BOWL Magazine Interview: BOBBY HOLMES

March 1994

An appearance on national television—even cable TV—can bring acclaim to any bowler. Adelphi's Bobby Holmes still receives congratulations from friends and even strangers for his $9,000 third-place finish (during which he rolled a 279 game) in the Ebonite PBA Senior Championship last November in Venice, Fla. During that week, he averaged 218.7 for 56 qualifying games and had a 14-8-2 match-play record.

In 1993, his first year on the PBA Senior Tour, the smooth-stroking Holmes received a check in all six tournaments he entered—four for reaching the top 24, one regular cash, and $300 for a perfect game in the one event in which he didn't officially cash.

Holmes, who began his bowling career with the help of Lee Marshall (who taught him how to throw a full roller) and Bobby Hall while he was in-between jobs "in the late 1960s, early 1970s," practices at least an hour a day at Fair Lanes University, where he instructs and maintains the lanes.

He recently spoke with BOWL Magazine Editor Bob Cosgrove.

What did you learn about bowling on TV?

It's harder to stay focused because you have two people—the tournament director and the TV coordinator—telling you when to bowl, when to rest, etc. Normally, when you have interruptions on tour, you can go off by yourself and still stay focused. I was busy trying to obey all the TV rules and do everything in a professional manner, and I didn't stay as focused as I should have.

One example: You can throw four practice balls to the left of the man coming on, but you must be finished before him. I think I threw only one ball because I was trying to time him and listen to them, and they were giving all kinds of signals. I'm thinking: Are they ready for me yet? What's going on?

What have you told yourself about next time on TV?

If I'm throwing the ball as well as I was during the first game [when he rolled the 279], don't practice—go off to the side. I learned this from Gene Stus. After Stus defeated me, he went off to the side and remained focused. I thought, Ah ha! You will do this next time!

Of course, if you're not throwing the ball so good and you are still lucky enough to win, you want to get all the practice shots you possibly can. If that's the case, I will throw my four shots and let them tell me when to hold up, rather than worrying about whether I'm obeying the rules.

I've made strong mental notes about this situation.

Compare bowling at home to bowling on tour.

I'm still lousy in local events. I just don't perform well at home. You have to see me on the tour to see how good I am. I'm being honest here: I'm damn good—I'm one of the best out there, if not the best out there! You will have to see that for yourself by watching me bowl on a professional level. You'll never see it at home. I'm not capable of focusing as well or making consistent quality shots here. I've never understood that. It's amazing. It's always been a puzzle to me.

The rhythm and timing of the professional tour, the fact that you have two or three blocks, that you have a day to practice and a day to set up, that you have professional people there to give you a little help in terms of what ball you might want to throw. You've got such outstanding bowlers there that you can learn by just watching the reaction of their bowling balls.

When the bell goes off, I'm pretty much aware of where I want to play and what ball I want in my hand. At home, I never know that!

Several National Tour players complain that they can't prepare at home. How much are you able to prepare for the Senior Tour locally?

You cannot prepare for it by using the lane conditions. What you must do is use your imagination. That's why I don't bowl well here; I think it's psychological. When I'm in this area, I'm constantly practicing and consciously or subconsciously wondering what kind of shot would be on the tour.

If I walk into a house with a wall, I'll deliberately play the tough part of the lane to see how I handle the condition. Other times, I'll take a really hard ball and play it on heavy oil or vice versa and force myself to hit the hole. That's the best way for me to prepare for the Senior Tour. So you can practice at home, but you must challenge yourself. You won't learn a cotton-pickin' thing if all you do is line up on an easy shot and throw strikes. A good game comes from building.

As Rich Wolfe says, "The decision between a man winning and losing is his decision-making process." You have to have a physical game that's repeatable, but you have to practice your decision-making processes as well. That separates the winners from the losers.

For every tournament in this area, I would say that 75 percent of the bowlers are capable of winning. However, many of these potential winners have poor decision-making processes. They haven't practiced how to make the good decisions on how to score.

