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#96689 - 06/30/09 06:50 AM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: Dennis Michael]
Dennis Michael Offline
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Registered: 12/11/05
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In reading another article, the thumb pitch is directly related to the timing of the thumb exiting the ball.

Forward pitch = later thumb exit
Reverse pitch = earlier thumb exit

From Storm drilling instructions: "power bowlers who are having too much lift at the break point are adding reverse pitch to the fingers."
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#96694 - 06/30/09 08:55 AM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: txbowler]
Lefty Offline

Registered: 01/30/05
Posts: 2356
A/S/L: 37 / M / Rochester, NY
Originally Posted By: txbowler

Tendinitis surgery? I don't think so... and this thing about charts.

Okay, perhaps I should post this in the pet peeves section as this is exactly what I've been talking about pro shops and under similar circumstances - coaches teaching from a book and not from experience. One of my Gold coaches once said "the book doesn't bowl" - well, neither do charts. Everyone is unique - charts are a nice guideline but shouldn't be a rule. People need to be evaluated based on their individual differences and not placed in cookie cutter bowling ball layouts with the expectation that it will work for them.

I've now met a few more people that push 1/2" or more reverse with similar spans as me. Incidentally, my friend who has 7/8" reverse, shot three (yes, three) 300 games tonight - two during practice and one during league.

It's this kind of cookie cutter thinking that bothers me - it's probably okay for the 150 average bowler who has no aspirations of anything more, but not for the 200+ who want to do more.

Sorry if I've offended anyone, but I feel we need to step out of the box once in a while.

No one said that you can't shoot 300 while you squeeze the life out of the ball. The point is that not squeezing the ball can help you in a lot of ways. Going 7/8th reverse is going to make you squeeze and knuckle the ball.

If you think that having to hang on to the ball is OK, then more power to you.

One of my biggest pet peves is people who are doing something that is more than likely inhibiting them who then point to the exception and say "HA!" There will always be the exception, and you can always find excuses to not look to improve something. The person who squeezes the ball can always find a reason to keep squeezing the ball. The person with a muscled swing can always find a reason to keep muscling it as well.

You can take anything that anyone will ever teach anyone and apply this to it. There's always a way to rationalize not changing.

#96695 - 06/30/09 09:14 AM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: Dennis Michael]
cgeorg Offline

Registered: 10/12/07
Posts: 3567
A/S/L: Pittsburgh, Pa
Dennis, you are quoting Clifton in an effort to perpetuate the mis-information he is fighting.

I searched Ron's site for thumb pitch. This is every time he mentions those words:

Dropping the ball:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
If you find yourself in a situation where the ball wants to fall off of your thumb no matter how tight you make the thumbhole, then you need to take a look at your thumb pitch. You will most likely need to move the pitch more forward.

Most bowlers have too much reverse pitch in their thumbholes so they never have any chance of throwing a ball without squeezing it tightly. Thumbhole pitch is “trial and error.” The only way you can ever really know the best pitch for your thumbhole is to keep drilling them.

Take an old ball and slug up the thumbhole. Then, drill it with ¼ inch more forward pitch than before and go bowl with it. If the ball comes off of your thumb just fine, then slug it and drill it another ¼ inch forward. Keep doing this until the ball hangs on your thumb. When the ball hangs you know you went too far. Back off to the last pitch drilled.

Once you have the thumbhole set up for the right size and pitch, you should not have to squeeze the ball to keep in on your thumb.

6 basic fundamentals, part 2:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
All of these little “tricks of the trade” drillers use have different levels of validity, but there is another aspect of this inexact ball drilling science that I feel is ignored too often. I believe that the ball should be fitted to your hand with as much attention paid to “how” you release the ball as any of the physical characteristics of your hand. For example, your hand could be fitted perfectly according to all the drilling charts for thumb pitch at one eighth inch reverse, but if you tend to squeeze the ball and hang on to it too long, you may require more reverse pitch in order to clear the thumbhole. Conversely, if you were to take a lesson from me and learn not to squeeze the ball so it releases by your ankle, then we may be able to move your thumb pitch to one-half inch forward.

Moving a thumb pitch from one-eighth inch reverse to one-half inch forward in just one drilling (and lesson) would been seen by most ball drillers as impossible, but I do it every day with great success; you won’t find that on any drilling chart. My point is that how you release the ball is at least as important as the length of your span and your ideal grip may change as you progress as a bowler.


Many times during this process bowlers will discover that by the time they add enough tape to the hole to reduce squeezing a significant amount, they can hardly get their thumb into the hole any longer because it is so tight. If your thumbhole is so tight that you have to force your thumb into the hole, then you most likely need to move your thumb pitch more forward. With the thumb pitch moved more forward, the hole will not have to be as tight to stay on your thumb.

Part 3:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
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.


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.

