MARK BAKER: T of C Week and My New Instructional Book

by Mark Baker April 10, 2012 03:25

It is Tournament of Champions week! My favorite week as a bowler and now my favorite week as a coach/fan! Why not the U.S. Open you ask? Because that week is such a grind, it never really becomes fun - the lanes are just too tough - and as a fan I do want to see some strikes!

But being here at the T of C as the tournament got underway on Monday, I could actually feel the excitement starting to build as the Champions field narrowed down to 21. Tuesday is the start of the Elite field qualifying and, after 20 games, the top 25 will join this year’s 11 winners for Thursday’s Round of 36.

As I watched the many stars who will be bowling later this week practice for the tournament, I couldn’t help but notice the differences in how they get ready for this event compared to how we did in my generation. First and easiest are the shoes - I had a pair of Linds, period! If the approaches were a little tacky, cigarette ashes always did the trick. If they were a little slick, either a wet towel or a lick of the hand to add some moisture to the sole. Today, Chris Barnes has a bag of heels and slide soles - with some even cut in half for about 30 different combinations! The advantage goes to today’s player.

Second is the arsenal, and for us this was easy. For me it was one dull Columbia Black U Dot, three shiny ones, a Wine U dot, and a Slate U dot: that’s six balls total with room to drill two more to fill out my four Don Johnson double totes (yes, totes, we actually carried them over our shoulders!) Today’s player HAS to have three to five times as many balls. Nobody is good enough to get by with just six because the lanes just change too fast and too much! The advantage on this one goes to my era because I could carry my entire arsenal on my shoulders into any airport, tip the sky cap $20 and never pay for extra bags!

Now the biggest difference - the lane conditions. Not how hard or easy they were, but actually what they were going to be. I bowled 280 events in my career and never had a clue what the “shot“ was going to be until I bowled the practice session - and even that was no guarantee on what they would be the next day. Did we ask about the lane conditions? You bet, but the only answer I ever received was, “Let your ball be your guide.” Here in 2012, Sunday was the official practice session, and most players had a game plan. And then after watching the Champions qualifying round on Monday, the same group was rethinking their game plans. In our day we usually changed our game plan around frame 15 of the first round. It was actually an advantage to have absolutely nothing in practice rather than have a good shot, (we didn’t know about having a “good look” like the bowlers of today are always talking about, but we did have Brian Voss!) Bottom line, the game has changed - like everything else in life – and, in fact, our game has changed so much that I’ve written a book to help bowlers of all skill levels make sense out of the best ways to sift through all the information and help to improve their own bowling games with that very title: The Game Changer!

All I can say about writing a book is, “WOW, what an undertaking!”  I’d been talking about doing an instructional book for years but that’s about it - lots of talking, no writing - and now I know why, it’s not EASY! Lucky for me I found the right partner in Jason Thomas to help me write it. He started by attending one of my camps to see my coaching style in person, and then videoed over 20 hours of answering questions on my coaching system. This was 16 months ago. After all this I thought he’d write for a few months and then hand me a completed book, right? Wrong!!!! That was version 1 - the final version is #6 - that’s right, I made him rewrite it six times - and we’re still friends!
Why so many rewrites you ask? Because you only get one chance to write your first book and it was very important to me to get it just right. What is the goal of the book? Well, the question I thought the book had to answer in order to be a success was, “How can I help a bowler in Minnesota (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) to improve without ever seeing his game?” I also wanted to write something that wouldn’t bore the reader or get bogged down in technicalities. I wanted to the reader to feel like he was getting a lesson from me through the book, and then be able to refer back to the book to continue his/her improvement until that person reached whatever goal they set out for themselves in the sport of bowling.
We also had the help of one Mr. Chris Barnes, who provided great advice throughout the process and even wrote an excellent foreword that explains why he never really understood the reasons for his own bowling success until we started working together and I shared my coaching system with him.
But ultimately, I wrote this book for all the bowlers I’ve worked with and the ones who would love to work with me but – due to geography, time or expense - just can’t get out to see me for help. In the end, I think the finished product will make the bowlers I’ve given lessons to feel like I am preaching the exact same things we’ve always worked on during our lessons and, given the results I’ve been able to achieve with thousands of clients (not to mention several of the best bowlers in the world),  will give a much larger audience of bowlers seeking to improve their games a chance to get something out of my coaching philosophies as well.
Mark Baker is one of the most sought-after bowling coaches in the world and works with several of the PBA’s top players, including Chris Barnes, Mika Koivuniemi, Tommy Jones, Jason Couch, Bill O’Neill and Mike Fagan. Copies of his new book, The Game Changer are currently available to order here.


