Kevin Croucher got a taste of life on bowling's senior circuit last year.

Kevin Croucher got a taste of life on bowling's senior circuit last year.

He liked it so much he's back for the full-meal deal.

The Grants Pass bowling center owner has committed to the Professional Bowlers Association Senior Tour, and he's wasted no time showing he belongs alongside the game's greats.

Croucher finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting last season despite an abbreviated schedule and is among the leaders in all statistical categories this year, having bowled five of the tour's six events.

A strong showing in the first of two majors, last week's Senior U.S. Open, accelerated his climb up the stat charts. He led after the first day and ended up in sixth place, just missing the four-man stepladder finals.

The tour is making its only stop in Oregon this week at the Epicenter Bowling Complex in Klamath Falls.

Croucher got to the match-play round of 24 before being eliminated last Wednesday. He went the distance in a best-of-five series against Keith Sharp, losing the final game, 249-226. He also had games of 290 (to Sharp's 288), 257 and 227.

Croucher met the age qualification for the tour last year when he turned 50, but he doesn't have nearly the professional pedigree of some of those he lines up against, like longtime regular PBA Tour members Tom Baker, David Ozio, Hugh Miller and Steve Cook.

Still, he has the game and the desire to compete with them.

"My whole thing was, I thought I could win one," Croucher says of the impetus for testing the tour in 2006. "I wasn't really trying to do anything else. I thought I was bowling well enough to win an event, so I came out here to see if I could."

He's made it to match play in all but one event since last season and figures, "If you get there enough, you're going to win."

Croucher has owned Caveman Bowl for 16 years. A PBA member, he's been competitive on the regional level and has even gone toe-to-toe with the stars of the regular tour in the Earl Anthony Medford Classic each year.

He nearly pulled off the upset of that tournament three years ago when he narrowly lost to Patrick Allen in the first round of match play. Croucher missed a 10-pin spare in the ninth frame of the seventh and deciding game that would have all but guaranteed victory.

Allen went on that season to be named player of the year.

"A couple of years ago," says Croucher, "I started working on my game to see how good I could get. I did improve my game a lot, and I've proven that out here."

He's yet to notch that coveted win, but he's fifth in points with 58,321.50, sixth in average at 224.62 and 10th in earnings with $8,700.

Croucher tried the regular tour for a couple of years in the 1980s, but found he didn't have enough game to make the grind of weekly travel tolerable.

"I didn't really like the traveling," he says. "I still don't. That's the biggest reason I didn't try it full time. Plus, I had a family and good-paying jobs."

The game has changed dramatically since then, and the greatest part being competitive nowadays is matching one's equipment and style with lane oil patterns.

"Whoever has the best equipment that matches best to their game is going to have success out here," says Croucher.

It doesn't hurt to a have steady nerves.

Croucher has always been a cool customer, and that came in handy when he took the first-day lead in the Senior U.S. Open. In the opening block, he had a six-game pinfall of 1,421.

He remained steady until the round of eight, which determined the stepladder finalists. He rolled a couple of games under 200 and, in the final frame of his final game, was unable to convert a 3-4-10 split, sealing defeat and preventing advancement to the finals.

"I focused extremely well and bowled really well," says Croucher. "I just barely missed the show when it came down to the last frame. I threw a pretty good shot, it just didn't work out."

Nevertheless, he doesn't regret for a second his decision to challenge the pros.

"I still enjoy bowling," says Croucher. "All these guys out here enjoy it or they wouldn't be doing it. The competition is great. You're bowling against the best bowlers in the world. That's what I enjoy most, competing against the best bowlers I can find."

Even if he has to travel a ways to do it.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com