Teaching old dogs, part 1:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
I have had the pleasure recently of giving lessons to a few senior bowlers with some outstanding results. One such sixtysomething year old senior named Bob drove from New Jersey to my home center in North Carolina , about a 10 hour drive. He came in hoping he had the stamina to make it through one of my 2 hour sessions the next day, maybe 6 or 7 games.

I took a little time showing Bob my methods of using the acceleration of the earth’s gravity instead of the acceleration of his own muscles. I demonstrated how to set up his footwork to work “with” the motion of the ball instead of against it and to hold the ball with a relaxed grip instead of the Kung Fu death grip.

He was able to bowl effortlessly and with more pin crunching power. After 17 games, he got in his car and drove back to New Jersey .

He reported back to me a few days later via email that he didn’t have the pains and discomfort he used to get after bowling a lot of games. All his recent scores were above 200 as well. He is re-drilling all his equipment to the thumb pitches that I had suggested during our session so he would never have to return to the Kung Fu death grip.


The science and art of drilling holes in bowling balls has changed a lot in recent years.

If you have a little extra Social Security money tucked away along with an old ball you don’t use much, take it into the Pro Shop. Tell the Pro Shop operator you would like to experiment a little with your thumb pitches and try a little forward pitch. I guarantee that 90% of you have ¼ inch or more “reverse” pitch in your thumb hole right now. I also guarantee you that 80% of you should have ¼ inch or more “forward” pitch in your thumb hole instead. The more “reverse” pitch you have in your thumb hole, the harder you have to squeeze the ball to keep from dropping it.

I will warn you that a lot of Pro Shop operators are a little behind the times and will try to talk you out of “forward” pitch in your thumb hole because they think the ball will hang on your hand. Just ask them to humor you and give it a try.

Once you have your newly drilled ball in hand hold it like a baby bird and don’t squeeze at all during your swing. If you get the thumbhole pitches and size just right, you will find that the ball stays on your hand until the bottom of the swing and releases smoothly all by its self.

Part 2:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
Last month in “Teaching Old Dogs: Part 1” I talked about getting your balls ready by taking them into the pro shop and having your grip checked. Both your hand and ball drilling science has changed over the years so you need to make sure you are up-to-date. If you’re an “Old Dog” and learned to bowl years ago, it was standard practice to grip the ball tightly, lift the ball for rotation, and throw it out on the lane 2 or 3 feet. This “late/lifted” release required a “reverse pitch” in the thumb hole. “Reverse pitch” means that the thumb hole is drilled into the ball at an angle away from the fingers making it harder for the ball to stay on your hand unless you squeeze it. Most of the people I coach on a regular basis now have “forward pitch” in the thumb hole. Even the ones that said “there is no way I can throw a ball with forward pitch in the thumb.” Just try it and see how it works out.

Learning new releases, part 4:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
The first step in learning to rev it like a pro is to make sure grip is well sorted out, especially the thumb hole. The thumb hole must be set up so you can totally relax your hand and the ball not fall off too soon unless you squeeze. This usually takes some drilling and re-drilling of thumb hole pitches to get it just right. I will give you a hint, most thumb holes have too much reverse pitch in them. As your release gets better and you learn not to squeeze don’t be afraid to try forward pitches in the thumb hole.

Speed control:
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
The first step in learning this release is at the very beginning, with your grip on the ball. To have a good, clean, consistent release, it’s imperative that you don’t squeeze the ball in your stance. The holes in the ball are called “gripping holes” and that is the worst thing we could have ever called them. You need to hold the ball like you are holding a baby bird or an egg in your hand. If your ball fits properly you should not have to squeeze the ball anywhere in the swing or during the release. If the ball wants to slide off of your thumb, unless you squeeze it, then add tape or Ron C’s Magic Carpet to the hole to snug it up. If your thumb wants to slide out no matter how tight you make your thumb, then have your pro shop check your pitches. You may have too much reverse pitch or some other improper fit. Remember, if you squeeze the ball, you have to subconsciously tell yourself to let go. There is no way you are going to be able to do that the same every time. The more pressure on you to make a good shot the more likely you are going to hang on to the ball too long.
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#96699 - 06/30/09 09:47 AM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: cgeorg]
sk8shorty01 Offline
Virtual League Champion x2

Registered: 01/05/09
Posts: 5163
A/S/L: 30/M/Merritt Island, FL
Originally Posted By: Ron Clifton
I will give you a hint, most thumb holes have too much reverse pitch in them. As your release gets better and you learn not to squeeze don’t be afraid to try forward pitches in the thumb hole.

I believe this sums it up completely. Its no different than most bowlers having to much tilt. It doesn't mean it can't work, but it doesn't mean that its the best way to get results either.
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#96723 - 06/30/09 12:11 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: sk8shorty01]
txbowler Offline
Junior Master

Registered: 12/03/08
Posts: 34
A/S/L: 38/M/Texas
Thank you for this info - I guess I'll be searching for more Ron Clifton posts.