How do you feel about the Senior Tour's lane conditions? Some have complained that they're too high-scoring.

I think that they're a little softer than the National Tour, but they're just like them. The only difference is that the wet area isn't quite as wet, and the dry area is not quite as dry. To me, the National Tour has a sharper contrast: Out-of-bounds is out-of-bounds—no question about that.

The Senior Tour softens this a little bit, but you still have "OB." In my six tournaments, I saw one wall—in Naples, Fla., when we had four different conditions. But that was the shot I didn't hit well! That was amazing because you learn how to play on walls at home in leagues.

Who are the best senior players?

You've got 50 players out there who throw the ball extremely well. I think I'm Number One. I have to feel that way; you must believe beyond logic. Therefore, my answer to that is that everyone out there is good, I'm just better. That's not a statement of belief or cockiness, it's a statement beyond logic. I cannot listen to logic. I know Gary Dickinson won Bowler of the Year in 1993. I know Weber is out there and still throws the ball like God sometimes. There's Dave Soutar and Roy Buckley and Sam Flanagan—you should see the control that man's got! There's Dave Davis. Not to mention [John] Handegard, [John] Hricsina, and Stus.

I know these are outstanding bowlers who are really great at their job. But I'm better. Nobody's better than me! That's not a statement of fact; it's a statement of belief. I must believe it, and I will never, never deny that.

To people who misunderstand this, it has nothing to do with logic. You must belief this or you have no business going out there.

Dickinson is one of the few National Tour transfers who's been dominant. Not Davis or Soutar or even Bo Burton—guys you'd might expect. Why haven't there been more?

That's easy. Dickinson is the Senior Tour's Walter Ray Williams Jr. His roll is just devastating with a reactive-resin ball in his hand—just like Walter Ray. Dickinson can keep a ball in play, and now that with that reactive ball, he will score. Even on the National Tour, that man can bowl. The man can knock down pins now; it's as simple as that.

Another reason is his physical condition—he's a pencil. He doesn't have to bring his ball around his gut.

He also doesn't get himself too deeply involved in the process of running the tournament. The names that you just mentioned—all the legends—they have such a heavy responsibility that it's no wonder they don't win. Weber, Davis, Soutar, [Teata] Semiz...they have to take care of business by promoting the tour and they are constantly hounded for favors, not to mention autographs. Some are ball representatives and they constantly have to deal with us nobodies coming in and begging for bowling balls. It's really hard for them to stay focused as much as they should. These guys help run the Senior Tour because they have all the experience. Without them, there would be no Senior Tour.

It's amazing how well they do. I saw Soutar attend three meetings for us players, get no practice, and still make the finals! They may not have won many events, but they make the finals like crazy.

Everyone has ideas as to why the legends aren't winning. It's hard to coach, manage, pick up the whole Senior Tour on your shoulders and carry it to the lanes with you.

Believe me, in 1994 and 1995 the legends and the well-known guys coming off the National Tour like Dickinson and [Ernie] Schlegel are going to be the guys to beat. Rather, they're going to be a close second to me!

What changes would you like to see made on the Senior Tour?

I like the way we run it; it's very comfortable for us and we put on a great show. Whatever it would take to get more spectators and more overall interest would be my main interest. I would particularly like to see us seek more avenues for exposure on television to get additional revenues.

What's been the biggest surprise about the tour life and the tour itself?

The biggest surprise to me about the tour is the degree of difficulty to run a tournament efficiently so that you're in and out and on time.

As for tour life, you're living in a hotel and you try to maintain some kind of lifestyle outside of the bowling center. Taking care of your business at home is the toughest part. You really have to discipline yourself to handle it well.

Do you get any help on tour?

Three people have been instrumental for my success out there. Lenny Nicholson has helped me to focus my game and stay within my limits. Mo Pinel has been helpful in teaching me what ball to put in my hand. Del Warren has worked with me on adjustments.

