Why Your Spare Game is Broken and What to Do About It: A Spare-Shooting Clinic



WHILE USING YOUR strike ball and the 3-6-9 system, or a variation of it, has been a popular way to pick up spares, it can be a disadvantage for you to continue using this strategy. With all the different equipment, lane conditions and angles now in play, taking ball reaction out of the equation has become the preferred strategy of many.

So much so that in the second edition of “Bowling Fundamentals,” I added an entire second chapter on spare shooting that illustrates this system. Though it includes information for left-handed bowlers­, here we will stick to the right-handed version for sake of simplicity.

Previously in Foundation Frame, we addressed picking up both corner pins going straight at them using a plastic ball. Let’s take a closer look at how to adjust your angles from these positions, and how to pick up the rest of your spares using a plastic ball. If you do not yet own one, strongly consider getting one. It will end up being one of the balls you use the most.

Let’s get to some specifics…

Establish your corner-pin angles.

For the 7-pin, try standing to the right of center on the approach, where it looks right for you to target between the third and fourth arrows to shoot cross-lane at the pin. Make sure you turn (or close) your shoulders to face the pin. You might start with your slide foot somewhere around board 15.

Allow your feet to follow your shoulders, walking slightly toward the target. Closing your shoulders allows you to follow through straight, maintaining a healthy 90-degree angle to your shoulders.

For the 10-pin, stand on approximately board 35, keeping your target between the third and fourth arrows (right-handers count the arrows from right to left). Note that although there is always a dot on board 35 at the foul line, there may not be a dot on board 35 at the beginning of the approach. In that stance, preset your body in an open position to line your swing up to the target line. With your shoulders open, walk straight to the foul line, ending on the same board you started on, in order to maintain your angle.

Adjust your shoulders. The plastic ball does not hook, so you are throwing it directly at the pin. Adjust your stance — including your shoulders, hips and feet — to face the pin. This helps your spine to stay relaxed and makes it easier to stay in alignment throughout the approach. Avoid twisting your upper body toward the spare. Be sure to lock your core in position to maintain this shoulder angle throughout the entire approach!.

Walk properly. For the left-side spares, since your swing is on the right side of your body and your shoulders are closed, you will actually walk slightly toward the target to keep your shoulders closed and your swing on the target line. Determining where to stand will depend on how much you walk toward your target as you keep your shoulders closed throughout the approach to face the spare. On the right-side spares, walk straight. The key: Never drift toward your armswing.

Adjustments for left-side spares. There are two columns of pins to the right of the 7-pin: the 4-pin and the 2 and 8-pins.

For the 4-pin, keep the same target that you had for the 7-pin shot and move your feet three boards to the left from where you stood for your 7-pin shot. For the 2 or 8-pin, move your feet six boards to the left. (Note: There is not a nine-board move from this side because you would end up back at the headpin, which is a strike shot.)

Remember, the adjustment for these pins is not made based on their relationship to the headpin. Instead, it is made based on their relationship to the 7-pin. Remember to slightly adjust your shoulders to the new angle. This enables you to maintain that healthy swing at a 90-degree angle to your shoulders.

Single-pin spare angles Single-Pin Angles: These are six basic shots for right-handers to consider as guides when attempting to convert the single-pin spares depicted here.

Adjustments for right-side spares. There are two columns of pins to the left of the 10-pin: the 6-pin and the 3 and 9-pins.

For the 6-pin, move your feet three boards to the right from where you stood for your 10-pin shot. For the 3 or 9-pin, move your feet six boards to the right. (Again, there is not a nine-board move because you would end up back at the headpin, which is a strike shot.)

Multiple-pin spares. For these spares, split the difference on where you stood for either pin separately.

For example, for the 4-7, calculate your move so that the ball hits both the 4-pin and the 7-pin. For a right-handed bowler, the 7-pin is its own shot. Since you would move three boards to the left from the 7-pin shot for the 4-pin, you would move one-and-a half-boards to the left from your 7-pin position to pick up the 4-7 combination.

For the 2-4-5 or 2-8, the key pin would be the 2-pin. You normally would move six boards to the left from the 7-pin position to pick up the 2-pin, so try this adjustment for these combinations. Obviously, you have to be a bit more accurate on multiple pin spares, but you will take the lane conditions out of play with this strategy. You may have to adjust a board either way.

As I’ve said before, almost everyone who tries to face a 7-pin for the first time feels as though they are facing the wall. But rest assured; you are not. It is just that the feeling of closed shoulders feels so drastically different from what you are used to on all other shots.

Starting out, most bowlers are not actually facing the spare like they think they are, especially when they have to “close” the shoulders (toward the 7-pin). I can’t tell you how many times I have to stand behind players to let them see where they actually are facing rather than where they think they were.

The greatest obstacle most face is simply that it feels weird to close the shoulders and face directly toward the spare — that, and how very different it is to see the ball go so straight. It’s typically why so many end up abandoning this strategy before developing confidence with it.

Caution: On the occasion that you might miss a single pin here or there when you first try it in league, resist abandoning this strategy — especially when a teammate says, “If you would have hooked at it, you would have gotten it.”  Rather than give up on it, you just need to execute better or adjust your angle.

You’ll need to practice, practice, practice to get comfortable executing at this direct angle. Commit and become proficient at it. You may have to be a bit more accurate, but the advantages often outweigh the challenges to change.

Join the many who stick to it and benefit from the advantages of shooting directly at their spares. I encourage you to stay the course. I believe that getting used to how it feels is a small price to pay for the success you will have making more spares. After all, if pros go straight at their spares, it just might be a great idea.

Michelle Mullen is a USBC Gold-level coach and the author of two books, “Bowling Fundamentals” and “How to Pick Up Spares.” Her instructional column, "Foundation Frame," appears bimonthly in Bowers Journal International. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here: /bowlers-journal-subscriptions/