Bowler's Reference
Gripping the Ball

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Gripping Holes

Wow!  Look at the multitude of techniques used by bowlers when holding on to their bowling ball during their swing and release.  Many bowlers never realize that there are other ways to hold on to a bowling ball.  Most bowlers have been taught or self-taught how to hold on to the ball, and they have never considered of changing from whatever they originally learned.  It may best serve us to focus on the basics of gripping the ball. 

Gripping Styles

Ball gripping holes provide ways to hold the ball.  They are laid out on the ball in a bowler unique pattern as part of the ball layout process. 

In the process of preparing your ball and gripping hole layouts, Key elements of the layout such as properly fitting their hand and preparing their gripping holes in the location that meets the objectives of the bowler.  Also, the basic ball design should be considered during the layout process in order to take full advantage of the ball design intent.  Who would think these simple holes would be so important when it comes to the game of bowling. Let's look at a few of the basics.

How Many Holes

There are typically three gripping holes in a bowling ball; two for the middle and ring finger, and one for the thumb.  While some bowlers use two, four, five, no gripping holes at all, gripping holes provide the greatest degree of control during the approach and release of the ball.

Gripping holes establish a key determinant whether you will be able to effectively hold, control and release the ball.

Finding the Right Fit

If your gripping holes are not spaced (fitted) well, or are not comfortable, you may struggle with holding on to the ball or releasing it effectively.  Poorly-fitted gripping holes may negatively affect how you release the ball, and be the source of poor ball dynamics.  A common statement is "You cannot out-bowl a bad grip".

Poorly-fitted gripping holes is one primary reason many bowlers struggle with their game.  You don't want the gripping holes to be too tight or too loose,  The prudent approach is to have your hand properly measured to ensure the holes are the right size, distance apart, and pitched correctly. 

The size, spans and pitches of the gripping holes are important.  If you purchase a great ball, and are not fitted correctly, the ball will behave like a bad ball.  Ill fitted gripping holes are not uncommon, and it is advisable to utilize the services of a certified IBPSIA (International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructor's Association) ball drilling technician to ensure a good fit.

Remember first and foremost, keep your grip relaxed and comfortable in the ball. To avoid a muscled arm swing you should not have to squeeze your fingers or thumb. To avoid this it's best to head down to a trusted pro shop and get your hand fitted, and have your ball drilled correctly so you can have a relaxed thumb.

Relax Your Grip

The thumbhole should be snug enough to provide consistent gripping of the ball, yet large enough for a relaxed thumb to roll off the hand as the ball is delivered.  If the thumbhole is too large, you will most likely squeeze or grip the ball in order to prevent it from an early release.  In fact, you will have to place a strong gripping action during the entire arm swing.  This increases the probability of inconsistency in your release.

A relaxed, loose, arm swing provides the best possibility of consistent accuracy. The key to a loose arm swing is to maintain a relaxed gripping pressure.

Every great bowler tells you to relax your grip on the ball so you will have a smoother release.    Avoiding squeezing the fingers and thumb in the ball depends on how your bowling ball was drilled and the amount of play between your thumb and finger holes.  Ensuring a good fit affects how effectively you will be capable of relaxing your grip.  It is advantageous to work with the ball instead of trying to do everything yourself.  Let the ball do it's job.

Gripping The Ball During the Approach

When the gripping holes are drilled, both point roughly toward the center of the ball with only slight pitch variations. 

The geometric wedge formed by the gripping holes places friction on the fingers whenever the thumb points toward or away from the body.  Conversely, when the thumb is placed forward, thumb/ball friction is minimized. 

When a ball is properly fitted to the ball, the finger and thumb pressure holds the ball with minimal gripping pressure as long as the thumb point toward or away from the body.  And the thumb to ball friction is minimized as the thumb is pointing toward the direction of the ball movement.

The point of this is one key to holding the ball during the approach.  Maintain your hand (thumb) position away from the body during the swing, and then rotate the ball until the thumb is pointing toward the direction of the ball travel, and the ball will roll off the thumb as you near the release point.  Working with the ball in this manner, enhances your ability to relax your  grip.

As a side issue, if the ball "hangs" onto the hand during release, the first suspect is how you are holding the ball during release. 

The Basic Gripping Techniques

In general terms, the gripping holes fall into two broad categories: conventional and fingertip grips.  A few bowlers use a semi-fingertip grip, a style between these two, and still others use a style called Sarge Easter grip. 


