The more I think about the scene, the more comical it is: Trying out for the North Rockland bowling team my junior year of high school with a 10-pound sparkling purple plastic ball, and throwing it with a two-handed delivery.
The comical part wasn’t the ball or the delivery (OK, both were — especially the ball); it was the bizarre notion in thinking I was actually going to make the team, with no formal training, no regular practice, no proper equipment, and apparently no grip on reality.
If I averaged 125 during tryouts, I’d be shocked, and I was unsurprisingly cut. I asked one of my former coaches what her initial thoughts were. She didn’t hold back.
“You need to learn how to bowl,” said Joanie Nelson, who serves as the Red Raiders’ girls varsity bowling team and oversees the entire North Rockland bowling program. “I just saw (a two-handed bowler) as someone who didn’t want to learn how to bowl.”
I threw the ball two-handed because I was a frail 5-foot-7 human being who couldn’t generate the kind of power that stronger bowlers could and because — much like the, “Chicks dig the long ball,” adage of baseball — people love seeing big hooks and high revolutions on the lane, and I was one of them.
I had never heard of names like Jason Belmonte or Osku Palermaa. Not many had at the time. While they were two of the best bowlers in the world (who coincidentally threw two-handed), they had not made their way over to the United States to join the PBA Tour.
By 2012, Belmonte had become the best bowler on tour, and more two-handed bowlers started popping up. Once a laughable form of new-school modification to a classic sport, two-handed bowling is now the norm.
Belmonte is the three-time reigning player of the year on tour; 19-year-old Anthony Simonsen has already won two titles and is the youngest bowler to ever win a major; and lefty Jesper Svensson was the 2015 PBA rookie of the year and won a major eight days before turning 21.
Some of the biggest names in the game, young and old — from Walter Ray Williams Jr., who owns a PBA-record 47 titles, to 2014 PBA rookie of the year Marshall Kent — have started experimenting with the two-handed delivery.
On the local high school level, the top three averages in Westchester/Putnam belong to two-handers — Panas freshman Nick Perrone (219), Yorktown’s Matt Meyers (213), and Lakeland’s David Halperin (210).
“Those who are serious bowlers are going to look for the best advantage to score, and if (two-handed bowling) has proved to be the better advantage to score, then that, I think, is going to be the trend,” Nelson said. “I think it’s hard not to give it its justification when the best bowler in the world is making a living being a two-handed bowler.”
Belmonte has made over $850,000 in his first seven years on the PBA Tour, and has earned at least $160,000 each of the last three seasons.
But there are still those who vehemently oppose the two-handed delivery.
“I don’t like it. It’s an advantage,” North Rockland boys bowling coach Don LaSpina said. “That’s not the way bowling started, why are we changing it?”
The common misconception is that two-handed bowlers — who usually do not use their thumb — use both hands to turn the ball in order to generate more revolutions, when in reality, two-handers are using one hand at the point of release. Those that use the delivery are tired of being scrutinized for it.
“It annoys me that people are against it,” said Perrone, this year’s Westchester/Putnam boys bowler of the year. “We change a lot of things. There’s 20-some odd amendments to our Constitution because we want to change our laws and change the way things are run because stuff was bad and it was unfair.”
Perrone has always bowled two-handed; it’s all he’s known. Others, like Meyers and Halperin, adopted the style over time. Meyers converted for the high school season this year after averaging 197 one-handed over the summer.
Meyers said he never thought about bowling two-handed until watching the pros on tour. When he practiced it while out with friends one night and they saw he threw it well, they encouraged him to pursue it going forward.
“It gave me more room to miss (target), my ball was hitting harder — it gave me an overall better reaction,” said Meyers, a senior who earned his first trip to states this season. “It really has done wonders for me.”
Sports evolve. Basketball adopted a 3-point line, then eventually became more of a shooting game as opposed to a physical battle in the paint; football has become more of an aerial game and is continuing to break away from the “ground-and-pound” style of play; bowling is no different. The game has undergone a change, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
“I’m not saying that one-handed is bad and we should change it, but it’s a new age and you have to accept (two-handed bowling),” Perrone said.