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MARK BAKER: Comparing the Greats of My Era to Today - PART 2

by Mark Baker May 12, 2011 05:14

In my last blog I listed a few of the differences between the players of my era (the 1980’s) and today’s Tour. This week, I’ll be discussing the ONE area that is exactly the same!

Now I know what you’re thinking, “What can possibly be exactly the same?” This is just my opinion, but the same kinds of guys who bowled well in the ‘80’s are EXACTLY the same kinds of guys who bowl well now! And I’m not talking about the names on their backs, though two do make both lists. There have always been two (and only two) types of players who become stars on the PBA Tour: the stone-cold shot-maker and the guy who does something unique that no one else can do. And that’s it! I bet I have your attention now!

Before we start, let’s define the criteria for what constitutes a star. For me it’s five titles and at least five years in the top 20 money winners. This means that to qualify, a bowler had to be very good for a considerable period of time – a true measure of success in any sport. Let’s also define what I mean by a “stone-cold shot-maker” and a “unique” player. Basically, the first type is a player who isn’t affected or simply doesn’t care about the lane conditions – they just want to bowl a lot of games! On the other hand, a unique player is someone who has the ability to do something on Tour that nobody else can do. And, since life isn’t exactly fair when it comes to sports, there are a scary few who actually fall into BOTH categories.

Now the fun part: listing players from each era in their respective category.

When I first went on Tour in the early ‘80’s, picking out the shot makers was easy. There was Dave Soutar, Mike Durbin, George Pappas, Gary Dickinson, and the two best: Earl Anthony and Mark Roth. That’s right, Mark Roth! Some might think he belongs in the other group, but not me. Mark’s fundamentals were pure! Forget about the number of steps he took, go watch a youtube video of Mark and look how straight his swing was from its peak through the release, how low and how well-balanced he was in his next to last step, and how accurate he was – the guy was a shot-maker! Want more proof? Look at all the shows Mark made where it was he and four straight players! Plus, he had a shot maker’s mentality. When asked about the lane conditions one week, I heard him reply (we roomed together for a year, by the way, so I got to know him pretty well) “There’s 10 pins at the end of the lane, right? Let’s bowl!”

Now as we moved on later in the decade, other great bowlers added their names to the shot-maker list, including: Wayne Webb, Dave Husted, Dave Ferraro, and Tony Westlake, but the best of this time was easily Brian Voss. BV could flat out bowl! A few of these players also had unique-ness, which made them really tough. More on those guys in a bit.

The stone-cold shot-makers of today include Walter Ray Williams, Jr., Pete Weber, Chris Barnes, Norm Duke, Mika Kouvuniemi, Parker Bohn III, and Bill O’Neill (I know Bill doesn’t quite fit into the “star” category I defined just yet, but he’s already close and he soon will). These guys don’t really care what the pattern is or where you have to play. They can beat you just with the quality of their shots compounded over time. And because the lanes change so much over the course of a tournament due to the equipment, there’s rarely ever an event that allows you to do “your thing” from start to finish, so the shot-makers almost always have a built-in advantage the longer the tournament goes.

