Bowling Without a Thumb

Bowling without a thumb is a way for bowlers to create a tremendous amount of revs on the bowling ball.Now the question is, which is better thumb or no thumb? Some bowlers say you need the thumb for accuracy.I personally, have unsuccessfully tried bowling without a thumb. I don’t have big hands, and that makes it difficult for me.

Bowling Without a Thumb Might be For You

I have bowled with three and even tried four fingers, which I had an extra finger hole drilled for my index finger. It’s been so long ago, I don’t even remember why I did that. But, I know that I more than likely did it because I wanted to try it. I figured it might help my bowling in some way, and maybe just because it sounds like fun.

That may be exactly why bowlers try to bowl without using the thumb.They do it, simply for the fun of trying it. Or they have seen somebody bowling quite well doing Mike Miller bowling without a thumbthat.

I remember one bowler who completely palmed the ball, he had no holes in the ball whatsoever. He held a 200 Avg, and I don’t remember him having any special spare ball either.

It was his style, he just wanted to bowl differently than everyone else. And it was fun! Although, it did help having large hands!

Why do You Care How I Bowl?

So what is the big deal anyway? Why worry about how a bowler likes to bowl, no matter how he bowls? Whether he uses a thumb and two fingers, no thumb or uses two hands? The game of bowling only requires we stay behind the foul line and try to knock down all ten pins. We can’t use anything heavier than a 16lb ball and no mechanical aids unless we are considered and approved as handicapped. Older conventional bowlers are bothered by the two-handed bowling style, and say it is not bowling.

But, using two hands is bowling and bowling two-handed is not really a newer style. A few bowlers were doing it back in the eighties and nineties. It just doesn’t fit into the one handed, thumb and two finger category of the bowlers and style they knew for years.

Maybe they are jealous that these guys can generate enough revs to smash the pins and carry everything. On the house shot, these guys clean up because of the revs they can generate. Some two fingered bowlers using a thumb will claim they can generate the same amount of revs and have more accuracy. I agree with the accuracy, but I would like to see the revs created. The two-handed bowlers can generate 600-700 rev rates! I am jealous of that!

It really does not matter. What matters is what you like and what you are comfortable with.

Some Drawbacks to Thumbless Bowling

Thumbless bowling has limitations. The key thing to know is bowling centers try to get people to score well. They know if you score well, you enjoy it more, and chances are you will come back. It is good for business! So, they tend to put a friendly oil pattern down as their house shot and on league nights. This is referred to as a blocked shot. The oil is patterned in such a way to help guide the ball to the pocket.

Control

When a hook ball is thrown, the ball skids early then hooks later to help give you that perfect angle for a strike.  What does this mean? Well, for bowlers without a thumb, and two- handed and bowlers who palm the ball, will score well on the blocked house shot.

But, very heavy oil patterns or dry lane conditions are a different story altogether.You can read more on ways to control your shot on different conditions in bowling tips and tricks.

The one handed thumbless bowlers will struggle with ball balance as the ball comes off their hands. If they begin to  lose the ball before they want to release it, it will cause some errant shots. However, they don’t have to deal with any sticking thumb problems!

When a very accurate shot is needed the bowlers using two or more fingers and a thumb, start to gain a small advantage. Also bowlers  throwing a straight ball, have a path that is unaffected by heavy or light oil, so they have advantage there over hook bowlers.

Wrist Adjustments

When we use the thumb, we have more control of the ball and can change speed, and  control the amount of hand we put into the ball. You can change the wrist position between using a cupped wrist, or flattening the wrist out.I suggest you read my article on “Cupping the Wrist in Bowling for More Hook” to learn more about using the wrist.

Possibly try to increase the height of your back swing, or keep it lower. You could decide to pull your fingers out slightly and only have the very fingertips in you finger holes, or even remove one finger or both.

Back Swing

When you are not using a thumb, (with or without fingers) you are restricted in a high back swing because you can’t hold onto the ball beyond a certain point in you back swing. You can’t hold the ball beyond a certain point. Bowlers with a thumb in the ball can swing the ball above their shoulders and even higher. I think a Good Bowling Arm Swing and follow thru is easier using a thumb hole to control the ball.

Finger Holes and Balance Holes

USBC Rules state you are allowed to remove your fingers: Holes for gripping purposes must not exceed five and are limited to one for each finger and one for the thumb. Not all fingers must be in all holes on every shot, but a player must be able to demonstrate they can use all the holes with the same hand.

It is not clear if a balance hole is permitted as well or not. But they do state, if you do not use a thumb in the thumb hole, then it is considered a balance hole. Only one balance hole is permitted. If you have all the fingers and thumb drilled, I would check with the driller to be sure the balance hole is allowed.