This has "summed up" what I've been trying to say. Thumb pitch is unique and Pro Shop operators need to be open to experimenting to see what works. At the moment, I am only at 1/4" reverse - which is 1/8" more than I was before and I'm able to get out of the ball much easier without hanging - actually hanging less than I was before. When I tried a stretched span at 7/8", I was gripping too much - and when I moved my fingers back to the correct span, I was death gripping the ball - so... obviously, I found that 7/8" was too much reverse. This being said, I'm willing to try pushing the reverse a little more - maybe to 3/8" or 1/2". At 1/4" reverse, I'll still hang a little now and then, but not much - I have a very relaxed grip on my ball and don't squeeze at all right now. However, I would like for my ball to come off a little easier at my ankle - and thus far, pitch changes seem to be helping this.

Also understand, I bowl 30 to 40 games per week, sometimes more as I'm at the center everyday for practice and at the moment, on 4 leagues. I'm passionate about this sport and I'm starved for the correct information as there is so much mis-information out there.

Two positive things that have happened within the past month - one of my Pro Shop operators has said that he's paying much more attention to determining a players PAP for better drilling - and now he said this past weekend that he's experimenting with different thumb pitches on his own equipment.

So, thanks for all this info, it's very helpful.

#96725 - 06/30/09 12:19 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: txbowler]
J_w73 Offline

Registered: 05/08/08
Posts: 1032
A/S/L: 37/M/Northern CA
thumb pitch has a lot to do with the pitch in the fingers.. If you have 0 or forward pitch in the fingers then you will need more reverse in the thumb.. especially if your span is stretched..

If you have more reverse in the fingers then you can go more forward in the thumb

Edited by J_w73 (06/30/09 12:29 PM)
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#96735 - 06/30/09 01:57 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: J_w73]
okorimbo Offline
USBC Silver Coach

Registered: 07/27/02
Posts: 280
A/S/L: 86,male,SF Bay Area
Pitches are not absolutes. I currently have 3/4 away in the fingers due to poor flexibility and 3/8 forward in the thumb. Thanks to Ron I went from 3/8 reverse to 3/8 forward in the thumb and it works just fine for me. Everyone is different and what works for one may or may not work for another. A bowler may have to try several different combinations before finding the best one for his or her game.
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#96905 - 07/01/09 05:01 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: okorimbo]
J_w73 Offline

Registered: 05/08/08
Posts: 1032
A/S/L: 37/M/Northern CA
I agree.. it is just hard to find the best one without a ton of trial and error.. what feels ok may not be the best or perfect fit.. there might be something better ...

I had a 5 1/2 inch span with 5 /8 reverse thumb forever.. felt fine to me...
just went to a more relaxed span of 4 5/8 with 3/8 reverse in the thumb.. now I can't believe I ever bowled with that much stretch and tension in my hand.. but it felt fine and worked for some 20 years..
18 mph,350 rpm,PAP 4 3/4 x 1/4 up, 15 deg axis tilt, varied rotational axis deg.. usually 45+

Book Average 220

#96933 - 07/01/09 08:02 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: J_w73]
Joe Bowler Offline
2x Virtual League Champion

Registered: 04/09/09
Posts: 3824
A/S/L: 50s/M/MD
My two cents worth...

When I returned to bowling, I was doing okay, but my thumb would hurt a little the day after (outer, nail side). If I had to bowl the next day, it would take a few frames to numb it up enough to continue. At the time, my thumb pitches were 1/4 inch reverse with 3/8 inch under, with a stretched fingertip grip.

After experimenting in 1/4 and 1/8 inch increments, it is now 1/4 forward, and 3/4 inch under. That is a difference of 1/2 inch forward/reverse, and 3/8 inch under. I know most people would tear the back of their thumb up with that much pitch under. And, it was a mental hurdle to even consider drilling it.

But, now I have NO pain in my thumb, and can bowl game after game without even thinking about it. Like many others, I thank Ron Clifton via his website for suggesting a shorter span and forward pitch on the thumb for a more relaxed grip which leads to a more relaxed swing, etc, etc. It has made a significant difference in my game.

However, I think the bottom line is you have to find out what works best for you and your thumb. Your level of comfort and scores will guide you.
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#96938 - 07/01/09 09:41 PM Re: Thumb Pitch [Re: Joe Bowler]
Jay R. Offline

Registered: 05/03/08
Posts: 1300
A/S/L: 21/M/Tacoma, WA
Joe, 3/8" under pitch is a good amount let alone 3/4". I don't know if you've drilled your stuff for as long as you've been back, but what was it that made you have 3/8" under to begin with? Then what made you go to 3/4"? Is there something special in the flexibility of your thumb? Also, for comparative purposes, I'm curious what your span is as well.

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