Before we go into my list in this category, a word to those hoping to try the Tour. Most good bowlers who decide to go out on Tour do so because they can do something that nobody else in their area can do. Usually this is making the ball hook a lot and strike – ah youth! But while at home you’re known as the man who can get deeper and get it back from farther right than anyone else, on Tour – Guess what? – you have Tommy Jones to your left and Sean Rash on your pair and Wes Malott a pair to the right. After three games the fronts are gone, the back ends have gotten tighter, and these three are on cruise control, all +100 or more! Welcome to the Tour! After six straight weeks of this, you notice Barnes makes the finals on everything (remember, he’s a shot-maker) so you decide to model your game after his. Big mistake because now, you’ve lost your uniqueness! Good luck trying to make shots with those guys!

In the 1980’s there were four players who really stood out when it came to uniqueness, namely, Marshall Holman, Amleto Monacelli, Mike Aulby and Del Ballard, Jr.

Marshall seemed to always have at least two more boards of swing than the rest of the field, because of his unique release. Marshall was also the best qualifier on Tour, period. Everyone knows that Marsh could get fired up on TV, but his real strength was that he was fired up in game one of a tournament and was able to sustain that fire all the way through the week. He also seemed to be in the top three after six games every week, and we all knew he would whack them at night, so Marshall never sweated making the finals on Thursday – he was always 150 or more pins above the number. Then, by qualifying in the top three, his cross in the finals was easier. On Tour back then, more than 50% of the tournaments were held in two-sided houses, so Marshall would always bowl his first eight games on low side, his last eight games on the high side, and might have to jump from one side to the other two or three times. Anybody who ever made a finals at Red Carpet Lanes in Milwaukee knows that is a looooooong walk between sides.

Amleto Monacelli’s uniqueness was summed up by this exact quote: “I stand on the big dot, throw it to the gutter and it come back every time!” Amleto was the only bowler on the planet who could do that for a three-year run, which allowed him (and him alone) to play the lanes exactly how and where he wanted. Seriously, so many times in the 1980’s, he would make the show on Friday night playing in the OUT OF BOUNDS! More than one Friday night after the finals were over, myself, Dave Husted, David Ozio, and Steve Wunderlich would get the pair Amleto just shot 279 on to make the show and try to play them ourselves. After a half hour of utter futility not being able to throw more than a double, we would just look at each other, scratch our heads and laugh. Dave and I would leave and those other two would stay and practice all night, never figuring out Amleto’s trick!

Mike Aulby was perhaps the most unique of all the bowlers I competed against. Mike never wasted energy or changed his game when the left side wasn’t in play. Because he conserved his energy, when Mike got it, he usually won! Easily the best winner of my era, he never wasted an opportunity to bowl for a title, especially in the majors. He was always “there” mentally. When the question gets asked, “If you had to pick one bowler to hit the pocket for your life?” my answer is always Mike Aulby – he always hit the pocket for the money.

Another bowler who could do something the rest of us couldn’t was Del Ballard Jr. He could make his ball read on synthetics, which, back then, was huge. We bowled mostly on wood, so a hard lane surface was tricky – but not for Del. With that heavy end-over-end roll, he dominated on the new lane surface. The first place we bowled on it was the 1987 U.S. Open in Tacoma, WA, which featured the Tour’s first $100,000 first prize. The winner? Mr. Delmus P. Ballard, of course!

The star players on Tour today who succeed because they are unique include Sean Rash, Wes Malott, Jason Couch and Mike Scroggins.

TJ’s trick is that he can create hold when there is none. How? He does it because of how clean he can get the ball onto the lane, but still throw it fairly hard with a huge rev rate. The speed creates the hold, but his ball still picks up and recovers because of the rev rate.

Sean’s athletic ability and pure strength allow him to overpower a lane – don’t kid yourself – this is one strong young man. But his trick is that he’s got 15-baggers in his hand! What do I mean by this? Well Sean can start striking at any given time, and throw 15-baggers at the drop of the hat – usually after he’s been struggling for a couple of games. One minute Sean can be hovering around even and all of a sudden you look up at the board and he’s 200 over!

