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Meehan: Triplett at ease on Champions Tour

Sports reporter/columnist Jim Meehan. (SR)
Sports reporter/columnist Jim Meehan. (SR)

There’s a simple explanation for Kirk Triplett’s smooth transition as a rookie on the Champions Tour.

It’s the same reason why the former Pullman resident won three times, placed in the top 25 in one-third of 501 career starts and pocketed more than $14 million on the PGA Tour.

“When I had success on the (PGA) tour there was nothing about my game where anyone would say, ‘He’s great at this or great at that.’ It wasn’t one thing,” Triplett said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “My strength was that I didn’t have any glaring weakness.

“I know my game and I know what I can and can’t do. When I’m successful, I stick to what I can do.”

The Champions Tour charts just about everything, including 13 categories labeled “standard statistics” that gauge a player’s all-around game. Triplett ranks in the top 17 in seven categories and the top 48 in the other six.

Triplett, who turned 50 in March, has converted strong statistics into impressive results. He’s earned $625,747, made nine cuts in nine starts, finished in the top 10 four times and won the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.

Triplett has played in 40-plus tournaments at Pebble Beach and he drew on experience to craft a final-round 66.

“It was a day where the first 10, 12 holes were playing easier and I knew I had to take advantage and then hold on coming in,” said Triplett, who was born in Moses Lake and now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I just think the Monterey Peninsula is one of the great places in the world. It’ll be the middle of summer and it’s 60 and foggy and a lot of times that throws guys for a loop. The grass is different, the ball doesn’t go anywhere. Those are things I’m comfortable with.

“If you asked me where do you want to win a tournament, that’s one of the places.”

Another place would be Turnberry, Scotland, site of next week’s Senior Open, the last of five Champions majors. Triplett leaves Sunday with his 16-year-old son, a nearly scratch golfer, to get in some “extra golf.”

Triplett already feels comfortable on the Champions Tour. He knows most of the players and the set-up of the courses suits his game.

“I feel like if I play well I have a chance to win,” he said. “The last few years on the regular tour I felt like if I played well sometimes that wouldn’t be good enough. I could play well and finish 25th. The courses have gotten significantly tougher on the regular tour. The Champions courses are similar in set-up to when I started playing in the early 1990s.”

Triplett’s last few years on the PGA Tour weren’t without frustration, partly because of health issues from 2005-08 and partly because the tour is simply loaded with young talent.

“Those guys are pretty good out there and they’re getting better,” he said. “It’s hard to compete when you’re 45-50 week in and week out.”

He kept his game sharp in 2011 by playing in a limited number of PGA and events. He became the oldest player to win a tournament when the captured the News Sentinel Open in Knoxville, Tenn., last August. With his victory at Pebble Beach earlier this month, Triplett is one of six players with wins on the PGA, and Champions tours.

Triplett is going head-to-head against the likes of Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin, Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples, players he competed against throughout his PGA career.

“I was in the trailer working out about a month ago and Tom Kite came in,” Triplett said. “I was on the bike for 30 minutes and I did 30 minutes of exercise and stretching. I’m kind of an easygoing guy on the workouts. Tom goes at it hard for 45 minutes. He’s 62, throwing a bunch of weight around and doing balance moves. … I’m watching and thinking, ‘He’s been doing this and working and trying to play his best golf for 40 years.’ It’s impressive that he still has that drive to play well.”

The Champions Tour is full of players dedicated to the game.

“One of the things that people sometimes forget is these guys, because they were successful on the PGA Tour, have a skill that some regular tour players don’t have,” Triplett said. “They know how to get the job done.”

He speaks from experience.

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