Thumbless Bowlers Need to Cup Their Wrist

When bowling without a thumb,your wrist is cupped and you are basically holding the ball between your arm and wrist. you can only go so high with your back swing before you lose control of the ball. So you are not able to gain any adjustment by not cupping the wrist.

Therefore,if you use a two-handed delivery, then you also restrict swing and wrist motion. However, the second hand allows for a ton of revs to be put on the ball, anywhere from 424- 514 or more. Jason Belmonte has hit a high rev rate of 580. So, its a trade off of higher revs and strike percentage, and less control by adjustment.

Two Handed Bowlers Use Their Thumb For Spare Shots

Two handed bowlers generally also do not use the thumb on the strike ball, but most prefer to use the thumb on spares. That in itself points to the control needed especially on the corner 7, and 10 pin spares. When you control the number of revs, you can control the hook of the ball, especially on those dry, or oily lanes.

Is that the best of both worlds? Removing the thumb for strikes and then using your thumb for tough spares? It is hard to say, maybe? When we are young, we are more or less immortal, or so we think! And we abuse our bodies with reckless abandon. But as we get older, the abuse of our bodies take its toll and then arthritis sets in. Thumbless bowling puts more stress on wrist and finger ligaments, tendons and even bones in our wrists and fingers. We know it causes wrist problems.

Bowlers Who Used The Thumbless Techniques

Mike Miller:

Thumbless Mike Miller bowled without a thumb and may have started all the bowlers using the thumbless bowling technique. Mike may be the prime example of wrist problems caused by that style of bowling.

Thumbless Mike Miller defeats Norm Duke in the 1991  PBA National Championship.

You certainly can’t argue with the fact that Mike Miller has 4 PBA titles and 55 300 games! He retired in 2003 after missing the cut by leaving a ten pin.

“I remember the day I threw my last game on Tour,” Miller said. “I left a ringing 10 pin to miss the cut and I told the guys, “I’ll see you later!” And I haven’t seen them since. That was it. I chose a different path for my family and my own health, and I’m fine with that.”

Bob Benoit

Bob Benoit was another notable bowler to use the thumbless technique, bowled the first ever 300 on TV, to beat Mark Roth 300-255 to win the Quaker State open in 1988. He is among 5 players to ever bowl 300 games on national television.

 USBC Coaching Tips For Bowling Without a Thumb

Balance:

The most important item for a bowler is maintaining balance throughout the approach and delivery. Balance and a good bowling arm swing will allow the fluid, continuous motion necessary in making a consistent shot, time-after-time. If a bowler is able to be balanced and make consistent shots then there is nothing wrong with the thumbless delivery.

More Revs

With the fingers being well below the equator of the ball, the thumbless delivery is certainly a very strong shot as the bowler is able to generate a tremendous amount of revs on the ball because the fingers will stay in the ball longer.

The USBC is Now Teaching Two-Handed Bowling

In 2012 USBC announced that they would start teaching/coaching two-handed bowling. They actually enlisted Jason Belmonte as early as 2008 to teach their coaches. There is a lot of controversy about teaching the two-handed style, because of possible back injuries. This is because of the twist torque applied to the back. Using this technique for long periods,could cause golf type back injuries. Golf is very similar to the two-handed style in the torque transferred to the back and their are plenty of back injuries from Golf. Only time will tell because there just isn’t enough information about that particular style yet.

As long as your ball has the legal amount of holes, it doesn’t really matter how you deliver the ball, with or without fingers or thumbless. If you like doing it, learn the best ways to avoid injury, and prolong your body’s ability to use that style. It’s all about having fun.

Chas

If you have and comments or questions, please leave them below, and thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Bowling Without a Thumb”

  1. Chas:

    I lost my thumb back in 1980. I used to bowl in college prior to that using a finger tip and thumb delivery. After losing my thumb I didn’t bowl much but bowled left handed when I did. That wasn’t much fun. I am 68 now and want to begin bowling again. I would like to bowl right handed. Do you have any recommendations on how I should do it? Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Drew,
      Yes, from behind the ball. Your delivery is how you normally end up coming through the ball. I am behind it to about the foul line and then I snap my fingers to put my lift on just before I release the ball. Continue up through the ball with my hand on the outside of the ball, follow through thumb up…”shaking hands with the pins”
      You have to keep the motion the same or it defeats the purpose of changing the revs on the ball.
      Yes, I cup my wrist a little always, and sometimes add more or less. Now, What I do is different because I hold the ball down when I start my steps, so I can line up immediately. If you are starting from the ball up position, I would hold the ball down to line up then hold it in place while you lift it up into your starting position until you get the feel of it..Then you can figure out how to gauge just how much your hand is turned.
      Hope that helps? Let me know if you have any more questions!
      Good Bowling,
      Chas