When he’s on, his ball motion is the closest thing we have to Marshall Holman among today’s players – which, for anyone who competed in the 80’s – is the ultimate compliment. He makes his ball hook with the least amount of effort. Now with Wes being such a big guy, it’s all about getting his body in the right position at release, something that was much easier for the shorter Holman to do.  As Husted would say, “Their ball looks like it slows so much at 45 feet it almost stops, then the ball gets bigger and just sucks up into the pocket!” Now that, my friend, is a TRICK!

Jason’s trick is obvious – he bowls like a right-hander – meaning he would rather play in than out. This is very unusual for lefty and it’s also what has allowed him to be a great winner.

Scroggins is on the other end of the spectrum – he can always play farther left than all the lefties because his ball never reads the fronts but still has a nice motion on the backend, so he lives in the pocket. On low or high-scoring conditions, his pocket percentage is always among the leaders, which is why he’s made so many TV shows the last six or seven years.


Husted could play left of 25 without really getting the ball right of 13 down lane, and his ball would still hit – hence, three U.S. Open wins.

Earl had the ability to make it when no other lefty made the top 24 – then he’d run the field over on Friday when he had the left side of the lane all to himself.

Ferraro’s trick was in the mental game: he always had 100% confidence – he never doubted himself. As a guy who always had doubts about my own ability, I was always jealous of this.

We mentioned TJ’s trick above, but you don’t get to 10 titles faster than anyone in PBA history, without being both a shot maker and having a trick. Proof that he’s a shot-maker too? He’s won a U.S. Open (and made a couple other TV shows in that event as well) and that tournament is all about making shots for five long days!

The Green Machine. Probably the most underrated of all the superstars. I believe Wayne was the first bowler to actually have an A game and a B game. Wayne was known early in his career for hooking it, and was then considered a power player, but he also developed the ability to go dead straight in the heads and play out with a lot of forward roll. Wayne was so good on TV because many times he would do the opposite of what got him there, especially when it was a show filled with fellow power players. He would go right to the straight game and run the tables. If he made it against all straight players, he would be able to play an arrow deeper than everyone else – WINNING!

The man, WRW2. This guy’s the ultimate shot maker and possesses a great trick, a little something that used to be called “red ball up five.” Well guess what? Everybody on Tour had their version of the red ball available to them, and 1st arrow doesn’t have Walter’s name on it exclusively, though maybe it should, because he was the only man alive who could win from there eight different ways!

Norman Duke, besides amazing shot making ability, can throw it hard without hitting the finger holes with his hand, but the ball will still hit! At this year’s U.S. Open, he was laying it down at 12 (without grabbing it), going over 10 at the arrows, and his ball hit 10 again at 45’, and still made the move to strike. Good luck beating him when they’re tough!

Last but not least is the great Pete Weber. He is the only player who should be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame twice! That’s right! He won more than 15 titles with two completely different styles – one pre-resin and a totally different one post. In the 1980’s Pete was known for keeping the ball on line (preferably from out) with the fastest hand at release and a hard snap at the finish. The ball would go straight through the fronts then make a hard move into the pocket. Then after a two-year slump in the mid ‘90’s, he’s gone on to win another 15-plus titles (and two more U.S. Opens) with the slowest and softest hand on Tour. With this new release, he usually plays a medium speed, opens up the heads, and plays deep inside. Are you kidding me?! This is why my vote for the most talented player in the history of the Tour is none other than Peter Weber.

I know there are quite a few other names that meet the star criteria we set out above that I didn’t mention. But that’s the fun part! See if you can figure out for yourself why those bowlers were stars. Were they shot-makers, unique players (and if they were, try to figure out what their trick was) or both? In closing, the bottom line is if you want to make it on the Pro Bowlers Tour, you will enhance your chances by becoming a stone-cold shot-maker, or take whatever uniqueness you may possess and make it better! Good luck!


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MARK BAKER: Comparing the Greats of My Era to Today

by Mark Baker April 21, 2011 16:47

The most common question I’m asked when I’m out among bowling fans is to compare the players of my era (1982-1990) to today’s players. So I thought with the next two blogs (this week’s will be Part 1 and the next Part 2) I’d give it a shot.

