‘Getting all the ducks in a row and boom’: How turning 50 was a godsend for pro
Steven Alker flipped his wedge under his ball, took three steps back and watched as it rolled a few feet past the cup. He cleaned up from there. Alker was tied for the lead during Sunday’s final round of the Champions Tour’s TimberTech Championship, had been stuck in a somewhat awkward bunker lie after his second shot on the par-4 12th at the Old Course at Broken Sound, but managed to get up and down.
“What a save,” announcer Whit Watson said on the Golf Channel broadcast.
“That was clutch,” analyst Lanny Wadkins said.
For sure. Only, if that was clutch, then what would call this? In short, for nearly three months, Alker has had more saves than your favorite goalie, baseball closer or Marvel superhero.
Let’s begin. On Aug. 16, two days after missing the cut in the Korn Ferry Tour regular-season finale, and 19 days after his 50th birthday, Alker Monday-qualified for the Champions’ Boeing Classic, tied for seventh in his first senior circuit event — and earned a spot into the next event solely through the top 10.
One week later, Alker finished third at the Ally Challenge — and earned a spot into the next event solely through the top 10.
Two weeks later, Alker tied for ninth at the Ascension Charity Classic — and earned a spot into the next event solely through the top 10. If you sense a pattern here, you’re not wrong.
One week later, a tie for seventh at the Sanford International — and another invite to the next tournament. One week later, a tie for fifth at the Pure Insurance Championship — another invite. Two weeks later, a tie for seventh at the Furyk and Friends — another invite. One week later, Alker tied for 16th at the SAS Championship, but by then, he was high enough in the season-long standings that he had earned another invite. One week later, Alker tied for fourth at the Dominion Energy. (Editor’s note: If you had bet Alker, Steven, to top-10 in seven of eight events at this point, and if you’re now feeling generous, at least one editor we know would like a new set of irons please.)
Before we go further, some background on Alker. The New Zealander had carved out a solid golf career to this point — four Korn Ferry Tour wins (the last coming at the 2014 Cleveland Open), seven international victories, some play on the big Tour, including a tie for 19th at the Open Championship. But you’d be excused if you didn’t know him too well. One of his playing partners on Sunday at the TimberTech even didn’t.
“I didn’t know much about it, either,” Jim Furyk said of Alker’s game. “We got paired the final round of our event, Constellation Furyk and Friends, and played real well and top-10’d again. He drives the ball real well. He’s a good, solid ball striker. Doesn’t really seem to have any weaknesses. He putts the ball really well. He’s a super nice guy.”
His caddie of three years, Sam Workman, said as much, too.
“The guy is one of the greatest people I know,” he said. “Works hard, works smart. And love him to death. Love being with him.”
Back to this week. After 12 and the up and down, Alker dropped a 30-footer for birdie on 15, and he had the lead to himself. He parred 16 and 17. Precariously up one shot on the par-5 18th, Alker was just off the green in two, chipped to a foot and birdied. Two-shot win. Another top 10. A first top one. And the word the Champions Tour Twitter account used to describe the sequence?
“I think it’s just all about wanting to be out here, just some good focus on trying to play some good golf,” Alker said. “I’ve been out here amongst these guys, it’s been amazing. They’ve been so welcoming, and my game’s coming around at the right time. There’s a lot of things that have happened, just mentally in a good place, getting all the ducks in a row and boom, that’s what happened.”
Boom, that’s what happened. And since a Monday qualifier in the middle of August in the state of Washington, here’s what all has happened — six top 10s in a row, when an 11th would have forced him back into qualifying; eight top 10s in nine events overall, including, of course, the victory; a winner’s check of $305,000, which pushes his Champions earnings to $896,207, which is more than he earned on the PGA Tour ($841,849). And full-time status for next year.
“I’ve just kind of — I always know I’ve been good, but to play with these guys, it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable,” Alker said. “I think I’m comfortable right now playing with these guys, but giving yourself chances, I think that’s the biggest thing. Golf’s always about giving yourself chances and eventually it will happen.”
A reporter then said to him: “Some people don’t like turning 50 — it means they’re getting older.”
“Yeah, 50’s good,” Alker said. “I’m still feeling pretty good. I’m in decent shape. As I said, just exciting, a new chapter for me. Coming off the Korn Ferry Tour, I’ve been doing the hard yards there, but at the same time, it was good preparation for me coming out here. As I said, all my ducks are in a row and just happened to be this week.”