PGA Tour Champions: Win at the 2021 TimberTech changed Steve Alker’s golf trajectory

BOCA RATON, Fla. — When Steven Alker showed up at last year’s TimberTech Championship, he had no status on the PGA Tour Champions, hadn’t won a tournament in seven years and had the same financial concerns as most 50-year-olds.

He was a journeyman’s journeyman.

Not anymore.

Much has changed in the past 52 weeks, beginning with his two-shot victory at the TimberTech Championship to earn him a precious exemption on the 50-and-older circuit.

“That was huge, to be able to avoid Q-school,” Alker said. “It’s not easy to get out here.”

But the New Zealander has made it look easy since the day he turned 50. He Monday-qualified for an event and then finished in the top 10 in his first five tournaments to continue earning starts on the PGA Tour Champions.

Winning at Broken Sound last year took his game to new heights. He has five wins, five seconds and four thirds in his past 22 starts.

Money concerns? Not now.

Alker has earned almost $4.4 million in the past 14 months on the PGA Tour Champions, which is almost double what he earned ($2.31 million) while playing mainly on the European and Korn Ferry tours during a 22-year stretch from 1998-2020.

He could clinch another $1 million payout in the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs if he were to win this week, with the $350,000 first prize pushing his PGA Tour Champions earnings past $6 million. It’s not LIV Golf kind of money, but it’s changed his world.

“I haven’t had a lot of chances to spend that money because it’s happened so fast,” Alker said. “But it’s nice to have that security for my family, knowing I can put my kids through college. I haven’t had that type of security since, almost, never.”

Alker will never be a household name — despite his success, he doesn’t get much airtime on Golf Channel’s telecasts — and he knows he doesn’t move the proverbial needle. But his fellow players respect his game and what he has accomplished in a short time.

“If you ask anybody out here, they’d say they’re probably surprised at what he has done,” said 2011 British Open champion and 2020 TimberTech winner Darren Clarke. “Some people bloom at different stages of their career. The scores he has been shooting and his consistency are impressive.”

There were several factors that helped Alker’s emergence: He continued to play a full-time schedule into his late 40s, keeping him competitive; he was looking forward to playing on the PGA Tour Champions (“some guys aren’t,” he said); and he sought out the advice of countryman Bob Charles when he was 47.

Charles was the first lefty to win a major (1963 British Open) and he ranks fourth on the PGA Tour Champions career wins list with 25. Charles also enjoyed longevity, becoming at 70 the oldest player to make a cut on the PGA European Tour in 2007.

“Bob knows my game and he told me not to change anything,” Alker said. “He knew I had the game to play out here. He told me to just keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Alker has never shied away from his journeyman tag. He said the only place he hasn’t played competitively was the Middle East.

“I guess when you talk journeyman, you’ve kind of been everywhere and done everything, and I kind of feel like I’ve done that,” Alker said. “A lot of places I’ve been I haven’t done it well, but some places I have.”

There’s a new star on the PGA Tour Champions. It might have taken Alker 30 years to become an overnight sensation, but it’s one of those feel-good stories the tour is known for.

Better late than never.

“I guess where I’m at and what I’m doing right now, I’ve only got so many years left in my career so it’s kind of like, ‘OK, that’s done, great, fantastic. What’s next?’ ” Alker said. “That’s kind of how I’m treating it.”

It’s been quite a journey for the ex-journeyman.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek