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Sports >  National sports

Golf with Jim Meehan: Kirk Triplett plays, talks a great game

UPDATED: Fri., July 7, 2017

Kirk Triplett, who was born in Moses Lake and attended high school in Pullman, is tied for the first-round lead at St. Andrews. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
Kirk Triplett, who was born in Moses Lake and attended high school in Pullman, is tied for the first-round lead at St. Andrews. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Kirk Triplett’s sustained, rock-solid play indicates he’s a long way from hanging up his clubs.

He’s in the midst of another fine season on the Champions Tour, nearly bagging his elusive first major title last weekend at the U.S. Senior Open.

Someday after Triplett takes his last competitive swing, one of the networks would be wise to hire him as a golf commentator, especially if he can analyze the games of fellow pros as precisely as his own.

The Pullman High product offered his customary unfiltered views spiced with humor and candor on his runner-up performance.

“It’s a pretty big disappointment,” he said by telephone earlier this week. “I don’t get a chance to win some of these big tournaments that often but it was a good experience. I tried to be prepared for it and told myself just enjoy the competition and embrace it. I’ve always told my kids it’s hard to close it out, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do.”

No topic was out of bounds with Triplett as he addressed his pluses and minuses, the internal sparring to control his nerves and the satisfaction of hitting a quality shot under extreme pressure.

All of which were on display at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Triplett opened with a course-record 62, tying the lowest round ever in a USGA event. Triplett and eventual champion Kenny Perry were 11 under after 36 holes, a U.S. Senior Open record.

Triplett regained the lead with a 4-under 66 on Saturday, but Perry was bogey-free on Sunday and won by two strokes. Triplett was five shots clear of third-place Brandt Jobe.

Triplett’s ball-striking was outstanding the first two days. He holed a chip and a bunker shot in the third round. He wasn’t as sharp on Sunday, but he pushed Perry to the final hole without his best stuff.

“Most of us have played so long we don’t get that much satisfaction out of hitting a good shot in a practice round or if we’re tied for 50th,” said Triplett, who was born in Moses Lake. “We get satisfaction out of executing a shot when it means something. Every shot counts the same during the week but it sure doesn’t feel like it. That’s the allure for most of us – it’s still me against me.”

Triplett managed his nerves for the most part in front of Fox television cameras and a drone soaring overhead.

“You have this push/pull with (nerves). If it’s creeping in too much and I’m letting it mean too much, I have to get back to controlling what I can influence,” he said. “That’s why people love sports, you put yourself in that situation. You put yourself on the free-throw line and you have to hit two to beat West Valley or Shadle Park. That’s what sports gives you, that opportunity.”

Triplett has five top 10s this season and hasn’t missed a cut in 12 events. He ranks inside the top 30 in nearly every statistical category. He’s seventh on the Charles Schwab Cup money list with $788,276.

He started the season with three top-seven finishes in four tournaments before tweaking his back in April. That gave him time, when healthy, to work on his game.

“What do pros do when your game isn’t going the way you want? We practice,” he said. “Most of us have played enough to know what to work on, and we get sharper.”

Triplett, 55, is decades removed from the Inland Northwest but he still hears from old friends. That was one of the benefits of his sizzling 62 and second-place finish last weekend.

“My dad lives near us (in Arizona) and he’ll hear from some of his cronies,” Triplett said. “That’s the nice thing about playing well – you spend two days sending emails and texts to people you haven’t heard from since the last time you played well.”

Triplett has been in 40 majors on the PGA Tour and another 23 on the Champions circuit. The way he’s playing he can expect to be in the mix at future majors, including next week’s Senior Players Championship.

“Being in contention is a different level, it’s pretty cool. I’d like to have more shots at that,” he said. “But mostly I just enjoy what I do. On tour, most weeks is about doing stuff with sponsors, Tuesday through Thursday with people in pro-ams, clinics and sharing our love of the game.”

Well said, as always.

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