Where to start? First, I will not be talking about Earl Anthony, Mark Roth, or Marshall Holman. Why? Because there is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about these three. And yes, they were that good! Also, gloating about Dave Husted’s career is off limits. Why? Because he’s been my best friend for 30 years so I may be a tad biased. But he definitely was one tough customer and he made the Hall of Fame practically in his spare time, so not much more needs to be said!

Starting with the obvious, we had a much bigger Tour in terms of events and entries per week, so our traveling circus had many more performers. But cutting to the chase, the best players of today would have had absolutely no problem competing in the '80’s. Conversely, the superstars of my group would have been just fine today…actually, a few of them (Walter, Voss, Duke and Pete) were able to succeed in both eras. There are, however, some distinct differences in the players from the two eras. Here are a few examples:

Hands down, this group is the best ever, but they have to be! The game has evolved, like everything in life, and there are now more balls released in a single year than we had available to us probably in the entire decade of the 1980’s.

We tended to drill the same ball and layouts over and over…and I mean the same layouts. Walter, Tommy Baker, and Dave Ferraro are three players who had great success with one (!) favorite layout. I had three favorite layouts that I used for years: ½ top ½ side, ½ negative side with an extra hole, and ½ leverage with an extra hole. That’s it. Every now and then I’d drill a new ball so the shell was smooth to help me get through the heads at night then, when I made the finals, there I was with the same ball, same drill. Life was easy! I actually threw one ball so much – a Black Angle with ½ side and ½ top, that PBA Player Services rep Curt Schmidt hardly ever made me weigh in when I got a check!

Yes, we had weigh-ins back in those days, which meant that every ball you threw in competition had to be weighed in before you ever threw it, and then again afterwards if you threw it at any time during the week and earned a check. Think about this for a second. We had 400-plus entries at the Showboat, with all of us drilling balls! Somewhere, Billy Hall is having nightmares just remembering this! Can you imagine if they still had weigh-ins these days and getting stuck in line behind Barnes? Good luck getting out of there before midnight!

The guys today have much better lingo than we ever had. The first time I ever heard after a player answer the question, “How’d you bowl this week?” with “I threw it good, I just didn’t match up.” I went, “What the (bleep) does that mean!” In our era there were two answers: “I bowled good.” or “I bowled bad.” End of story. Some weeks our carry was better than others, but when I bowled well in my nine years on Tour, I always made the finals, period. Now, I may have spent the next 24 games shuffling between 21st and 24th, but at least I’d bowled well enough to earn some extended play. But now I know the real reason I wasn’t able to make the show those weeks: I didn’t match up! Silly me, back then I just thought I’d forgotten how to bowl between Thursday night and Friday morning! So score another one for today’s player – “Not matching up” is a much smarter way to look at it - at least from the standpoint of psychological preservation. It also would have saved me quite a few fine slips!

This one is laughable! Back in the ‘80’s we were a bunch of animated knuckleheads, while the guys of today are more like robots. They don’t ever get mad and they really don’t ever seem to get too excited – up until the very last few games of the finals. Seriously, in the ‘80’s, David Ozio was the best at running out shots as if they were life and death – and that was in the PRO-AM! We had guys running them out in games two and three of qualifying, let alone the finals – when things got REALLY interesting!

When Steve Cook got it going (which was a lot) and you were within three pairs to his left (his favorite run-out zone) and you bowled before he was done, you literally took your life in your own hands! Cook was a seriously large human being who took striking and winning very seriously. Just ask Norm Duke. One time at the U.S. Open, I was bowling Norm and he was on the approach three lanes over from Cook. Steve ran one out, slapped his hands (which sounded like one of Zeus’ thunderbolts hitting the Acropolis), then pirouetted in front of Duke (probably sparing Norm’s life), picked him up by the side of his arms and set him back down in the settee. Norm looked at me and sheepishly asked, “Can I bowl now?” I said, “You may want to ask Steve!” When I watch today, I am amazed at the iron-willed composure of today’s players – I guess we never got the memo!

