Golf News: How Steven Alker Turned 50 and Started Making Millions

Steven Alker was a career mate who started playing the best golf of his life after half a century. Now he dominates the senior circuit.

Steven Alker has spent most of his life navigating the golf backcountry. He bounced around touring everywhere from Australia to Canada, worrying about making ends meet while pondering side jobs to support his family.

Alker was good enough to play professional golf. He wasn’t good enough to play professional golf well enough to thrive on the PGA Tour.

Then one day last year, everything changed with the happiest turn of events of his entire career. Alker turned 50.

Alker was playing the best golf of his life at the exact age he became eligible to play on the PGA Tour Champions, the senior tour for players aged 50 and over. He was instantly transformed from being one of the oldest players on a developmental tour to one of the youngest in events that include much more lucrative prize money.

Since first playing on the Champions Tour in August 2021, the New Zealander has earned $3.5 million, more than he has earned on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour combined since the 1990s.

At this age when most golfers deteriorate, Alker reaches his peak.

“Probably the best I’ve ever felt,” he says.

Steven Alker became Tiger Woods of the geezers. Since Alker’s debut last year, he has four wins. It has 20 top 10 finishes. He won a senior major and finished in the top three of three others. He’s earned more than anyone on the Champions Tour this season, and it’s not even close – he’s earned 31% more than the second player on the earning list, entering last weekend.

It’s a particularly unlikely turn because the most successful golfers on the senior circuit tend not to look like Alker. They were among the best golfers of their generation and remained so even as they got older. Bernhard Langer won the most major tournaments on the Champions Tour, but he was a two-time Masters champion. Legends like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were also stars on the senior circuit.

“It’s surreal to play in the business and win in the business that I’ve been,” Alker says.

It’s especially amazing because of Alker’s career up until last year. He peaked at No. 120 in the world rankings – and that was in 1997. He played on the developmental PGA Tour for so long that he learned to call the tour by five different names: Nike, Buy. com, Nationwide, Web.com and now Korn Ferry.

Even the few years he held a PGA Tour card didn’t bear much fruit. He missed more cuts than he made. He never recorded a top 10. He managed to finish tied for 19th at the 2012 British Open, but ultimately missed the cut in four of the six majors he entered.

When he played on the Korn Ferry Tour a year ago, Alker was an outlier and not in a good way. Players who were half his age threw the ball further than he ever could, leaving Alker to hit longer clubs into the greens or take an extra hit on the par-5s. “We went through some tough times,” says Sam Workman, his caddy since 2018.

But Alker and Workman have always kept a specific date in mind: July 28, 2021.

It was Alker’s 50th birthday – the day he would become eligible to play in senior events.

It also happened to correspond to a period when Alker was playing better. At one point last year, he missed 11 cuts in 14 events. But in July and August, around his 50th birthday, he made four of five cuts and recorded two top 15s.

The problem for Alker was that living for half a century didn’t just get him on the Champions Tour. He had to go through what is known as Monday qualifying, a competition to enter the tournament proper.

He participated in the Boeing Classic in August 2021 and he was ready to qualify again on Monday next week. When Alker and Workman left the course after the final round of the Boeing, Alker’s 9-under par performance was not good enough to qualify for the next tournament. But everything changed the moment they arrived at the airport.

“Steve,” Workman told him as he checked the leaderboard, “we’re in the top 10.”

By the time he was in the terminal, everyone on the course had finished after him, and Alker was tied for seventh. Top 10 players earn automatic entries to the next event, so they had to book new flights. It was also the last time Alker had to worry about surviving Monday’s qualifying rounds. He finished in the top 10 in each of his first six events.

Alker played so spectacularly in a short time that he qualified for the playoffs where he played even better. In his first elimination event, he finished fourth. In the second, he picked up his first win. In the championship, he landed second – just behind another guy who recently entered his 50s named Phil Mickelson.

“It’s a second launch,” says Alker. “There’s this kind of change in mentality.”

Alker credited minor tweaks to his game, and Workman noted Alker’s incredible fitness for his age. But his caddy also noted something else. There were foreign players he grew up playing with. There were others who were longtime friends. He replayed with other golfers of the same age as him.

Alker was just more comfortable. “That was the most important thing,” Workman says.

Alker was even hotter in 2022. In a five-tournament streak between April and May, he won three times, including the Senior PGA Championship, and finished no worse than third. His worst result of the whole year is tied for 20th. In July, he celebrated his 51st birthday, and this past weekend he had another milestone: The Boeing Classic marked his first anniversary of playing senior golf. (He finished fifth.)

Along the way, he wiped out the competition. It ranks first for average scores, greens in regulation and holes under par. He went from 153rd on the Korn Ferry Tour in driving distance last year to 19th on the senior circuit. This is largely because of competition. It’s also because his average drive goes almost six meters further.

Once Alker turned 50, he started playing and feeling younger than he had in years.

– The Wall Street Journal

Michael C. Ford