By Aaron Smith and Brian Hirsch
LAS VEGAS – In any sport, the ability to take advantage when an opportunity presents itself is a key to finding continued success.
A pair of Oregon bowlers did that this weekend at the 2017 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, as Kevin Croucher of Grants Pass, Oregon, and Thomas Ault Jr. of Portland, Oregon, added their names to the short list of competitors who have recorded 300 games this year at the South Point Bowling Plaza.
For the past week, Croucher has showcased his ability on the lanes in Las Vegas by advancing to the stepladder finals of the 2017 Super Senior Classic and making the cut into match play at the USBC Senior Masters, both at the nearby Sam’s Town Bowling Center.
The 61-year-old right-hander then made his way to the Bowling Plaza, where a combination of skill and a little luck, earned him a place in the USBC Open Championships record book.
While making his run at the seventh perfect game of the 2017 event, Croucher capitalized on a Brooklyn strike on his 11th offering. He followed the fortunate break with a shot that left little doubt he’d become the owner of a 300 on bowling’s biggest stage.
The 300 came between games of 188 and 175 for a 663 series and helped Sign Producers of Winter Garden, Florida, to a 2,860 total. Team NABR of Fairport, New York, leads Regular Team with 3,266.
Croucher had a game plan coming into Saturday, but despite just three strikes in the opening game, he stuck with it and adjusted his ball speed.
“I used urethane the first game, and the idea was to use urethane the entire time,” said Croucher, who made his 15th Open Championships appearance. “I couldn’t carry the first game, so I slowed it down a little bit to help create some carry. I’ve had a lot of 300s, so I was just trying to repeat my shot. On the 11th one, I missed left and got lucky. I wanted to come back and put the last one in the pocket, and I made a good shot.”
Croucher, the 2007 Professional Bowlers Association Tour Senior Decatur Open champion, now is looking forward to the Suncoast PBA Senior U.S. Open, presented by Storm, which kicks off Monday with the opening round of qualifying at Las Vegas’ Suncoast Bowling Center.
“It’s been a long week, but I have no complaints,” said Croucher, who finished fourth at the Super Senior Classic and tied for 49th at the Senior Masters. “I’ve been able to find some success at each event, and I’m throwing the ball pretty well. Adding the 300 was cool, and I hope this run continues at the U.S. Open.”
Once you find success at the Open Championships, you want to relive that moment year after year.
In Ault’s case, it took nine years to get back into the spotlight, but it was well worth the wait for the 40-year-old right-hander.
Joining Croucher in the record book also required some luck for Ault, however, as it took a last-second trip of the 9 pin to cap off the eighth 300 of the 2017 Open Championships.
Ault, a Regular Team champion at the 2008 tournament in Albuquerque, New Mexico, excelled individually this year, sandwiching his perfect effort between games of 193 and 243 for a 736 singles series. He added 700 in team and 633 in doubles for a career-best 2,069 all-events total, which is tied for 10th place in Regular All-Events this year.
“I wish I had a better first game in singles, but I was able to shoot a 730 series with a 190 first game,” said Ault, who made his 15th Open Championships appearance. “The transition was very awkward between doubles and singles. I was throwing two different balls on the pair. It was a telltale sign of the carrydown on the right lane compared to the left one.”
When Ault’s team rallied together in 2008, there was a sense of camaraderie and the chance to share that moment, but the path to individual success is a little different, even with friends and teammates there for support.
“I started thinking about that in the seventh or eighth frame and felt like a pitcher going for a no-no (no-hitter), and my teammates on the pair and the pair next to ours, were just staying away,” said Ault, a five-time Professional Bowlers Association regional champion who regularly bowls at Portland’s KingPins Family Entertainment Center. “They did not say anything to me and just let me stay with my pre-shot routine until that game was over and I was able to deliver two and a half good shots that all carried.”
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