      Reply
    • Hi Jerry,
      I apologize for my reply not showing I don’t understand quite what happened. I answered your post already, but it is not showing. I will answer it again. I don’t know how much you can grip now, but you could try bowling without a thumb and using your left hand to help keep the ball against your wrist as you do the back swing and bring it forward(similar to two handed bowling).Most Thumbless bowlers cup their wrist enough to allow the ball to rest against their wrist. I can’t do it! LOL But I can keep my fingers of the left hand on the ball to steady it in my right hand delivery.
      Or they do make a ball with a retractable handle. Maybe check that out, you may be able to use that!
      Hope that helps…Good Luck!
      Chas

      Reply
  2. Any tips for improving consistency with two fingers? I have no choice since my dismembered and reattached thumb cannot work any thumb hole. Girlfriend started me bowling and I steadily improved…to a point. I’m stuck now. Can’t pick up many spares and the occasional gutter ball comes from nowhere (usually following one of those rare spares.)

    Reply
    • Hi Terry,
      Glad to see you on the alleys! I can give you a few things to consider. You can try to practice more or get into more than one league. It is a fact, the more you bowl, the better you get. As for those occasional gutter balls, we all do that even with a drilled thumb. Chances are you simply dropped the ball too soon.

      As for help with two fingers to get a better grip, you might try having an additional finger hole added so you can use three fingers to hold the ball better. You are allowed to use all four fingers if you want. I had my ball drilled for three fingers and I can tell you it feels better, like you have more control. And you do! The downside is that you may lose a bit of turn on the ball.

      It is a bit harder to get the revs, and I am not sure why. My guess is that it is just harder to get the ball to turn with the additional fingers. BUT, you do have more control if you throw a straighter ball! And, if you hook the ball, you could go with a stronger cover-stock to make up for the loss of revs.

      One other option is a retractable handle that you grab like a suitcase, that retracts back into the ball when you let it go. Check it out here: https://innovativebowling.com/Handle-Bowling-Ball_p_130.html

      I am having issues with arthritis and considering the handle. I checked before and found out it is a solid urethane ball meaning it is like a plastic spare ball without a block. So, you would have to throw it straight to the pocket for strikes and straight at spares.
      Hope I gave you something to think about, and helped you out!

      Good luck!
      Chas

      Reply
  3. Ive been using the no-thumb, one hand release for 4 years now because I couldn’t get any hook using my thumb. I had around a 165-170 average up until I just got a new ball. My old ball I was using the fingertip grips and it was a very aggressive ball so I had a hard time keeping down the hook and always left the 10 pin. My new ball is less aggressive, reduced the weight by a pound and don’t have fingertip inserts. so my fingers are inserted further. I’ve only been using it a month but my average hasn’t been below 180 which is a major upgrade. The main reason is because now I have more of my finger inserted which helps a ton with control and accuracy. Combine that with a less aggressive ball and its much easier to adjust to all lane conditions.

    Reply
    • Hi Tony,
      That is awesome! It is amazing how much more turn you can get without using the thumb! You made two great choices! As long as you come out of the ball clean, then deeper fingers would help control the ball! You have me ready to try it!…Lol, not really! But, you never know! I love to hear stories like this, Congrats, Tony!
      Best of luck with your bowling,and thanks for taking the time to comment! Please come back!
      Chas

      Reply
  4. ive alwats bowled thumbless ive tried to hook with the thumb just cant get it but my avg has gone up alot since ive been on leauge ive learnd how to control it even slow it down on my ten pin i have to use a straight ball but hell it works lol

    Reply
    • Hi William,
      I have seen bowlers do well with thumbless bowling. If you like it, do it! Using the straight ball for ten pins isa good idea. I have seen a few learn to spin the ball more and allow it to go straighter for ten pins. Tricky to do, using the plastic ball is much easier to do.
      Thanks for commenting!Good luck!
      Chas

      Reply
    • Hi Denis,
      What an advantage huge hands are! I have a friend who is a giant of a man, and the bowling ball looks like a softball in his hand.His throw is effortless! He also scores very well, using the two finger fingertips and a thumb. Thanks for stopping by!
      Chas

      Reply
  5. Glad to have found this technique. I don’t bowl often but when I am at the alley I always see people winging crazy curves without their thumb. I’ve never felt super confident to try this because I feel like I have no control without using my thumb. After reading this article I can tell it will take some practice but will be worth it to throw more strikes and win some beers off the guys! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Justin,
      It a technique that’s been around awhile for sure, and the two handed bowlers are making it more popular than ever. I have not tried the thumbless bowling myself, but I see more and more people trying it.I agree with you, control would definitely be the problem. It is also a technique that would be for the younger bowlers for sure. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you win lots of beers!
      Chas

      Reply

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