Understanding oil patterns
There's WHAT on the lane?
Just like bowling balls, all bowling lanes are not the same. Wear and tear, lane makeup and, most importantly, the oil pattern make each bowling lane unique.
Have you ever noticed the slippery stuff on your ball after it comes back through the ball return? That's oil. And no, it doesn't go inside your car.
You've gotta get a towel.
Oil is extremely important to the game. Without oil, your bowling ball would hit the lane, begin sparking, leave a burn mark and explode in the gutter. OK, it wouldn't be that bad, but it would hook too much and make the game nearly unplayable. You need oil to help control how much your ball hooks and to help you strike consistently.
So, what exactly is an oil pattern?
Beautiful work of art or oil pattern?
We've established the fact there is oil on the lane, but how does it get there? Each center has a "lane machine" used to put the oil on the lane. The center mechanic programs a specific pattern into the machine, telling it how much oil to put down and where to put it. Oil isn't spread evenly across the lane. Typically, there is much more oil in the middle of the lane than on the outside. This allows you to "hook" the ball from the outside part of the lane to the pocket.
I can't see the oil, so how do I know where it is?
Now that we know there are different oil patterns, how do we know what the pattern looks like? You know the practice time before your league session - it's not just for getting warmed up and loose. This is the time to find out where the oil is on the lane. Make sure to watch your ball very carefully during practice, as you'll only have a few shots to find out where to throw your ball. Is your ball hooking too much? If so, it probably means there is not much oil on the lane where you threw it, so you need to move your starting point, move your target or throw your ball a little harder. Use your practice time to find the best place to throw your ball for a consistent path to the pocket.
As you bowl more and more on a lane, the oil redistributes and changes the way your ball reacts with the lane. If you consistently roll your ball over the same part of the lane, that part of the lane begins to "dry out" and your ball starts to hook more. The oil that used to be there is now pushed to the area to the left and right, making those areas more oily. This not only affects your game, but forces anybody else bowling with you to make adjustments.
Types of oil patterns
You may watch the pros on Sundays bowl a 200 game and think to yourself, "Hey, I can bowl a 200. I could beat these guys." Well, the difference is the pros bowl on a much tougher oil pattern.
During league play, you bowl on a typical "house pattern" designed to give you a larger margin of error. Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tournaments use a "sport pattern" and the margin of error is very small, which means the pros must hit the correct target each time in order to strike consistently.
During league, do you ever miss your target by five boards left or right but still strike? Of course you do, you're not E.A.R.L.! The reason you still strike is that there is a lot of oil in the middle part of the lane and very little on the outside part. If you are a right-handed bowler and miss your mark to the left, the extra oil toward the middle of the lane helps the ball hold position and not hook too much. If you miss to the right, there is less oil and the ball hooks more, allowing it to get back to the pocket.
However, on a Sport pattern, the oil is distributed more evenly across the lane. If a right-hander misses to the left, the ball will hook just as much. There is much more oil on the outside part of the lane, too, so an errant shot to the right might even slide into the gutter!
The PBA names its Sport oil patterns after animals ... yeah, it's intense
Now that you know a little bit more about oil patterns, try to concentrate on it a little more the next time you bowl. If you are still using a house ball or borrowing someone else's ball, it's a good idea to get your own. The Welcome 2 Bowling offer is a great way to work with a performance ball drilled just for you.
So make sure to use your practice time wisely to find out exactly where the oil is before you begin your league or tournament session, and be prepared to make smart adjustments when the lane conditions change.