What Is a Full Roller?

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It's fairly common to hear the term "full roller" in discussions of bowling styles and past professional players, but it's also one of the many bowling terms nobody asks about because it's assumed that everyone knows what it means. While full rollers were once commonplace in past Professional Bowlers Association Tours and the term was widely known, that's no longer the case.

Defining Full Roller

A full roller is a bowler who rolls his or her ball over its entire circumference. Many people assume all bowling balls do that, but in today's game, most actually do not. An inspection of the track on a bowling ball shows that most travel on a smaller path than the full circumference of the ball, off to the side of center. Full rollers have a track that covers the maximum distance around the bowling ball—that is, it's right in the center of the sphere, with the longest track geometry allows.

Getting Mathematical

A sphere is a perfectly symmetrical object made up of many successively smaller circles from the center out, all the way down to a single point on each side. Think of the track of a ball running over one of those circles. When a ball's track runs over the largest of those circles, right down the middle of the ball, it's the track of a full roller. If it's any other circle, the ball is traveling on a shorter path and indicates the bowler is not a full roller. Most bowlers in today's game are not full rollers but instead three-quarter rollers.

The Full Roller Technique

Most full rollers track between the finger and thumb holes, while most three-quarter rollers track outside of the finger and thumb holes. Many full rollers use a suitcase type of grip where the fingers are away from the pocket. In this technique, the full roller releases the ball counter-clockwise, creating a smooth, slower-than-usual roll with no axis tilt. While most full rollers don't have any axis tilt on their ball, a few "modern full rollers" have some tilt and thus don't track between the thumb and finger holes.

A Nod to the Past

The PBA Tour has seen its share of full rollers, though these bowlers have become more and more rare over the years. Tom Smallwood is a full roller who's in good company, as such past PBA greats as Billy Hardwick and Ned Day enjoyed successful careers and PBA championships with full roller styles. But full rollers have given way in large part to three-quarter rollers, as newer equipment, lanes, and techniques that were introduced don't complement the no-tilt full roll.