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The birth of the modern game

Modern bowling as we know it today with stronger bowling balls, more oil on the lanes, high backswing and high scores, all started with a match in 1992.
- We didn’t know at the time that it would be such a revolution, says Johan Ekström.

January 11th, 1992 the finals of the PBA AC-Delco Classic was broadcast on TV. Wayne Webb won the qualifying and was the top seed of the stepladder finals. But it’s the second game of the stepladder that’s gone down in history as the start of the modern bowling: Marshall Holman vs. Marc McDowell.
- It important to point out that Holman was one of two, three, players that dominated the PBA and McDowell, he might not have been a real dark horse, but he wasn’t a star. But when I look at the match it looks lite the opposite, because the ball reactions are in a different league, says Johan Ekström, head of development at the Swedish Bowling federation.

The former coach of the Swedish national team says the match is the YouTube video he’s seen most and that’s the start of modern bowling.
- Then and there people probably didn’t see it and says, what a revolution, but in retrospect. It’s the first TV-finals with a reactive resin bowling ball, says Johan Ekström.

X-CaliburThe legend Marshall Holman, by the PBA ranked ninth of all time, used, what most people used then, a urethane bowling ball while Marc McDowell used the brand new, now mythical, X-Calibur.
- If I remember the story correctly a person in a small ball manufacture, who was mixing surfaces mixed a little wrong…or correct, says Johan Ekström.

The new reactive resin surface that was on that X-Calibur is similar to the surface most bowling balls use today and is the basis of the modern bowling technique that the pros use today.
- Previously it was mostly about precision, back then you didn’t need a high backswing. Most bowlers, and coaches, that are educated prior to 2000, they learned a playing style that uses a pretty low ball speed and good precision, the classic playing style, says Johan Ekström.  

With the entrance of the equipment that Marc McDowell used to beat Marshall Holman in the match from 1992 it suddenly was advantageous to play with a high back swing, high speed and lots of revolutions. Something that shows in the video of the match.
- It made it possible to throw the ball much harder and still keep a steep angle into the pocket. Look at the difference in how the ball travels down the lane for the two players, look at the speed and which trajectory the ball uses to get to the pins, says Johan Ekström.

Most obvious the advantages of the modern bowling, with reactive resin, shows in the fourth frame when Marc McDowell misses to the right, hits the fourth board and the balls just throws the headpin flying to take out the stubborn ten pin.
- Sure, we had seen messengers before, but… It’s obviously an advantage if you can reach those angels with that speed. The numbers of “lucky strikes” has risen a lot since then. You get more room sideways, but above all, you can throw it harder but still achieve the same angles, says Johan Ekström.

Marc McDowell beat Marshall Holman, 228 to 184, and went on to beat Rick Steelsmith (241 – 205) before he won 37 000 $ with a victory in the championships match against Wayne Webb. The first, but certainly not last win with a reactive resin bowling ball.
- Since then it has been a race between the bowling ball manufacturers and the people oiling the lanes. Look at the numbers of 300 games before 1992 and after 1992, it’s an explosive rise, says Johan Ekström who also points at the volume of oil on the lanes.
- We are starting to reach 30 ml, it’s three times as much as 30 years ago, he says.

After the season of 1991/92 the Swedish Bowling federation handed out diplomas to 39 players who had achieved a perfect game. The year after, the number was: 80. And last year 199 the Swedish bowling federation registered 199 official 300-games. And it all started when Marc McDowell beat Marshall Holman on TV in 1992.