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Triplett looks ahead to Open, Champions Tour

Kirk Triplett has bounced back from several injuries and surgeries. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Kirk Triplett has bounced back from several injuries and surgeries. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

There was a time during the prime of his professional golf career when Kirk Triplett would sit down in his Scottsdale, Ariz., home during the winter months and map out his entire PGA Tour schedule.

But since losing his fully exempt status two years ago following a series of wear-and-tear type injuries that required surgeries on both of his elbows and his left shoulder, the Pullman High School graduate, has been in all-out-scramble mode as far as his travel plans go.

“That’s probably the biggest difference between now and five years ago,” the 49-year-old Triplett said earlier this week after shooting rounds of 69 and 64 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., to earn sectional medalist honors and qualify for the U.S. Open for the first time since 2007. “When I was an exempt player, I made a schedule and stuck to it, but now my head’s swiveling everything I get into an event and try to play here, or try to play there.”

As a case in point, Triplett explained that he didn’t learn until Monday night, following his successful U.S. Open qualifying attempt, that he would be able – under the PGA’s limited Past Champions exemption category he now falls under – to play in this weekend’s regular tour stop at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn.

Until then, he had been contemplating whether to return to Arizona, remain in the Washington, D.C., area to further prepare for the U.S. Open that will be held June 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., or fly to Raleigh, N.C., and play in this week’s Nationwide Tour event.

Instead, he ended up in Memphis, playing in only his third PGA Tour event of the year.

Triplett, who lost his fully exempt status in 2009 when he played poorly coming off elbow surgery the year before, played in only 11 regular tour events last year, pocketing $258,873 in official earnings.

“And I’m looking at getting a chance to play in even fewer this year,” he said, “unless I play well in an event or two and kind of build off that.”

Admittedly in the twilight of his PGA Tour career, Triplett finds himself a bit conflicted.

On one hand he would like to remain competitive against the young guns who currently dominate the Tour – which he proved he can still do in Memphis on Friday, when he made the cut in the Fed Ex St. Jude by tacking a solid round of 2-under-par 68 onto Thursday’s opening-round 73.

But on the other, he is looking forward to joining the Champions Tour next summer.

“I can play as many Nationwide events as I want,” explained Triplett, a University of Nevada graduate, who has won over $13.5 million and three titles since joining the PGA Tour in 1986, “and last year I played in a lot of them and worked really hard on my game trying to get my (PGA Tour) card back. But now it’s more about ‘Hey, I’m turning 50 next year, and I want to be competitive on the Champions Tour, too.’

“To do that, though, you have to be healthy, and you have to want to play. So if you beat yourself up by playing 30 events this year, it’s probably not a good investment for the next 10.”

Still, Triplett is looking forward to playing in another U.S. Open next week on a Congressional course he knows and likes.

But when asked if Congressional fits the current status of his golf game, he was quick to admit, “I don’t know if a U.S. Open course fits anybody’s game. It becomes more of a survival thing, really. I don’t know any other way to explain it.

“I’m not trying to be funny. It’s just that way.”

During Monday’s sectional qualifier, Triplett characteristically drove the ball straight and used his short game to save several strokes around the green. And he is hoping those same qualities will help him at Congressional.

“Looking at past Opens, it’s not like I’ve had chances to win them,” Triplett said, “but I’ve always felt like I’ve played well in them, for the most part. “I’m actually optimistic. I think I can be competitive on a course like Congressional, because in my style of game there are more rewards for hitting it straight and keeping it in the fairway than there are for the guys who smash it and bomb it as far as they can.”

But if Triplett doesn’t reap those rewards, don’t expect him to get all bummed out.

“Sure I want to be competitive on the tour again,” he said. “But, truly, the rest of my golf success if going to be about the next 10 years … not this one.”