Kirk Triplett has eight top-10 finishes on the PGA TOUR Champions this season. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
Gilligan (Bob Denver) wore a bucket hat after a sightseeing tour shipwreck left him stranded on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) wore a bucket hat while commanding a mobile surgical unit during the Korean War on “M*A*S*H.”
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) wore a bucket hat while chasing gophers as a groundskeeper at Bushwood Country Club in “Caddyshack.”
And then there is Kirk Triplett, a professional golfer who is better known for wearing a bucket hat than what he does between the ropes while wearing it.
Until now, that is.
Enjoying a career year on PGA TOUR Champions at age 57, “The Bucket Man” can no longer be ignored, overlooked or underestimated as the 2019 season concludes this week with the Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club.
Points leaders Scott McCarron and Jerry Kelly remain the favorites in the 36-player playoff field to win the season-long points title on Sunday, with defending and perennial Schwab Cup champion Bernhard Langer lurking in title contention after a runner-up finish in last week’s Invesco QQQ Championship at Sherwood Country Club. But Triplett, whose title hopes ended at Sherwood, also established himself as one of the elite players on the 50-and-over tour this year.
A player who has enjoyed flying under the radar during his lucrative ($23 million-plus) professional career, Triplett no longer is a blip on the screen quickly forgotten after disappearing from view.
Did you know that Triplett, with two wins and four second-place finishes, has as many top-two finishes this season as McCarron (three wins, three seconds), the points leader in the Schwab Cup standings?
And who else had a chance to win all three PGA TOUR Champions events contested in the state of California this year? Nobody. With earlier wins at Newport Beach (Hoag Classic in March) and Pebble Beach (PURE Insurance Classic in September), a win at Sherwood last week would have made Bucket Man the first player in history to win the unofficial “California ‘Triplett’ Crown.”
“How about that?” Triplett said, laughing, in an interview at Sherwood before the tour’s second of three playoff events.
But, alas, Triplett stumbled in the second round at Sherwood and tied for 26th, ending his “Triplett Crown” bid.
All kidding aside, Triplett said he felt “a little bit” of playoff pressure as one of the favorites in the first Schwab Cup playoff event, the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Virginia, where he tied for 14th (ahead of McCarron and Kelly).
“The Playoffs are an unfamiliar scenario to me,” he said, noting that he never qualified for the FedExCup playoffs during his final years on the PGA TOUR.
It has always taken Triplett time to establish himself. After graduating from University of Nevada in 1985 with a civil engineering degree, he began his professional career laboring and learning on the Canadian, Asian and Australasian tours before joining the PGA TOUR in 1990.
Though he had a few solid years, it took him a long time to win his first PGA TOUR title.
When Triplett finally won the 2000 Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, it was his first title in 266 PGA TOUR events.
“I didn’t know it was 266, but I knew it was a lot,” he said, laughing. “It was 10 years.”
Until that day, he had never even had the lead on the back nine on a PGA TOUR Sunday. Until that day, he had the somewhat dubious distinction of being the player with the most career earnings who had never won a PGA TOUR event.
“That’s like being last in a ugly contest,” Triplett quipped.
That’s also why, nearly 20 years later, Triplett vividly remembers how he finished off No. 1 in excruciatingly dramatic style.
Triplett had a two-shot lead over playing partner Jesper Parnevik – picture this final group: a guy in a bucket hat and a guy in pink pants with the bill of his cap turned up — as they arrived at Riviera’s famous uphill, dogleg-right finishing hole on a chilly, wet, gloomy Sunday in Los Angeles.
“Drove it in the left rough,” Triplett recalled. “Then you’re in there (in the deep grass), the ball two feet below your feet, so you’re reaching way down (to hit the shot). It was cold and windy. I think I had 240 (yards) to the pin, so I was trying to hit a 3-wood to the front of the green. I thought I could get it within 5 or 10 yards of the green.”
