Steven Alker ready to play first PGA Championship at age 51
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Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
When the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island rolled around in May 2021, Steven Alker was in the midst of rough stretch on the Korn Ferry Tour, having missed five of seven cuts, including that week’s AdventHealth Championship in Kansas City, Mo.
This week at 51, the New Zealander will make his PGA Championship debut at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, N.Y., courtesy of a victory at last year’s Senior PGA Championship.
Alker has been as good as anyone on PGA TOUR Champions since he turned 50 on July 28, 2021. He has six victories, including one this year, and he’s thrilled at the opportunity not only to play in a PGA and at Oak Hill for the first time, but to test his mettle against the best players in the game.
“I’ve been doing some homework on the golf course and the new renovations,” said Alker, who played nine holes at Oak Hill on Tuesday after walking nine and making notes on Monday. “It looks fantastic. I’m fired up about it, actually.
“I’m going in with no expectations. I just want to play my game and see what happens, see how that does. It’s the first PGA Championship I’ve played in. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Alker was grinding on KFT in hopes of just making it onto PGA TOUR Champions in 2021. He was a four-time winner on KFT, the last in 2014, but he never had much success on the PGA TOUR and thus had no PGA TOUR Champions status. But he got his foot in the door by Monday qualifying, then ran off six straight top 10s and won in his ninth tournament to be fully exempt for 2022.
All he then did was win four times and claim the Schwab Cup.
Alker conceded that if someone told him two years ago that he’d have all of these trophies on his mantle, a fat bank account with a couple more digits at the end, and a spot in the PGA Championship for having won a senior major, he’d have thought you were a few clubs short of a full bag.
“The first thing is like, well, I have to get on the Champions Tour,” Alker said. “And that’s not easy by any stretch. But that’s what I was working toward.
“I’d tell you that you were dreaming, to be honest (about all of his success). But hey, dreams come true. What else can you say?”
Alker is easygoing and quick with a smile. The accent is straight out of central casting, and he has a penchant for saying things are “cool, really cool.”
His 2023 season hasn’t been without strife. Sam Workman, his longtime caddie, died of cancer in February. So Alker has missed a couple of events and not prepared for others as much as he might have otherwise. But at the Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands, Texas, where he was the defending champion, Alker put on a heartwarming show. In front of many friends and family of Workman, a Texas native and Houston Astros fan, he successfully defended. With his son, Ben, by his side, no less.
Steven Alker wins by four strokes at Insperity Invitational
“It was extra special to have my son on the bag at Insperity,” Alker said. “Trying to defend and then Sam’s crowd there . . . My wife (Tanya) was going to caddie and she couldn’t make it out because my daughter had some things going on. Then my son said, ‘Can I?’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’
“He was a little nervous to start, but he got more chatty on the weekend, and we were able to talk golf. It was some really cool father-son time, pretty epic.”
Troy Martin, a veteran caddie who looped for Alker at the Chubb Classic and the Invited Celebrity Classic, has agreed to take his bag full time. He started last week at the Regions Tradition, where Alker finished in a tie for 28th.
Alker is feeling good about his game and about his preparation. Still, he knows Oak Hill can be a beast. He says he’s not carrying any lofty expectations, if any at all. He knows the guys on PGA TOUR Champions will be pulling for him.
He has been trying out some new drivers and a new utility iron for this week. A little extra distance and keeping out of trouble never hurts.
“This is a bonus event for me” Alker said. “I just want to play my game, see what happens. There’s a lot of variables. The weather could be horrible. You know the course will be strong and tough.
“I’m just trying to prepare well and get my game in the best shape it can be. Remember, I’m trying to defend the following week as well (at the Senior PGA Championship), trying to get my game where I want it.”