SOUTH BEND – As the father of a recent Notre Dame graduate, Kirk Triplett finds himself in the role of unofficial tournament host this week at the 40th U.S. Senior Open.
As the 57-year-old tried to limber up on the practice tee Monday afternoon at Warren Golf Course, fellow members of the PGA Tour Champions kept coming up to him seeking restaurant recommendations and the like. Triplett, a University of Nevada product, would tug on his blue cap with the interlocking “ND” and shrug.
“I know where to park for a football game,” Triplett said. “That’s about all I know. You get in early and you find one of those good tailgating spots.”
Conor Triplett, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2018 with an engineering degree, is doing a summer internship in Washington, D.C., with a museum design company. Now taking graduate classes at Carnegie Mellon, the younger Triplett is due in town Thursday for the start of play.
But his father couldn’t resist sending him a text message Monday after going through registration at nearby Notre Dame Stadium, where all 156 players in this week’s field will get a tour of the home football locker room and players’ lounge along with a chance to walk on the field and a Fighting Irish jersey with their name stitched on the back.
“We’ve been to a few games over the years, but I’d never been on the sideline,” Kirk Triplett said. “I’d never been to those places. I sent my son a text, and he said, ‘I was there for four years and didn’t get to do any of that.’”
U.S. Senior Open: See the official program
Until this week, his father had never played Warren Golf Course. Quick visits had been limited to parents’ weekend, graduation, meals at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and The Original Pancake House and, of course, football games.
Aside from open qualifier Troy Soerries, a Clay High School graduate who played at Ball State, no other entrant has much of a South Bend or Notre Dame tie. The biggest Fighting Irish football fan on the Champions tour, Triplett said, is probably Lee Janzen’s caddie and former tour pro Keith Nolan.
Still, after finishing 13th over the weekend in a PGA Tour Champions event at the University of Wisconsin, Triplett was pleased to be back at a campus-affiliated course this week.
“The college atmosphere is vibrant,” he said. “The kids are young, and people are interested in doing stuff out in the communities. It’s fun to be in towns like that. I get that same vibe just being here for half a day.”
‘Culmination of a dream’
Notre Dame officials hope to spread those good vibes throughout the surrounding Michiana community, which will swell by an estimated 100,000 or more visitors this weekend, depending on the weather.
In addition to four days’ worth of Fox and FS1 television coverage, which is sure to include plenty of iconic shots of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, University president John Jenkins said the benefits of bringing a major golf championship to town are manifold.
“It’s exciting for us at Notre Dame, it’s exciting for the region and the city to welcome this great event,” Jenkins said after speaking at a military appreciation ceremony by the 12th green. “I acknowledge (alumnus and course namesake) Bill Warren, whose vision and generosity made this course possible. It’s really the culmination of a dream to have the U.S. Senior Open here at Notre Dame.”
According to Paul J. Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications, this week’s event carries a local economic impact of about $20 million.
“It’s not so much brand recognition for us, but particularly under Father (John) Jenkins we’ve been trying to engage more with the community and the region,” Browne said. “This sells out all the hotel rooms, so it’s a great economic boost. More so than Notre Dame’s brand, that’s what is the big winner for us.”
Along with the NHL’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Day and a July 19 international soccer exhibition between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, this week’s major golf championship gives Notre Dame another non-traditional event with which to spread its message and burnish its image.
“Notre Dame is so recognized for football and football games, but we’ve really expanded and broadened our capabilities and our welcome,” Jenkins said. “We have Premier (League) soccer coming in this summer. We have some concerts, and this just rounds out that welcome for Notre Dame, but also for the region and the city, as we become a destination for so many.”
Telling the story
John Foster, general manager and head golf professional at Warren Golf Course, has been working toward a week like this since his arrival in 2002.
From 2005-08, four straight Western Amateur qualifiers were held here. In 2010, Warren played host to the U.S. Women’s Public Links championship, and NCAA men’s and women’s regionals have been staged at Warren a combined four times this decade.
The U.S. Senior Open qualifier was held here for a second time in 2018; the U.S. men’s amateur qualifier was held here seven times, most recently in 2014; and the men’s U.S. Open and U.S. men’s Mid-Amateur qualifiers have been held here a combined three times since Warren opened in 1999.
Until this week, the only other USGA major championship contested at a college-affiliated course was the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open at Mount Holyoke College (The Orchards Golf Club) in Massachusetts.
“I think it speaks to the course,” Browne said. “As Father John said, it’s all about the course. If we had a different course here, the event wouldn’t be here. It’s because we have a great course here, a beautifully designed course.”
Course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw re-routed the 6,943-yard layout for this week and shaved a stroke off par, which is now 70.
Tournament organizers also found ways to turn a mind-numbing registration process into a lifetime memory. Golfers didn’t just get a chance to snap a photo in front of a Notre Dame football locker with their nameplate over it, they got to walk down the locker-room steps and slap the “Play Like A Champion” sign.
A similar sign awaits them at the first tee this week at Warren Golf Course.
“These are great athletes,” Jenkins said. “I’m told it was just a wonderful experience for them to see that iconic venue. We’re happy to welcome them and bring together various traditions here at Notre Dame.”
For John Cook, an Ohio State Hall of Famer who had never been on Notre Dame’s campus until Monday, the chance to walk onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium and revisit his high school quarterback days made this a memorable week already.
“I’m a football guy,” Cook said. “My dad (Jim) played and coached at Ohio State. For a Buckeye, it was pretty cool. It’s history.”
At 61, Cook hopes his drives travel straighter than his passes did.
“I did stand on the goal line and try to throw some 20-yard outs,” he said. “Didn’t quite have the zip I used to have, but anytime you can get down on the field and throw a football again, it’s fun.”