Kirk Triplett was driving with his wife to Phoenix Country Club on Friday morning when the question occurred to hIm: How long had it been since he’d played in a pairing with Phil Mickelson?
“It’s probably at least 15 years ago,” Triplett said. “I’ve been out here 10 years [on the PGA Tour Champions], I hate to say it, and I haven’t played any golf on the regular tour since I came out here.”
Triplett, best recognized for his bucket hat, and Mickelson’s on-course paths rarely crossed, it seems, because the former was among the journeyman who rarely got paired early in the week with the tour’s stars. Triplett, 59, had an impressive run of keeping his card, but he only managed three PGA Tour victories, the last coming in 2006. Mickelson has won 45 times.
Triplett has had much more success among the seniors, with eight victories, and he has a good shot at his first triumph since 2019, holding a two-shot lead over Steven Alker and a three-shot margin over Mickelson and Jim Furyk heading into the weekend of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Triplett put on a fine display in front of Mickelson on Friday, draining seven birdies in a seven-under round of 64. Mickelson, who hit the ball sharply but didn’t make any putts of consequence, scored 65.
“It was great to play with him, but he’s always been like that,” Triplett said of Mickelson. “He’s great to his fellow pros, very talkative, very chatty, grinding away on every shot, whether it’s going his way or not. He’s got so much firepower when you’re watching him play; it’s just fun to be out with him, with a Hall of Famer.”
Triplett was so appreciative of the experience that he might have even stunned Mickelson as they stood on a tee during their front nine. “I said, ‘Thank you.’” Triplett recalled. “He said, ‘For what?’ I said, ‘Thanks for bringing all these people out.’” We get nice crowds here at Phoenix every year, but we’ve got more people than we usually do and he’s the reason.”
Mickelson, of course, is a draw in every tournament he plays, but he’s especially popular in Phoenix, where he went to college at Arizona State. With three wins already among the seniors, Lefty has brought the tour more attention than it’s had in years.
The pairing with Mickelson came at a time when Triplett is feeling a rush of competitive juices. With five top-10s in 34 starts in this extended Champions Tour season, he was battling for the last few starts to get into the top 36 who are competing this week in the year’s finale.
“I’ve been the guy on the bubble, No. 36, for at least a month,” Triplett said. “I’ve been playing like I’m winning every single week, like every shot matters. I think that probably has something to do with my good play these last two days.”