Triplett, who won has more than $14 million on the PGA Tour, is in his first season on the 50-and-over Champions Tour.
For a guy who didn’t give much thought to playing professional golf until it was time to find a real job, Kirk Triplett sure has had a successful career hitting golf balls.
While playing at Pullman High School, Triplett just wanted to earn a scholarship, which he did. Then, after getting a degree in civil engineering at Nevada, he had a couple of nice engineering job offers.
“I thought, ‘Why not try golf first, and see how it works out,’ ” Triplett said. “I’ve never had a real job since.”
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Triplett, who has won more than $14 million on the PGA Tour, is in his first season on the 50-and-over Champions Tour. This week, he will be playing in his home state for the first time since 2002, when he played in the NEC Invitational at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish.
Triplett, who turned 50 in March, has already won once this season on the Champions Tour and joins Seattle native Fred Couples as two of the top contenders for the Boeing Classic, which begins Friday at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
“I’ve definitely had my eye on coming back to Washington, and I am really looking forward to playing there,” said Triplett, who is 17th on the Champions Tour money list despite missing several events early in the year while he waited for his 50th birthday. “I walked the course when I was playing (at Sahalee) in 2002, and it’s very nice.”
Triplett, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., grew up playing on the university course in Pullman, which was nine holes at the time. He played basketball and golf in high school, “because back then, you played all sports,” and he graduated in 1980. His golf team finished second in the Class AA state tournament to Washington High of Parkland that year, and Triplett didn’t win an individual title.
It would have been hard to predict a successful pro golf career, but he did well enough to earn a golf scholarship, and the rest is well documented.
Triplett won three times on the PGA Tour, and he finished in the top 25 in 168 of his 501 events. From 1990 to 2009, he retained his Tour card and from 1994-2005, he was no worse than 79th on the money list.
Triplett, best known for the bucket hat he wears, was a cut-making machine. While no part of his game is spectacular, he does everything well.
“I was always working on my game and had a good work ethic,” he said. “I know what I can do and can’t do. I am only going to try shots that I know I can pull off. You see guys try shots that I would never try. If they pull it off, they’re heroes. But a lot of times they go down in flames.”
Triplett’s pro career didn’t begin glamorously. He toiled on the Asian, Australian and Canadian Tours after failing to get his PGA Tour card right out of college.
“I think I was exempt on three tours at the same time, just not the one I wanted,” he said. “But I think those years really helped me out. I learned how to travel, play in four-day tournaments, make reservations and just the business side of it. I think if I had made the Tour right out of college, I would have had my head handed to me. I wouldn’t have been ready.”
Triplett wanted to be ready for the Champions Tour. He began pointing toward it a few years ago.
“What I noticed is that the guys who were doing well on the Champions Tour were the ones who kept playing on the regular tour or the Web.com (formerly Nationwide) Tour until they were eligible,” Triplett said.
So, when Triplett lost his PGA Tour card after the 2009 season while battling injuries, he played in the Tour events he could get into.
“Even when I didn’t want to play, I knew it was important; and looking back, it was the right strategy,” he said.
Triplett said shoulder injuries cost him swing speed, but he proved last year that he could play with the young guys, becoming the oldest player in history to win on the Web.com Tour at age 49.
“The guys on that tour have such great physical skills and the play is very good, but what got me through is knowing how to play under the gun. That’s something those guys still need to learn. Experience played a huge role. My peers know that was a pretty good accomplishment.”
Triplett won’t be hard to recognize this week. Just look for the guy wearing the unique hat. When he was playing on the Australian Tour, Triplett’s ears got badly chapped. A doctor told him he needed to wear a hat that covered his ears.
He couldn’t find one he liked until one day when he was in the Ping factory and saw a box marked, “Jim Colbert — do not touch.”
Triplett couldn’t help himself and looked. It was full of Colbert’s bucket hats. Triplett tried one and he’s been wearing one since.
“Whatever gives you notoriety,” Triplett said with a laugh. “People recognize you halfway down the fairway. I don’t know if it’s made me any money wearing (bucket hats), but it’s been fun.”