When it comes to tempers, where do I even start? As for me, I was no day at the beach. I talked to myself a lot and I never had anything much good to say about me. Let me put it this way – my mom used to call me on Tour on a regular basis and say, “You just got another registered letter from the PBA today. What did you do now?” My response, “Just pay the fine mom, I’m sure I deserved it!”

As for my peers, instead of going with the obvious guys – no revelations there – I thought I’d bring up a funny instance that – if hadn’t seen with my own two eyes (and Husted’s) – I wouldn’t have believed it. Jon O’Drobinak, who won his one and only title in Grand Prairie, Texas by beating maybe one of the best threesomes in bowling history (Wayne Webb, Marshall Holman and Mark Roth), did two things I’ve never seen before or since.

After Jon won in Grand Prairie, a bunch of us flew out on Sunday to Miami. Jon gets on the plane last, carrying the ball he threw on the show. Kinda strange but not that big a deal I guess. But then – get this – he proceeds to actually place the ball in the seat next to him and then buckles the seatbelt around the ball! He bought a plane ticket...FOR THE BALL!

After winning his first title, Jon’s career didn’t exactly go the way I’m sure he’d wanted and expected it to. Well, a few months after the glow of his win had begun to wear off, Husted and I are sitting in the stands watching his squad finish game 18, and Jon is close to making the finals. Well, he splits in the 9th and, as he walks back to the settee, you can see that he’s hot. After he stops, he suddenly winds up and punches himself right in the face! I mean he gives it all he’s got! Then, he turns and faces the pins and proceeds to punch himself in the temple! This second punch staggers him into sitting down…and he had to give himself a standing eight count before he could get back up and shoot the spare! For some reason, I have a hard time imagining Wes Malott or Mike Fagan doing the same thing today. Jon, if you're reading this I hope it finds you happy and healthy!

And that’s all for this week’s blog! Hope you enjoyed it folks! Be sure to check back soon for Part 2, where I’ll discuss more of the similarities between the players from my era and today’s PBA stars.


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MARK BAKER: Converting Feel-bad Feedback Into Feel-good Moments

by Mark Baker March 24, 2011 06:01


This week’s blog was going to be about the differences in how I coach a tour player versus bowlers who average between 180 and 210, who are a coach’s bread and butter. Then, sitting in my recliner watching March Madness on Sunday afternoon, I got a video text from one Charlie Tapp, (who toured with me back in the ‘80’s and is now on the Senior Tour – I’m not quite eligible, just in case you were wondering) reading, “Hey can you take a look? I’m throwing it OK, but my footwork doesn’t feel right.” So I give it a few looks, I see something, I give him a call to share and the next day he texts me back with, “It feels much better!” So I think, “feel.” Then I can’t get the word out of my head. It’s the ONE THING every bowler is after most. So forget about my original blog idea, let’s talk about feel instead!

Why is feel so important? Because it’s the one thing every bowler has, no matter what level, and it is also how most of us judge our shots. But as a coach, I have no feel – I just see mechanics – so my job is to take your explanation of feel, interpret it using my understanding of mechanics and give suggestions back to the bowler in terms of feel. I know exactly what you’re thinking – WHAT THE!?!? Exactly. This is where coaching the Joneses, O’Neills, Couches, and Barneses of the world helps me so much when it comes to coaching the 180 to 210 bowler.

Every bowler throws a good shot every now and then, relative to his or her average or skill level. But what’s the one thing most bowlers don’t want to do? CHANGE! I hear it all the time, “I want to raise my average, increase my rev rate, have better balance, I want to throw it better, but I don’t really want to change my game.” Well guess what? That’s pretty much exactly what I try to do as a coach. That is, changing a bowler’s game without them feeling like they are being changed.

