WOODLANDS, Texas — Just past Dairy Queen near Houston last month, Stephen Alker’s new status was highly praised. His name and face were posted on streetlight banners.
Professional golfer Stephen Alker, who won almost nothing until his 50th birthday, has won eight majors, including Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke and John Daley. I was at the venue withalker is still played So many majors.
But on Thursday, he’ll step into the PGA Championship tee box as the man who went from almost no in-first to a toast to the PGA Tour champions known as the Senior Circuit. He’s not a gambling favorite, mainly in a field dominated by men in his 20s and 30s. He knows a win would make Alker, 51, the oldest major champion in history, but he may not even qualify and finish the tournament.
But Alker has challenged watches that often cause pain for professional athletes. For Alkar, his age and perseverance have proven to be an ally. Because it’s only in recent years that he’s unlocked the consistency he’s been missing after decades of relegation and relegation and meager pay in professional sports.
Arker played 304 games and won four tournaments on the PGA Tour’s development circuit, which he first played during the Clinton administration. He turned 50 on July 28, 2021, entered the Senior Tour, and has since put his career’s worth of hard work and knowledge into six wins, including one at last year’s Senior PGA Championship. rice field.
“You can say, ‘Why didn’t he do this sooner?'” says three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin.
“There are some things God keeps secret, and this is one of them,” said Irwin, who tied for the all-time 45 wins on the Senior Tour. “All I know is that he’s probably been the standout player here in the last few years.”
In his most recent full season on the Senior Tour, Arucar competed in all 23 events he entered. Four wins and his four runner-up finishes have earned him over $3.5 million in prize money. During his years on the PGA Tour and its development circuit, he made about $2.3 million in 390 starts.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played consistently good golf in the last two years,” Alker said in the weight room at Woodlands Country Club. “It’s a second chance, a second career, but those come very rarely.”
Perseverance, he said, should probably be more appreciated than stubbornness. His status as one of the youngest players in the senior field has helped, but his mindful approach, combined with a refined short game and outstanding wedge play, is what Irwin calls “a temperament” on the circuit. Also proven to be particularly well suited for travel. “
“I think this tour is more about precision, knowing where the ball is going, scoring and just getting the job done,” Alker said. Thanks to his financial interests and the aging of his children, his mind became clearer and clearer.
A few days later, he defended his title at the Insperity Invitational in patchwork fashion. Last year and this year, he defeated former USA captain Steve Stricker by four strokes in the Ryder Cup.
Reinventing and renewing the sport on the U.S. senior circuit is nothing new. Much of Bernhard Langer’s pre-50 success was in Europe, but at 65, the 65-year-old is one step away from catching Erwin’s record. And Gil Morgan has won 25 titles on the senior tour despite never winning a major.
But Langer has topped the Masters Tournament leaderboard twice, and Morgan has eight major top 10 finishes, including two third-place finishes at the PGA Championship. Alka? He has never played in the Masters or the PGA Championship, but has tied for 19th at the British Open.
His appearance on the Senior Tour did nothing to sway the circuit’s elite. “He’d heard his name all over the place, but it wasn’t like Ernie Els was coming to tour,” Langer said.
Then he watched Arker play.
“He looks like he has it all, so he should be winning tournaments here and there,” Langer said. “He’s got a beautiful golf swing. I really enjoy watching his golf swing. And he hits the ball long and straight. Like, it’s clearly getting better with age.”
As a boy in New Zealand, Alcar was into football, tennis and cricket. He lamented that he was not yet big and that he hadn’t done much in rugby. But Alker’s father was a golfer, and his son started playing golf seriously when he was 10 years old.
“I just got into the little things, the discipline that was required,” he said. “He didn’t just have to be good at one thing. He had to be good at everything.”
In his mid-teens, he recalled, he began questioning whether he could make it as a professional. Although he wasn’t in the physique for a ball-basher, he had an exemplary short game and appeared to be mentally superior to the rest throughout the round.
This was followed by a dizzying tour of various circuits on the PGA TOUR, the European Tour, the Asian Tour, the Canadian Tour, which provided valuable experience in changing conditions, and an outstanding tour in Australia. He had only sporadic success, losing his three PGA Tour cards and slipping back into the minor leagues of American golf’s version of baseball. He claims he never considered quitting, and some in his family wondered if he should quit, but instead celebrated his 50th birthday and played long-term. He says he has come to anticipate tours he wasn’t sure he was eligible for.
He quickly came to exemplify that, in Langer’s words, golf is “a fine line between good and bad, or very good and just right.”
A whirlwind of excellence didn’t faze Arkar. Now he’s staying in a nicer hotel. On occasion, he reluctantly confessed that he was going to fly first class. But he still lives in a house his family bought for less than half of what Tiger Woods made when he was 19.
“I’ve dealt with it pretty well,” Alker said of the attention, “because I haven’t had much experience with it.”
Oak Hill Country Club, home of the PGA Championship, will be a formidable test. He comes out with minimal expectations. “Let’s just keep playing what we’ve been doing and do the job well done and see how long it lasts and see what happens.”
Irwin, who has played majors at Oak Hill before, suggested the course could play to Alker’s strengths.
“He has the length to handle most long hauls,” Irwin said. “Can he go to par 5 twice?” But at Oak Hill you have to keep the ball on the fairway — just keep the ball in play without hitting the trees — and he does it very well. ”
The cuts are scheduled to take place on Friday and the tournament is scheduled to end on Sunday. Next week, Alker will once again challenge for the Senior PGA Championship.
“I’m really happy to be here, to have this opportunity at 51, to play for this amount of money and to play with these players in this environment,” said Arker.
“One of the great things about being here is getting to know some of the Hall of Famers and major champions that I didn’t get to know very often,” he added.
Of course they know him now. If not, you can spot him on a streetlight.