Why is it that every sport seems to have its own technical dogma?
In tennis, you're supposed to "shake hands" with the racket. The Vardon grip, with uncomfortably intertwined fingers, has long been the norm in golf. And every bowler knows to deliver the ball with two fingers and a thumb.
But Dana Miller-Mackie struck a blow for the unconventional, the daring and the creative in winning the $45,000 Lady Fair Lanes Open at Fair Lanes University in Adelphi last night.
A lefthander who was born in Albuquerque, Miller-Mackie uses not just two, but her first three fingers and thumb to grip the ball. Such nonconformity helped earn her the $8,000 first prize and her ninth career Ladies Pro Bowling Tour title when she defeated top-seeded Aleta Sill of Dearborn, Mich., 191-188 on the last ball of the match.
She was neither the first nor the last among the Millers, who could be professional bowling's poster family, to subscribe to unorthodoxy. Her mother, Dee, was once on the LPBT circuit and now bowls in pro seniors events.
"My mom has arthritis and went to [the three-finger grip] to continue bowling," Miller-Mackie said. "She told me to try this. I said, 'It feels horrible. It feels funny.' Then last October I was coming off a muscle tear in my forearm. I said what the heck. It took the stress right off my arm."
Younger brother Mike went to an even more radical grip last summer to resurrect his PBA career -- no thumb. "I got to the point in my career where I had to try something drastic, or go back home and get a real job," he said. He currently stands sixth after four rounds of this week's Firestone Tournament of Champions.
"We got to it for different reasons," Dana said. "I put one in and he took one out."
Mike's thumbless delivery gives him more revolutions on the ball but forced an adjustment for accuracy. Dana's extra digit has improved her control, but she's gained power from an unexpected source.
Since she got married two years ago, "I've put on 15 pounds," she said. "I used to work out all the time. Now I don't work out as often and I'm 15 pounds heavier and throwing the ball harder."
Their father, Gary "Gub" Miller, is an exempt player on the PBA Seniors Tour, and Dana's husband, Steve Mackie, is a regional manager for AMF, a bowling equipment manufacturer and bowling center proprietor. Older brother Mark, a travel agent, naturally handles arrangements for the whole family.
Miller-Mackie nearly didn't make it past third seed Tish Johnson in the stepladder finals. She trailed 108-62 after five frames, but then strung five straight strikes to pull it out, 201-188, aided by Johnson's open frame in the seventh.
"Tish usually shuts the door on you," she said.
So Miller-Mackie, dressed not in conventional bowling attire but in a black dress with large white polka dots, rolled on to the championship match. Don't be surprised if she defends her title next year wearing clothing decorated with the Indian beadwork of her own making.
She's one-quarter Osage and the beadwork is "something that's been in our ancestry," she said.
And so is bowling in an unorthodox way.