So in working with the four bowlers mentioned above, when they get it going, there simply is no such thing as “throwing it better.” I mean c’mon, when TJ throws his A game shot, trying to make it better is like trying to improve on a Jimmy Page solo. Good luck! But the goal isn’t just to make your best shot better, it’s to make your best shot more often. So I started coaching all of my 180-210 bowlers with that premise in mind. The hardest part for me is when the feedback I get from a bowler comes in the “I pulled it,” or “I elbowed it,” variety, which is basically just a bunch of baloney about the release, which, in reality is more a byproduct of something that went wrong somewhere in the approach way before that. It’s simple cause and effect. The bad release is the effect and once you find the cause and fix it, a miracle happens – the bowler has the “A-HA” moment. Now you have something, because once a bowler knows what he does (and what it feels like) when he throws his best shots, he can then start to tell me why he missed in a larger (and sometimes, like Barnes, a more mechanical) vocabulary. At that point, the improvement is immediate!

Now let’s apply this to the 180 to 210 bowler for a moment. Something I’ve seen countless times is when I work with the guy (and let’s face it, it’s always a guy) who is a reluctant lesson taker (and why is he reluctant? Usually because his buddies or teammates are taking lessons and now beating him, so he comes to me as a last resort). The guy’s skepticism/lack of enthusiasm is evident right from the start but I always take some video and go through the normal process I described above. Over the course of several lessons, we work on small changes that incrementally improve the bowler’s consistency, which consequently leads to higher scores. As soon as I start to feel that the person is buying in, that’s when I hit him with the “before and after” video, which is a side-by-side shot of what they looked like in their first lesson, compared with what they look like now. When it happens, it’s always the same reaction – the dude just stares at the video on the laptop, then the slight upturn of an almost smile, then “Wow! I look a lot better now don’t I?”

ME: “Yep.”

THEM: “But I never even felt like you were changing me!”

ME: “Now, wasn’t that easy?”        

That’s the moment I live for as a coach. I’m always looking for that “A-HA” moment, whether its Barnes finally going, “That was OK.” (which is like most people jumping up and down and doing cartwheels along the concourse), or Debbie C., my 135-average Orange County Superior Court judge, who told me a few hours ago, “That felt great, I’m so much more consistent now!” My goal in every lesson is to hear something along the lines of, “That was so much easier,” or “That’s the best my balance has ever been,” or “I can actually see the ball go over my target,” or my all-time favorite, “My ball has never done that before!” Lesson a success! Hey, if it works for Charlie Tapp, who, if you’ve ever met him, probably is a much better talker than he is a bowler, then it will definitely work for you!

Later, Bakes


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MARK BAKER: My Year Coaching Barnes, The Real Deal, TJ and Couch

by Mark Baker March 10, 2011 09:29

Welcome to the Mark Baker Bowling world of coaching.  For those of you with good memories (or a beta recorder), I bowled on the PBA Tour from 1982 to 1990. While my bowling accomplishments weren’t quite impressive enough to get me in the Hall of Fame, I did win four titles and had a couple runner-up finishes in the Firestone Tournament of Champions and the Touring Players Championship. OK, enough about my bowling…(but if you just can’t get enough of La Mode slacks and bad mullets, feel free to visit youtube to see it in the flesh).

The real purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as a bowling coach. I am now a professional bowling instructor, which means I coach for a living six days a week. Besides working with four of the best players in the world (more on that later), I also coach people who don’t even own their own ball or shoes, and pretty much everyone in between. So, on a daily basis, I see some amazing and unique things in the sport of bowling, which I plan on sharing here each week.

Coaching is not only just about individual lessons. While I do my fair share of these, I am also the “House Pro” at Fountain and Cal Bowl (in Southern California) four days a month. I run a weekly clinic at Fountain with PBA Hall-of-Famer Barry Asher, and I also run one-day clinics, usually on the weekends. I also serve as camp director of both Camp Bakes and the Bowlers Dream Camp, which I run in various cities throughout the country several times a year.

Through my affiliation with Ebonite International, I’ve had the opportunity to work with four amazing and talented bowlers the last three years. This season has probably been the most exciting for me as a coach so far, as “my guys” have each either reached career milestones or fought through (and back from) adversity to reclaim their rightful places among the best in the world.

