AUGUSTA, Ga. - This week marks Kirk Triplett’s sixth trip to the Masters. But before the Scottsdale pro gets too excited about his earlier success — a tie for sixth place in 2001 — he offers these words of wisdom.
"That finish needs an asterisk by it,’’ said the easygoing Triplett. "The next year they added 200 yards to Augusta National, and the new yardage (7,290) is just a tad more challenging for me.’’
Triplett, who has led the PGA Tour in driving accuracy for most of the 2004 season, is relatively short off the tee at 272.4 yards, a statistic that ranks him no better than 175th. Always an optimist, he points out that last year’s winner, Mike Weir, is no home-run hitter, either.
"You don’t have to be Tiger (Woods),’’ he said. "Because putting plays a big part in winning the green jacket. Just look at Ben Crenshaw.’’
Yes, Crenshaw won the Masters twice, and Triplett hopes he can get his long putter dialed in early. Of the four players entered in the Masters who live in Scottsdale, which include Tim Herron and the foreign contingent of Paul Casey (England) and Tim Clark (South Africa), Triplett’s track record here makes him the standard bearer for the East Valley.
"At first, I didn’t understand all the hype, but (the Masters) has grown on me every year,’’ he said. "It’s funny, because if you ask most of the pros, they’ll tell you that winning the U.S. Open or maybe the British Open is their goal. At the same time, the Masters is the one everyone wants to play in.’’
If Triplett has an advantage over some of his longer-hitting peers, it’s his mental game. According to The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player who also lives in Scottsdale, "No one on tour is more cerebral than Kirk.’’
"He is such an amazing guy,” Chamblee said. "For those who don’t know it, Kirk could have been a rocket scientist; he’s that smart. In fact, he has a civil engineering degree (from Nevada-Reno), and probably could have been anything he wanted to be — something you can’t say about a lot of us who have played this game professionally.’’
So how did a guy who lists "reading and computers’’ as his favorite pastime end up in a career that demands physical prowess and coordination?
"Well, it’s true that I never met a math problem that I didn’t like,’’ said the 42-year-old Triplett. "All of that (intellectual) stuff came easy to me.
"The thing that kicked my butt was golf, and that was the attraction.’’
Triplett’s rise to 40th in the world rankings has been slow and steady. Last year, he recorded his second PGA Tour win at the Reno-Tahoe Open. This season, the native of Lake Moses, Wash., who has lived in the East Valley since 1990, has posted four top-10 finishes while piling up over $600,000 in cash (No. 23 on the money list).
"I’m still just a journeyman, that’s how I’d describe myself,’’ he said. "I’m not flashy — I never go out of my way to tell people I’m a professional golfer. I just stick to the stuff that works for me.’’
Plodding along under the brim of his trademark bucket hat — "From 100 yards down the fairway you can always tell it’s me, because nobody else will wear it’’ — Triplett has earned the respect of his fellow pros. But what he does off the course with his Tour Fore Adoption program might be even more impressive.
It was Bobby Jones, the co-founder of the Masters, who believed in the motto, "A man is never so tall as when he stoops to help a child.’’ Triplett has taken those words to heart, as every week he features a photo of a different foster child on his golf bag.
"Helping out a kid who needs a home is better than winning a golf tournament any day,’’ said Triplett, who along with his wife, Cathi, have adopted two of their four children, as well as counseled countless others on the adoption process.
"It’s totally different than playing golf for a living, where we sometimes lose the joy of playing the game because we’re so outcome oriented. Really, the game sometimes is hard to enjoy, whereas seeing a kid in need find a family is always the best feeling in the world.’’
Recently, the Tripletts hosted the inaugural Dave Thomas Desert Classic in the East Valley, and in the process helped raise $500,000. Ask anyone who puts on a charity tournament, and they will tell you those numbers are hard to fathom.
But the Tripletts, who became close friends of Thomas, the late founder of the Wendy’s hamburger chain and a well-known adoption advocate, knew they could do it.
"Well, truthfully, I expected we could raise half that much,’’ Triplett said with a shrug. "But some of the stuff at our auction went for crazy money.’’
Raising the majority of those funds were 10 foster child-inspired bags of Triplett’s, which netted $150,000.
"Things like that only happen when people are committed to the cause,’’ he added.
Which is pretty cool, because no one is more committed to kids — and to the sport that once kicked his butt — than Kirk Triplett.