“I kind of popped it up and ended up about 60 yards from the hole,” he said, grimacing at memory. “In the meantime, Jesper had driven it right down the middle and just flushed a 6 iron. I was standing right by him when he was hitting it. He had 190 (yards), and he hit 6 iron uphill into the wind and rain! The crowd (surrounding the green) went nuts. . . . The way they reacted, I thought he might have hit it 6 feet (from the hole).”
And Triplett still had to hit his third shot from 61 yards.
“I hit a beautiful pitch to about 4 feet, left and past the hole,” he recalled. “And when we got to the green, I was pretty glad that Jesper was 30 feet away.”
For a moment, Triplett thought that Parnevik wasn’t going to make that long birdie putt, so he admitted that day that he was starting to think about what he was going to say to the crowd …
And then reality made him snap out of it.
“Right before he hit that putt, I told myself he was going to make the putt: ‘Be ready to make your putt. Get in that frame of mind.’ Because that’s happened to me before, where a guy had a putt I didn’t think he was going to make, and he made it. Little things like that … it was fortunate it popped into my mind right there. It changed my mindset.”
And, naturally, Parnevik rolled in the birdie to get within one shot, with Triplett still needing to sink his 4-footer to win for the first time.
“I don’t know if the putt got longer (after Parnevik’s birdie), but the hole sure got smaller,” he said.
Was it a knee-knocking 4-footer?
“It was a horrible putt, a downhill left-to-righter,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “I don’t want it again. “
But somehow Triplett nudged the ball onto the proper line, and when the ball disappeared, he celebrated with the roaring spectators by thrusting his fist into the dark sky – uncharacteristic emotion for him, according to his wife, Cathi.
“Hey, I hadn’t had any reason to show emotion (before that)—no wins,” he said. “I’m not going to say it was the greatest putt I ever hit, but it was the greatest putt I ever hit.”
He laughed again, this time loudly. The memory still evokes emotion, as did a return trip to Riviera with his oldest son, Sam, last week before the Invesco QQQ.
“It was my first time back there since my PGA TOUR days,” Triplett said. “My son and I had a blast. It was a trip down memory lane.”
Since that unforgettable day two decades ago, when he won the biggest paycheck of his career ($558,000), there have been plenty of other winning memories for Triplett. He won two more PGA TOUR events (2003 Reno-Tahoe Open and 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson). At 49, he won the 2011 News Sentinel Open in Knoxville to become the oldest winner in the history of the Nationwide Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour). And he has now won eight times on PGA TOUR Champions, including three at Pebble Beach.
Back in 2000, did he ever think all of this was possible?
“Well, I had my doubts,” he said. “I was a successful player and had four or five really good years under my belt, but I would get frustrated before it was time to get frustrated.”
He had to learn how to win, which he did. And now he has to learn how to deal with lofty expectations and recognition not related to his trademark bucket, which is emblazoned with PING, his longtime sponsor, on the front.
So what’s the story behind the bucket? Why the affinity for what most people consider floppy-brim fishing hats?
“I started when I was a kid; we all did,” Triplett said. “When you go to a junior golf tournament, you see tons of kids wearing them. But nobody wore hats when I went to college. It was the ’80s, man. We all had hair.”
So when did he start wearing bucket hats as a professional?
“I went to Australia, and I played down there,” he said. “My ears just got toasted. So we had to wear the white stuff (zinc oxide sunscreen) on our ears and noses.”
But his doctor said that wasn’t good enough, that he had to get something to cover his ears.
“So I went to the PING factory and tried all kinds of different hats, including straw ones like (Greg) Norman was wearing at the time,” Triplett said. “Then I see some other ones in the corner, where there’s a sign that says: ‘Jim Colbert – Do Not Touch.’ I took a bunch of those. I think it was 1989. And I’ve been wearing ’em ever since.”
And you know the rest of the story. Hats off to the Bucket Man.
By Randy Youngman/PGA TOUR
Originally published on PGATOUR.COM