U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Triplett’s Record-Tying 62 Leads Siege of Low Scoring
June 29, 2017 | PEABODY, MASS.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
After surveying the leader board before starting his opening round of the 38th U.S. Senior Open Championship at Salem Country Club on Thursday afternoon, Kirk Triplett changed his mindset.
“I like to know what the other guys are doing,” said Triplett, 55, who saw three early scores of 5-under-par 65. “When you’re playing a major, par is usually the standard. Once I saw what the guys in the morning had shot, I said, OK, I’m to go out there and try to make birdies.”
Triplett did that and more, blistering the Donald Ross-designed layout with an 8-under 62 to tie the competitive record for USGA Open championships. Triplett missed a 7-footer on his final hole that would have broken the tie with Loren Roberts, who shot the only previous 62, in the third round of the 2006 U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes.
Thirteen players have shot 63 in a USGA Open championship. That total stood at 11 before Justin Thomas made a closing eagle in the third round of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills 12 days ago, and Olin Browne completed his own 63 at Salem on Thursday, about a half-hour before Triplett went one better.
Doug Garwood finished one shot behind Browne at 6-under 64, while six players – half in the morning, half in the afternoon – were tied for fourth after posting 5-under 65s, including 2013 Senior Open champion Kenny Perry.
“I have a good idea of what these guys can accomplish out here,” said Triplett, a native of Moses Lake, Wash., who won three times on the PGA Tour and has five PGA Tour Champions victories. “I also know what I’m capable of, and if there are good scores out there, I’m capable of shooting one.”
The highlight of Triplett’s round was an eagle 2 on the 341-yard, par-4 fourth hole, his 13th of the day, when he holed a 9-iron from 115 yards. Starting out on No. 10, he knocked a 9-iron to 2 feet to immediately get into red figures, then avoided his most likely bogey prospect of the day, knocking in a 20-footer for par on No. 11 after a poor first putt. He reeled off birdies on Nos. 13-15, and added his final two birdies on Holes 1 and 3 before the eagle got him to 8 under. The 62 also broke the competitive course record at Salem, which has hosted five previous USGA championships, including the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.
“I’m not going to poo-poo it,” said Triplett, when asked about the significance of his round. “I’ve had the good fortune to play in 15 or 16 U.S. Opens, and I know that this is the biggest tournament on our tour, and par is typically a good score. But I’m more about the [entire] tournament than individual rounds.”
Triplett also noted that Salem was susceptible to good scoring, with fairways and greens softened by rain this week, and little wind to introduce doubt.
“It’s so dependent on the conditions,” he said. “Some 68s are better than 62s.”
And some birdies – even in a record-tying round – can take a backseat. After Triplett knocked a 9-iron within 5 feet of the hole on the 136-yard third, fellow competitor Duffy Waldorf jarred a pitching wedge for the first ace in the Senior Open since Neal Lancaster recorded one in the final round in 2015.
When Triplett immediately eagled the next hole with his 9-iron shot, he said, “We had some crazy things going on in our group. Things were getting a little spooky there.”
The hole-in-one helped Waldorf complete one of the six 65s for the day, and he was hoping for more of the same on Friday in the pairing with Triplett and Billy Andrade (72).
“I’m hopefully going to hop aboard Kirk and ride the Kirk train,” said Waldorf. “I did a little today. That was exciting.”
Perry, who blitzed Omaha Country Club for a closing 63 in his five-stroke victory in 2013, was happy yet cautious.
“It was a beautiful day to play golf,” said Perry, 56, who has 14 PGA Tour wins and eight on the PGA Tour Champions. “Had a little overcast, the sun wasn’t beating on us, and there wasn’t a lot of wind. So we were very fortunate. But those greens are diabolical out there. There is a premium on your iron shots and where you position your second shot. You’ve really got to do a lot of thinking.”
Robby Funk and Matt Sughrue, the runner-up in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur, shot 1-under 69s to lead the way among the 20 amateurs in the field. They were among 40 players to post under-par scores in the 156-player field, which broke the single-round record for under-par scores by one (39 players at Inverness Club in Round 2 of the 2011 Senior Open).
Two-time champion Hale Irwin matched his age with a round of 2-over 72, while defending champion Gene Sauers, whose first PGA Tour victory came 31 years ago in Sutton, Mass., opened with a 3-over 73.
“I haven’t been playing particularly well,” Triplett noted. “I’ve been spending extra time on the range because my iron play has been kind of mediocre. But at one point today I told myself, this is your day. Grab it and go.”
He most certainly did.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.