In addition, Handegard has reminded me to stay aggressive. Stus is quiet, but he's a champion. I'll tell you what he did: Before the telecast, I didn't have a glove that fit me. He was busy getting ready for the show, but he stopped what he was doing and went out to his car and got me one that fit. That's championship quality, isn't it?

Any others?

Dick and Juanita Weber always encourage me. Their son, Rich, the Senior Tour's director, is one of the brightest brains in the organization. He is a beautiful person.

I'm an artist; I paint a picture when I bowl.
I want it to build up into a crescendo—
a beautiful climax.

If this sounds like I'm playing hearts and flowers, you better believe it. I am really pro-Senior Tour; it is one of the greatest organizations in athletics that you can find.

In fact, in many ways, the Senior Tour is a better show than the National Tour. The players are more accessible to the crowd because they're more relaxed. Sure, the "Big 4" or "Big 5" on the Senior Tour are a pretty strong force to deal with, but as I said, you've got about 50 bowlers out there who'll eat your lunch from game to game. Therefore, you don't take anybody lightly.

With all those years of experience, if they get their shot, you will see how beautiful they are, how magnificent they can really play. Pressure shots are nothing to them. All of them seem to be able to throw great pressure shots.

I think the only difference between the Big 5 and the rest is conditioning, both mentally and physically. They really focus on earning a living out there.

Which local players helped you with your game?

The very first person who shook me out of mediocrity was Bobby Hall. He let me realize that my roll [full-roller] a few years ago wasn't worth anything—it was not a competitive roll. He made me start to use my eyes in terms of where I'm standing and what I'm looking at.

After I changed to a 3/4 roll, Bobby reminded me that just because my ball was now tracking outside the thumb and finger holes, that doesn't necessarily make it an effective ball—it could still be a pumpkin! He said I still had to throw it good and create a roll that will set up the proper angle to carry pins.

He also made me understand that no matter how much I hit the ball—no matter how much fingers I gave it—I have to create a straight line for myself. Now that line may be from the 40th board to the first board, but I have to think straight where I'm throwing. It's not straight down the lane, but I must create a straight angle for myself because of the consistent way I walk to the line. I don't walk left-to-right or right-to-left like a lot of bowlers; I walk straight. So I have to make myself cross boards and walk in an absolutely straight line to my target. Bobby was the first one to teach me that.

Then Jerry Francomano started putting the right balls in my hand. Then Tony Walton helped my with my legs and my swing. Greg Goetz also helped me. So you get help like that.

Even David Ferguson pointed out something extremely important to me, and that was my third step. I used to have a short and choppy third step, pretty much like Marshall Holman and some other good bowlers. But I realized that was because they were short and ran to the line, so they had to do that. My third step has to be slow and deliberate. Ferguson pointed that out to me, and I was very impressed.

Magic Gray is constantly giving me little tips about how to extend through the shot and other things.

I've been very fortunate in my bowling career to have the right people show up at the right time.

If I hadn't worked in the Pocket Pro Shop with Chuck Gannon and Larry O'Neill, I would have never developed the kind of style that I have. How are you going to be around Gannon—one of the best brains in the area—and not be influenced by him? You know what I'm saying?

Gannon was the first person to get me to think about the complexities of bowling. He made me realize how important a good grip is, and he taught me about the imbalance that belongs in one's bowling ball. He also was the first person to make me aware of oil patterns. I used to not give the lane conditions any thought—I just threw the ball!

O'Neill said something that impressed me and has had a strong influence on me: Keep your armswing free, relaxed, and loose. He always emphasized that in our conversations.

Then, when I got out on tour, after all the excellent advice I previously had been given—I had a Hall way of sighting, an O'Neill way of swinging, a Gannon way of walking, etc., just a bunch of things that were hanging loose—Lenny Nicholson came along with a sledgehammer and, with the help of Final Phase, his little booklet which has some secrets that I'm not telling anyone, he helped put these pieces of instruction together. From reading that booklet and talking to Nicholson, I learned how to understand my game better.

