Column: Steven Alker takes advantage of golf’s greatest mulligan | Radio WGN 720

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Steven Alker knows all about lean times.

He started at his home in New Zealand in 1989 and over the next three decades played 556 times on six tours which received world ranking points. Only three seasons have been spent on the PGA Tour. He spent two full years in Europe.

His most financially rewarding year was in 2014 when he won $261,901 on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. Alker has been around so long that he’s played the development circuit under five names, starting with the Nike Tour.

His most consistent golf? It would have been on the Canadian Tour in 2000 when he finished in the top 12 in seven of eight tournaments.

Alker won the Louisiana Open in 2002 (it was the Buy.com Tour at the time) and reached a career-high No. 191 in the world rankings.

“A lot of slogging and hard work for a long time,” Alker said Monday night from his home in Arizona as he tried to soak up an incredible streak of success that was long in coming.

“I just tried to stay in the game.”

And now the 50-year-old Kiwi is at the pinnacle of PGA Tour champions.

His latest achievement was to come back from a two-hour rain delay in Houston and birdie four times and an eagle on a six-hole streak on the back nine that left Steve Stricker too far behind to catch him in the Insperity Invitational.

Stricker nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback, having not played in six months due to a mysterious illness that hospitalized him and caused him to lose 25 pounds.

For Alker, it feels more like a fresh start.

Houston was his second win this year — he also has two playoff losses — and he took the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. Add to that the end of last year and Alker has three wins and three second-place finishes in his last nine tournaments.

If the PGA Tour Champions is the biggest mulligan in golf, no one takes more money than Alker.

“I’m enjoying my second career,” he laughs.

In just 17 starts since he turned 50 last summer, Alker has earned $2,202,168. Now consider that he earned $2,318,866 in his 390 starts combined on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour.

Life was hard. And now, life is very beautiful.

Alker still has no answers to this brutal turnaround, except that he’s never had so much fun and he’s never lost his love for the game.

“It’s a combination of everything,” he said. “All the change of mood, a different tour, a new chapter in my career. My game came at the right time.

Timing, indeed, was everything.

Alker did well enough on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 – he finished narrowly in the top 75 – to retain his full status the following year, which turned into a two-year season as no one lost his status during the four-month shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

This allowed him to keep playing – to stay in the game – until he was 50.

“It was very important. I could plan a schedule and keep playing,” he said. “I started working hard on the body, getting into golf shape. My plan was to do some qualifying on Monday and then do the champions tour school (qualifying). And the rest is Of the history.”

He qualified Monday for his Champions debut in the Boeing Classic last August, shot 67 times on the final day and finished tied for seventh. The top 10 got him in the following week and he finished third. Four more top 10s followed, and Alker played his way into the playoffs and eventually won to earn a full card.

And he really didn’t stop.

The past three decades are now fading from memory. If there was a moment of nervousness, it was deciding to return to the United States after two years in Europe. A year after winning the PGA of New Zealand – co-sanctioned by the Buy.com Tour – Alker missed the cut in all 21 tournaments he entered in 2010. It took four more years to get his PGA card Round.

“It was four years of, ‘Was that a good decision? I just tried to hang on,” he said.

And now, finally, everything is paying off.

So much is still fresh in this second career. Because he’s only played 86 times on the PGA Tour, and with low status, Alker has never played with some of the game’s greats. Last month, he played alongside Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Striker.

“I was a little nervous,” he said with a laugh, forgetting for a moment that he was beating them.

Barring a shot in the water in the playoffs two weeks ago in Dallas, Alker could very easily be sitting on three straight wins. He takes off this week as his son prepares for high school graduation. Next week is his first senior major in Alabama.

Ahead of him are pastures that have never looked greener.

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