New Zealander Stephen Alker poses with the Charles Schwab Trophy. photo/Getty
The scenario couldn’t be better for New Zealand golfer Stephen Alker this week.
The 51-year-old got his chance to win the PGA Champions Trophy and the Order of Merit in a barely 30-minute tournament
drive from his home in Arizona.
As It Was Played An amazing first full season on the PGA Champions Tour culminated in Alker’s third-place finish in the Charles Schwab Cup season finale at Phoenix Country Club, thus earning him the Order of Merit and the U.S. Cup. $1 million ($1.64 million) bonus.
Remarkably, Alker didn’t have touring status just 15 months ago. He had entered qualifying at the Boeing Classic, posting a tie for seventh place and which began a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes, including winning the championship at his penultimate event last year.
What followed was up there with the best stories in golf this year.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Alker has been a driver his entire career on the PGA Tour. He made 86 starts and failed to post a top 10 finish and missed the cut 47 times. It was similar on the European Tour where he had 80 starts in one top 10 and 42 missed cuts.
How does he explain his dramatic rise?
Talking to Announces 24 hours after his victory, the soft-spoken Alker said there was a lot going on.
“I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately, what’s the secret to success? How did you do it? It’s a season-long race and I think I’m proud of the consistency I’ve had all year.
“My game has held up really well all year. And it’s just one of those proud moments where you think all the work I put in kind of paid off.”
He finished the season with an average of 68.2 in 75 rounds of golf, and by the time the Charles Schwab Cup final was over, only one player, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, had managed to catch him. But Alker only needed to finish in the top five of 33 players to deny the Irishman, who showed his form by winning the tournament by eight shots.
Alker played 23 events, Harrington played 19 and the Kiwis briefly admitted to doubting the merit of his achievement.
“I look at players like Harrington and I think, well, what if they played a full season or someone played the 23 event that most players play, they could have kicked well and decently,” Alker said. “But you know I’m the champion, I’m down to the points at the end of the year and I’ve had a consistent year. I’d beat them some times. Beat them to win championships.
“Yeah, it’s kind of neat, and it commands a lot of respect. I think all the players have a lot of respect for each other, for what they’ve done and the level we’re at now.”
Alker has earned a staggering $7.44 million this season and attributes much of his success to the fact that he was playing regularly on the second tier of the Korn Ferry Tour during the Covid pandemic before attempting to qualify for the Champions Tour.
“I think playing against youngsters, to be within that company — the low scores on the Korn Ferry Tour a week is three, four, five less than that for cuts and weekend play — that keeps it competitive, and it keeps you on your toes.
“I think it kept me in the game, it kept me strong, it made me want to play. I think the whole change of atmosphere, going to Champions was very exciting or new to me. So that was helpful.”
Alker’s success is the first in what would be a very unusual trifecta for New Zealand golf. Ryan Fox heads into the DP World Championships in Dubai this week sitting second on the Order of Merit and trying to chase down world number one Rory McIlroy, his opening round partner. and Lydia Ko in Florida for the final tournament of the LPGA Tour season. The former world No. 1 leads the race to be named CME Globe Rolex Player of the Year and is also in pole position to win the Vare Trophy for best scoring average during the season.
“This is amazing,” Alker said. “I was talking about half an hour ago about this scenario, it’s very possible we’d have three New Zealanders win the Worldwide Merit Award. I don’t know if that happened to be honest. Especially for a small country like New Zealand.
“That would be unbelievable. And for the golf profile and everything else, it’s going to be amazing. Foxy obviously played great last week and that’s encouraging this week. Why not take out the number one player in the world? Heck, it would be nice.” Seeing that. Lydia played really well all year too. So that would be a great scenario, if that happens.”
Alkire reflects on his own year, scoring 18 top 10s and winning four times including a major championship on the larger PGA.
“I did really well this year, I always think very good. I pushed the ball really well; I think I was first on the greens and organisation. So there are some really good things there. But just little little things. My scrambling was good.
“I think as long as I keep that up and make some small improvements, nothing has to be so drastic. If I can keep the length, if they can pick up a few extra yards, it will help in some of the courses. But I think fitness Physicality was important to me, and for me, that’s just keeping fit and strong and getting ready for the start of next year. That’s going to be huge.”
The first 24 hours after lifting the Charles Schwab Cup was a whirlwind for Ulker, who spent a good hour and a half on the course dealing with media obligations before celebrating with some players and Sam Workman’s caddy.
“He was amazing and has stuck with me for the past three years through all of this,” Alker said of Workman. “After that, we went home and got together with 50 or 60 family and friends and it was all just a sense of relief. But it wasn’t too late. I’m 51 now.”
Alker will not play again this year and is looking forward to returning to New Zealand for the first time in four years in March for the New Zealand Open at Millbrook, where he will be one of the billionaire stars.
“I’m very much looking forward to catching up with so many friends and family, just to play against them [them] And go back and play in New Zealand. I like to play at home and Millbrook. I was the touring professional for Millbrook for a few years and spent a lot of time there [former Millbrook director of golf] John Griffin and played with Sir Bob Charles there, so it’s a happy hunting ground.”
Alker admits that playing on tour next year will be different as the overall champ, but it’s something he enjoys. His victory in the Senior PGA Championship also earned him a start in the 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May.
“It definitely opened some doors in terms of certain tournaments for a long period of time. There are events that I will be in for 10 years regardless of my status.”