Conventional Grip - Bowling With Security

The conventional grip has advantages and disadvantages.  The conventional grip is the most common among beginning bowlers because it provides more secure gripping control over the ball.  This serves as a good way to get the feel for how to throw a ball for beginners or those having physical challenges.  For these athletes, the conventional grip feels very secure and stable. 

A conventional grip provides a good way to develop a good physical game.  The downside is that the conventional grip minimizes hooking and revs capabilities that effectively limits the full use of ball dynamics.  The conventional grip provides less control, and is more difficult to generate hook on the ball.

To check a ball for a proper conventional grip fit, place the thumb all the way into the thumb holeLay the hand flat around the ball so the middle and ring fingers lie over the finger holes (without placing the fingers in the holes)The second crease of both fingers should be about 3/8" past the leading edge of their respective gripping holes.  With the conventional grip, place the middle and ring fingers into the finger holes all the way to the second finger joint, and then rotate the thumb all the way into the thumb hole, and then  so that it feels comfortable.

A bowler can bowl a curve ball using a conventional grip, but it is physically less effective or controllable as a fingertip grip, and provides much less curve or hook.

Once a bowler is able to gain the basic feel for how to bowl a ball, they should transition into a fingertip grip if they wish to develop their bowling skill and scores.

Fingertip Grip - Bowling With Control

As a bowler develops their skill, they will want to gain the ability to hook or curve the ball into the pins in order to increase pin carry.  The best way to create ball hook is through the use of a fingertip grip.

The fingertip grip is typically utilized by bowlers who have gained the basic feel for delivering the ball.  The fingertip bowling grip is used by the majority of higher average bowlers.  This grip allows the most control for delivery of the ball.  Adopting this grip is recommended for those having gained the basic feel for how to bowl.

It is important to have a ball drilled specifically to a bowler's unique hand to properly and safely deliver the ball.

The fingertip ball is fitted so the bowler can fully insert their thumb all the way in the thumbhole, and when the middle and ring fingers are extended out across their respective gripping holes, the crease of the first joint should lie midway across the finger holes.

The middle and ring fingers are normally comfortably placed in up to the crease of the first knuckle, and then the thumb is fully rotated into the thumbhole.

As you might guess, this finger placement, allows the pad of the fingers to make contact with, and pressure the ball in a turning action as the ball is released.  This turning action causes increased hooking action due to greater lift and more revolutions.  This, in turn, leads to increased pin carry.

Semi-Fingertip Grip

Placing the middle and ring finger gripping holes in between where the conventional and fingertip grips would ordinarily be placed, the semi-fingertip grip takes advantage of the best from both types of grips, but ball control remains less effective than a fingertip ball.

When laying out the ball, the thumb is fully placed into the thumbhole, and when the fingers are laid out across the finger holes, the crease of the second joint should lay across the front edge of the gripping holes.

The semi-fingertip ball is fitted so you can fully insert the middle and ring fingers midway between the first and second finger crease, and then rotate the thumb fully into the thumbhole.  This creates added holding security and accuracy than the conventional grip and slightly more hooking action than found with the conventional grip, but less than the fingertip grip.

This gripping technique is not as controllable as the fingertip grip, and not commonly recommended except for advanced bowlers wanting to tame their ball action or for those having physical issues.

Sarge Easter Grip

The Sarge Easter grip is a fairly uncommon grip.  This grip is a combination of conventional and fingertip grip.  The thumb and index finger holes are laid out as a fingertip grip, and the ring finger is laid out as a conventional grip.

The objective of this grip is to reduce the rotation of the ball and give it more forward roll, giving the ball less hook. It also reduces stress on the ring finger.


Which Grip Is Right for Me?

Well, it depends.  When using a house ball, then you should use the conventional grip.  When you want to improve the effectiveness of your delivery and scores, it is time to advance to a finger-tip fitting.

Graduating from a conventional to a finger-tip drilling, you may initially find the need for additional training and practice, specifically on targeting.  Even miracles take time.

Virtually all advanced bowlers bowl using the fingertip grip, but a distinct few use the Sarge Easter grip.  A fully certified IBPSIA pro shop operator can help in the determination which grip may be right for you.


Strength is measured not by how hard you hold on, but by learning how to let go.

The degree of gripping a bowling ball is inversely proportional to a consistent release.

You may learn how too much grip affects your consistency.


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