Bill O’Neill

He is the Real Deal. The 2010-2011 season has been a continuation of the rise of this young man that we saw beginning in 08-09, when he qualified for seven different ESPN telecasts. This season, all Bill’s done is lead the PBA World Championship (where he eventually finished 2nd after a tough TV loss to Chris Barnes), win the Viper Championship, finish top 10 in the T of C, lead qualifying at the Masters (a kiss of death for the finals), lead qualifying again at the U.S. Open and then overcome a rough 20 games in match play before finding a way to turn it around and make the show. This kid is bowling so good, the only thing I tell him after having a look at his game and seeing that it’s (as usual) in tip-top shape: “Just be ready to bowl when it’s your turn!”

Chris Barnes

When you set the bar so high, it’s hard to be objective about this year’s performance. Let’s see: 1st at the PBA World Championship (which gave him the career Triple Crown), which included his best performance on TV in some time. Shot 270 in the position round at the T of C to miss the show by 15 pins (he finished 5th). A deep run at the Masters, where he ran into Mika and an 800-plus set (enough said). Leaves a 10-pin on a four-bagger at the U.S. Open to miss that show by five pins (he finished 7th). Now, if I had this run in my day, I’d have been ecstatic! But knowing Chris, at my camp in May we’ll be working on his game each day after coaching for eight hours!

Tommy Jones

While basically bowling on one leg this year, Tommy had a decent World Series, where he finished 22nd overall in the World Championship and 3rd in the Viper Championship. But after having, in his words, “his worst tournament as a pro” at the T of C, we worked on getting the position of the ball at the top of his swing into a better place to get him back on track for the rest of the season.

Now here’s the nice thing about working with great talent. After struggling to throw it consistently for about an hour, he throws one shot from out that looked pretty good. I told him, “Now take that same swing thought and move in and hook it.” Boom! The next day he starts throwing it great, he makes the show the next week at Earl’s place, he goes deep in the field at the Masters, then almost leads the U.S. Open (he qualified second for the TV show where he ultimately finished 3rd). And all of this with a bone spur on his left hip that makes it extremely painful just to throw a shot! You gotta like working with talent!

Jason Couch

After having two knee surgeries the last three years, he had to do something no professional athlete ever wants to do, which is change the style that made him a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. 

I’ve never seen someone so dejected as Jason at the T of C after leaving a solid 9-pin on the second shot in the 10th frame of the last qualifying game that cost him making the top 24. He had worked so hard on his game, with virtually no results. So myself, Del Ballard, and Ed Gallagher all told him the same thing: That this was the best we’ve seen you throw it in a long time and to stay with it. The next week he finished 6th at Earl’s place, then last week he returns back to the winners circle for the first time in four years at the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship! No one can ever doubt Jason’s guts or his determination.

Oh yeah, that change that got him back to the top? The key was keeping his head behind his right knee at release. This move allows him to control his release point and, more importantly, takes pressure off of his knee. If you go back and watch the show again you can actually hear him repeating this to himself.


Over the course of the season, I had the chance to work with a few other Tour players as well, most recently Joe Ciccone and Hall-of-Famer Johnny Petraglia. I always enjoy and learn from working with players at this level. After working together, both bowlers had nice weeks at the Plastic Ball Championship, with Joe finishing 5th and Johnny 8th (at the age of 64!)

But if I had to give this group a grade for the year, it would be an A minus. That’s right TJ, if you would’ve snapped off a win, the group gets an A, so you’re buying dinner at the Dream Camp this year! Oh yeah, Del Ballard also deserves an A…mostly for dealing with the guys week-in, week-out!

Well, I guess I’m officially a blogger and, depending on your feedback, I may do it again soon! Also, I am almost done writing my first book on coaching, which will explain my unique philosophy of the physical game that I believe will help bowlers of all skill levels and applies to just about any different style of bowling you can imagine. More info to come on that subject soon!



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