Steven Alker back where it all began at Boeing
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Monday qualified in Seattle last year, now Charles Schwab Cup leader
Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
This time last year, few on PGA TOUR Champions could have picked Steven Alker out of a lineup.
Now he’s public enemy No. 1, sitting atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings with three victories in 13 events in what is his first full season.
How did a mild-mannered native of Hamilton, New Zealand, go from Korn Ferry Tour also-ran to Champions Tour frontrunner?
On Aug. 15, 2021, Alker was arriving in the Seattle area in order to attempt to Monday qualify for the Boeing Classic. He had turned 50 on July 28, and this was his first chance to give it a go.
He had no status on PGA TOUR Champions, though he had remained active on the Korn Ferry Tour right up through his 50th birthday. In fact, his best Korn Ferry Tour finish of the combined 2020-21 season had come two weeks after his birthday, when he posted a T5 at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank. He fired four rounds in the 60s, including a closing 63. In 28 other events, he had no top-10s.
So he went to the Boeing feeling pretty good about his game, but not really knowing what to expect. Fast forward 360 days and life is vastly different for Alker. The Boeing Classic begins on Friday; Alker, who has made his permanent home in Arizona since 2010, isn’t even flying to the Seattle area until Wednesday. Monday qualifying is a thing of the past.
Alker now is $3,467,568 richer and a four-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions. Simply put, the man has had one hell of a ride the past year, one he didn’t expect in his wildest dreams.
“I would have been a little surprised if you’d told me it would turn out like this, yeah,” Alker said. “I mean, it’s crazy, like we’re talking a year later and it’s just gone by so quickly. It’s all a bit of whirlwind.
“It’s happened so fast. Some of it is still sinking in. Now I can play some courses I’ve seen and kind of set a schedule. It’s all been life-changing in terms of security, a place to play and financially, that comes with it. It has been pretty neat.”
Alker uses the word “neat” a lot. Maybe it’s a Kiwi thing. But when you have that accent, pretty much everything sounds, well, neat.
His game was pretty tidy from the get-go, too. And it really had to be or maybe this miracle run never materializes. Alker had to top-10 at the Boeing last year or he would have been right back to Monday qualifying.
After opening with a solid 67, a second-round 73 left him well outside the top 10. But Alker regrouped, and another 67 pushed him into a tie for seventh and an automatic spot in the Ally Challenge.
He went on to record six consecutive top-10s.
By the end of that run Alker had accrued enough money not only to skip Monday qualifying but to make the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs.
“I was playing well and trending and that’s kind of what happens with my game,” Alker said. “I had reeled off a nice stretch. You feel it trending and then the first win. That was nice, but it wasn’t surprising to me. I’d been building to it with all of these top-10s and trying to get in that position to win. It was just kind of the next step.”
The victory came at the second playoff event, the TimberTech Championship. Alker followed with a runner-up finish in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. He had played in 10 events, posted nine top-10s and pocketed $1,146,207.
What would 2022 bring? Alker didn’t come into it feeling assured of anything other than the fact he wouldn’t have to Monday qualify. But would he pick up where he left off?
He recalled a conversation with Jerry Kelly during the offseason. Kelly spent some time in Arizona, where his wife was undergoing cancer treatment. The two were able to practice together a couple of times, and Kelly, a three-time winner on the PGA TOUR, had to convince Alker that he belonged among the elite on PGA TOUR Champions.
“I remember him deflecting the compliment,” said Kelly, who like Alker has won three times this season and is his closest pursuer in the Schwab Cup standings. “I just tried to convey that this is who you are now. It doesn’t matter what the struggle was. The struggle led to this. Embrace it and enjoy it.”
Alker said the words resonated with him.
“Jerry is fantastic. I love Jerry to death,” Alker said. “We were just chatting and he says, ‘Man, you’ve been playing great. You’ve just gotta own it.’ It sunk in. He just relishes being in the hunt. And he was saying grab it by the (horns) and go for it.
“I rolled off a nice run after that. I won in Biloxi (Rapiscan Systems Classic), then went second, won again (Insperity Invitational), tied for third and won again (KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship). It was a whole kind of different perspective. Being amongst these guys and the enthusiasm they still have for playing … there’s still that grind and enthusiasm to play, compete and still wanting to win is a great environment to be in. It’s really cool. I’m really enjoying that part of it.”
Alker credited the Korn Ferry Tour for getting him ready for PGA TOUR Champions. Alker won four times on the Korn Ferry Tour between 2003 and 2014. But he never really had any measure of success on the PGA TOUR. Which always brought up the familiar question: When are you going to stop chasing the dream?
Alker says he never really thought about stepping away. Yes, he thought of doing something in addition to golf to help his family financially. But playing golf is what he does and has since he began tagging along with his father in Hamilton when he was 10.
Now, finally, staying the course has paid off. Alker has made more money in the past 12 months than he had in his entire professional golf career.
“Life has changed a lot in the last year,” said Alker, who grew up playing tennis and cricket along with golf. “My kids are 18 (daughter) and 16 (son). So there will be college shortly. This helps out with college. They’ve got a few more options there. I can redo my 12-year-old kitchen, too. We’ve been a one-car family for a long time and we have two cars now. It’s not a Lamborghini. It’s a second car and we’re so grateful for that. These small things that we just haven’t had and kind of needed to do … we have security going forward.”
The second car? It went to Alker’s wife. It’s a Mini Cooper.
“She lets me drive it, but it’s her car,” Alker said. “And now my son has his license and my daughter has her provisional license, so we’re probably gonna be a three-car family soon.”