as well. These are called lateral pitches and they are best used to keep you from wearing sore spots on the sides of your thumb. Although some drillers have advocated drilling larger amounts of lateral pitch to promote a certain type of release; I am not a believer in using lateral pitches to try and “force” a release. Just as a stretched span for more revs is no substitute for a good release, too much lateral pitch will not make you better ether.


Finger pitches are used to accommodate our individual fingers and usually need to be pitched more to the reverse side (away) as we get older and loose flexibility. One test to see if you could use a little more reverse in the fingers is to put your hand into the ball and notice how hard your fingernail is pressed against the back of the hole. The harder the fingernail is pressed against the back of the hole the more you need to reverse the fingers, assuming your span is in the “safe zone”.

Bowlers with high rev rates often add more reverse to the fingers to cut down on the revs a little and to keep them from “hitting-up” on the ball. Lateral pitches in the fingers can make the ball more comfortable for those that have crooked fingers due to arthritis or previous injury.