Nicholson got tired of me asking where the shot was. He said, "What do you care where the shot is? If you depend on lane patterns to get the ball to the hole, you might as well pack your bags and go home."

Did the bell light up for me! I no longer depend on lane patterns. The lane pattern tells me what kind of ball I'm going to put in my hand, and it does tell me which way I'm going to play. But I don't depend on it to get me to the hole; I depend on my skills and talent.

How many bowling balls do you bring to an event?

I carry six to eight and two extra bags because I'm probably going to get four drilled. I usually come back with 10 or 12.

How much do you plan to bowl on the Senior Tour this year?

I'm going to try to make at least 10 of the 13 stops. Hopefully, I'm make all of them. The first one is the ABC Senior Masters in Florida.

What are your personal goals in 1994?

My first goal is to win a championship. My personal goal is to be Bowler of the Year. I want to do more than win a championship because I'm getting too old. I don't have the time that others have. If you're just 50, you've got about eight to 10 good years out there. Being 56, I don't have but four more years, so my personal goals are not only to win a championship, but pretty much try to be as close to the Bowler of the Year as I possibly can. So I'm going to take it one step at a time. My first step is to bowl an effective game and then to win a championship.

If you look at my record in 1993, I was 23rd in my first match play, then I was 20th, then 14th, and then third. So I've improved each time because I've learned something each time.

My immediate goal is to win. If I can achieve that early enough, and bowl well enough, then naturally I'll set my sights on Bowler of the Year. That's how I've got to feel.

You've always loved bowling as bowling itself in its purest sense. How do you feel about the changes in the game the last several years?

I really wish individuals in the bowling industry would have gone about earning a living for themselves in a different manner. The reactive-resin balls, as far as the pros are concerned, are all right. It just made it more difficult because you have more choices. In order to compete now, it's not just talent—you must put the right ball in your hand.

On the amateur level, I think it's the most devastating thing they could have done. It allows a person to score well without having any real bowling ability. I don't like that about this game I'm in.

Since the industry has to make money, the best thing they could have done was to have disposable equipment—bowling shoes that wear out earlier, urethane balls that have only so many games in them, etc. I would love for them to have done this.

Balls made of urethane make sense because it's a durable surface. I like ABC becoming more specific about what lane conditioning patterns are allowed—except that lanes still can be legally walled.

For the leagues, however, I think walling the lanes is the best thing, though. But I'd like to see the minimum oil amount increased to five units on, say, the outside five boards. Then, boards six to 10 should not be allowed to have 20 units of oil but instead no more than 10 units, and so on. If this was done, then a person who bowls later in the evening would still have a shot. In any case, I don't think you should have anything bone dry.

On the other hand, oiling lanes twice a day is bad because you get so much carrydown that eventually you get no back-end reaction whatsoever. That doesn't lend itself to good bowling because now the people who tug the ball are the ones who can score—the ones without any real skill who throw it hard and straight and tug it to the hole.

How do you view yourself on the lanes?

To me, I'm an artist; I paint a picture when I bowl. I want it to build up into a crescendo—a beautiful climax. I want you to see execution, rhythm, timing, power, accuracy—all the things that you hear about a bowler, I want you to see them all in my game.

I'm not satisfied with just throwing a strike; I want you to remember how I threw it. That's not smart business; smart business is whatever it takes to get it done. But I really want to entertain you when I throw this strike. I want you to remember it.

I want to be more than a winner. I want to give you something besides a score. If you're watching me as a professional, I want you to go out the door saying, "Maybe I should work on that. Did you see how he went to the line? How strong we was? How straight he was? Did you see that swing—the effortless throwing power at the end?" I want you to see that as well as the fact that I knocked down the pins. Those are the things that I would be concerned with.