PEABODY, Mass. – Kirk Triplett is one of those guys who never has been afraid to go low. So when he got to 8 under through 13 holes at the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday at Salem Country Club – insert your loud, collective U.S. Golf Association “gasp” here – he didn’t let up, refusing to let external forces prevent him from the task at hand.
Fortunately for the club members watching their storied Donald Ross jewel get picked apart on a day with little wind and soft greens, Triplett was done going deep into red numbers once he dunked a low 9-iron from 120 yards for eagle-2 at the 341-yard fourth. He had good birdie looks at his final three holes, including a 10-footer at the last, and despite not getting one to fall, his result still was historic, Triplett’s 8-under 62 matching the all-time U.S. Senior Open record for low score (Loren Roberts, Prairie Dunes, 2006).
“It’s pretty special when, typically, par is an outstanding round in a USGA championship,” said Triplett, 55, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and five-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions. “I had the good fortune to play in, I don’t know, 15, 16, 17 regular U.S. Opens, so I know what it’s all about. And then coming out here, I’ve played in a handful of Senior Opens now.
“I certainly have never shot anything like this. So, yeah, I do know what it means.”
Low scoring was the theme of the day at Salem. Three players (Jerry Smith, Paul Goydos, Kenny Perry) shot 5-under 65s in the morning wave, and those with afternoon times certainly took notice that conditions were prime to go low. Salem’s greens are holding moisture from early-week rains, there was little wind, players have ample room off the tees, and speeds on the undulating putting surfaces are quite manageable, estimated to be running about 9 on the Stimp.
In 2001, the last time the U.S. Senior Open visited Salem, one player broke par on Day 1. On Thursday, the number of sub-par scores was 40. It continued a summer theme: on the heels of Brooks Koepka shooting 16 under at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and Justin Thomas carding a 9-under 63, this has been the USGA’s Summer of Scoring.
Quite simply, without the presence of wind and firmness, said Fox’s Paul Azinger, “I don’t care who you are, you can’t defend against the best players in the world. And they tore this place apart today. I think those guys (in the afternoon) saw those scores and said, ‘You know what? We’d better go out and attack.’ ”
And they did. Triplett shot 62. Olin Browne shot 63, and Doug Garwood was at 64 on the 6,769-yard, par-70 layout.
“If it was me setting up this golf course,” said Tom Lehman, who shot 65, “I’d be scared to death about getting things, you know, too fast. If they get too fast, it’s going to be really difficult. And so, if anything, you err on the side of … well, look, I’d rather have guys shoot low than guys not be able to finish.”
Not everybody with late times was tuned into the morning scores. Browne said he was lost in a novel, “Black Widow,” and not really paying attention. But certainly Triplett took notice that there was a sea of red numbers on the leaderboards. He does not know the course very well at this point, but it shifted him into an aggressive mindset.
He teed off on 10, made the turn in 31, then went from 4 to 8 under in four holes, punctuated by the hole-out eagle at the fourth. One hole earlier, Duffy Waldorf, playing in Triplett’s group, aced the third. Perhaps Triplett figured maybe it was his time for a highlight.
“You do see the leaderboard and get an immediate sense,” Triplett said. “When you see guys breaking par, you know, if I play good golf, I can break par, too.”
So under par he went. And it wasn’t until he got to 8 under that he finally stopped.
“Today I just got some momentum,” Triplett said. “At one point during the round, I said, ‘OK, this is your day. Grab it. Go.’
“I’ve always been a player that could shoot low rounds. I don’t shoot a lot of them, but when I do kind of get it going, I’m not afraid to kind of keep going, and it helps when they come in bunches.”
Thursday was one of those days. His reward? With a 62, Triplett owns a piece of USGA history.
“Do they pay you for that?” Triplett asked, grinning. He knows there’s lots of work ahead.