Why throw a hook shot?
Throwing a hook shot gives you the best chance of getting a strike. To get a strike, you need to hit “the pocket” at an entry angle of 3-6 degrees. As you probably know, the lanes are covered with oil. If you properly take advantage of the oil, you can have your ball skim across the oil pattern and hook inwards toward the pocket in order to get the entry angle that you need. Learning to throw a hook shot and get that entry angle is the number one thing that separates beginners from intermediate bowlers. Here’s how you do it.
Buy your own bowling ball.
House balls suck
It is possible to throw hook shots with house bowling balls, but it will be much more difficult. House bowling balls are either made of plastic or urethane, and don’t have a reactive core, so they won’t hook much at all. I’m sure you’ve seen people throw hook shots with house balls but I can almost guarantee that their performance is not consistent.
You need your ball to fit PERFECTLY
The fit of your bowling ball is actually incredibly important. The proper release of the bowling ball is quite complex, and in order for you to do it properly and consistently, your ball needs to fit your hand.
You have to get your bowling ball custom-drilled to fit your hand. Nearly all pro shops do custom drilling, but it may be worth doing some research to find out which pro shop in your area has the best reputation.
Having your ball drilled properly is a pretty big deal. Having it done correctly the first time will save you a ton of time and money. If you end up with a ball that doesn’t fit, you may end up needing to have the holes filled and redrilled. This process is not cheap, so its best to avoid it if at all possible.
Pro shops typically sell you a ball, take hand measurements and drill the ball in front of you. However, most pro shops have relatively small inventories and sometimes charge too much for balls, so you may want to purchase your ball online and have them drill it.
A lot of pro shops give free or discounted rates for measuring/drilling if you buy the ball from them. The ball might be cheaper online, but if the pro shop charges a high drilling fee, you might end up spending more money than needed. Talk to the pro shop about their rates when buying from them vs. buying online, and they will help you make the best decision.
You can choose a ball with the correct amount of hook potential
If you are truly a beginner, I recommend going for a ball with a smoother shape and less overall hook potential. Check out our write-up of the best bowling balls for beginners.
If you start with a very aggressive ball that hooks a lot, it will be hard to grow as a bowler and control your shots. I recommend starting with a “beginner” ball that is easy to control, and by the time you outgrow that ball, you will know enough about the game to make a good decision for which ball to buy next.
Eventually, when you are ready for a very aggressive ball, you can check out the balls with the highest hook potential.
How to throw a hook shot
I’m going to break down each aspect of the technique in a moment, but for now, I want to give you a simple overview.
You walk towards the foul line while letting the ball swing like a pendulum. Your last step is a controlled slide that ends right at the foul line at the same time you release the ball.
The release of the ball is where the hook comes from. With a proper release, you can put spin on the ball which will cause the ball to hook once it hits the dry boards. If you don’t know what I mean by “dry boards” check out this article about the oil on the bowling lanes.
The direction of the spin depends on which hand you throw the ball with. The spin will be counter-clockwise if you are right-handed, and clockwise if you are left-handed.
I’m going to break down the technique starting from the starting position of the throw and work my way to the foul line.
For now, I am going to assume that you are an absolute beginner and that you are right-handed. Start with your left foot on the middle dot on the approach. Stand with most of your weight on your left foot and put your right somewhere behind your left that is comfortable. Your left hand should be supporting most of the weight of the ball, and you should be holding the ball nearly chest-height. You should lean your body to the right enough so that if you swing the ball, you won’t hit your leg with the ball.
Where to aim
The pins are too far away to aim directly at them. For this reason, most people keep their aim focused on the arrows about a third of the way down the lane. This spot that you choose to aim at is commonly referred to as your “target”.
I always recommend starting with your left foot on the center dot on the approach and aiming right in between the second and third arrows from the right. Keep your vision focused on your target from the time you start your approach until your ball passes that point on the lane.
Depending on your shot, the oil pattern, your ball, etc. The starting position for your feet and your visual target can change dramatically, but starting in the middle and aiming in between the second and third arrows seems to be a good starting point.
This part is very dynamic, and a lot of things are happening simultaneously. I’m going to describe the 4-step approach. There are many other options, but they are mostly built off of the 4-step approach.
Start by simultaneously “pushing off” and taking your first step with your right foot. To push-off, from the starting position, you push the ball straight out in front of you, towards your target until your arm is straight and let it drop, naturally starting the swing. Your arm should be loose and swing like a pendulum.
If you timed everything correctly, the ball should be released right as your 4th step is reaching the foul line.
The 4th step is called the slide. The slide allows you to dissipate your forward momentum in a controlled manner. Your slide should end just as the ball reaches the foul line for release.
As long as your first step happens simultaneously with your push-off and you make sure your slide ends just as your ball reaches the foul line, the middle two steps should naturally fall right into place.
The release is the hardest part of the shot to master, A proper release will keep your ball on target, but also impart an “inward” spin on the ball.
This inward spin is often referred to as revs, short for revolutions.
The main thing to think about when learning the release is that it isn’t something that needs to be forced. The geometry of the holes and the way the ball falls off of the hand will create revs.
Keep your wrist straight
Hold the ball at your side while keeping your wrist straight. It may take a small amount of muscle to hold it there, but as long as your ball fits your hand properly, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do. Your arm should be turned as if you were holding a briefcase. Your palm should face your leg, and your thumb should be pointed downwards. Your wrist should be in this exact position at release.
How it works
As you can see, the red line is the axis along which the ball rotates. You can imagine the red line to roughly be pointed towards the pins. If you are holding the ball properly on release, your ball should be oriented similarly to the one shown. Imagine holding the ball like this and letting your thumb slide out of the ball. The only forces still on the ball will be the upward force of your fingers. If you keep for fingers tense, the ball “falls” around the axis, and inward rotation is created. Let’s break it down a bit.
Thumb comes out first
As you swing the ball towards the foul line the first part of the release is that your thumb comes out of the ball. The timing with which this happens is very important. Through trial and error, you will find how to release your thumb at the correct time. Incorrect timing will result in dropping the ball too early or throwing the ball too far down the lane. Different bowlers prefer different amounts of loft, but I prefer to set the ball down gently upon release.
Keep your fingers tense
As shown in the incredibly well-made graphic above, your fingers need to be tense in order for the revs to be created. If you keep your fingers loose, the ball will leave your hand with no inward rotation. You are grabbing the ball with your fingers, but keeping your thumb loose so that it can easily come out of the ball when you need it to. This loose-thumbed, tense-fingered grip is quite an unnatural feeling and will take some practice for you to master.
Your pendulum-like arm swing shouldn’t stop when you release the ball. Follow through towards your target and loosely allow your arm to swing back and forth after release. This will ensure that your swing remains straight and loose, and can also help you get some extra revs from the lift of your fingers. Sometimes, when trying to get revs, you can muscle the ball too much and end up decreasing the consistency of your aim. Having a super loose, exaggerated follow-through helps avoid that.
Throwing a hook shot is necessary if you wish to consistently score high. There is a bit of a learning curve but it will all pay off in the end, and your scores will increase. If you have an immense amount of struggle learning this technique, hiring a coach can be incredibly helpful. Having someone coach your every movement is much easier than “trial and error”-ing your way to success.
If you follow along with this whole article and keep all the points I mentioned in mind when throwing the ball, I believe you will be able to throw a decent hook-shot. If you still need to buy your first bowling ball, check them out here. If you have been bowling for a while and you want to get even more hook, you should probably bake the oil out of your ball, or check out the balls with the most hook if you think it is time to upgrade.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, comments, concerns, topics you want me to cover, really anything you want to tell me, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me!