PHOENIX. Steve Alker has never known a life like this.

At 51, he is a golf star, never before written a word about him after decades of anonymous labor on the fringes of golf.

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And here he is in front of the camera with a microphone over his head and the Phoenix Country Club outside the window behind him answering questions about how to get out of the shadow of golf and be on the cusp of the Charles Schwab Cup championship.

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In just one year, Alker earned and lost his PGA Tour card three times – the first time in 2003 when he was 32. He played the Korn Ferry Tour, across Europe, Asia and Australia, putting out yard after yard, hoping his game would eventually find its form.

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Now it’s happening in the most unconventional way. This season, he has won four times in 22 starts, and his total wins are 304 Korn Ferry starts over 20 years on the minor league tour.

Alker has endured a rollercoaster ride of the last 19 years in search of his golf game. He found it in the most unexpected places: in his 50s. While most players are starting to slow down, Alker is picking up speed, which led to the weekend. He’s top of the Charles Schwab Cup standings and the PGA Tour money list, and will take on Padraig Harrington, the only 33-man golfer who can beat Alker for the trophy this weekend.

Alker will be the overall winner until second place Harrington wins this weekend. If Harrington finishes first, how Alker finishes will determine who takes home the trophy.

“If someone is great at golf and kicks my ass and beats me in the Schwab Cup, I mean damn well done,” Alker said. “I love watching the guys play great golf…

“I will do my best to win this case, give them my best shot and try to play my best golf… If anyone is better, hey, well done for them, man. another shot next year”

The last 15 months have been an unexpected whirlwind.

Alker has finally found a consistency in his game that wasn’t there during his heyday. This season, he has made all 22 cuts, has four wins, finished in second place four times, finished third three times and just five times out of the top 10.

“So consistent? No, probably not,” said Alker from New Zealand, assessing his current game. “… I guess it’s just, maybe it surprised me a little, just the consistency, because that’s what I’ve been struggling with for a long time. And that’s what I’m most happy with, just the consistency that I’ve had for this period of time.

“It was fantastic”.

And he was one qualifier on Monday because none of that ever happened.

After losing his PGA Tour card for the third time after the 2016–17 season, Alker returned to the Korn Ferry Tour. When the COVID-19 pandemic put the 2020 season on hold, he missed two previous cuts, and his best record as a youngster was 23rd. He didn’t play much better when the season resumed in June of that year and Alker was convinced he would have lost his card in a normal year, but the Korn Ferry Tour extended its 2020 season to 2021 and Alker kept his status through this. However, it didn’t matter. He continued to fight.

But by the time the season ended in mid-August last year, Alker was playing better than he had in the past two years. At the urging of his 19-year-old wife Tanya, he was going to try his hand at the PGA Tour Champions.

Three days after he missed out on his final Korn Ferry Tour event, Alker entered Monday’s qualifier for his first PGA Tour Champions event, the Boeing Classic. He entered the field and finished seventh. A week later, he placed third in the Ally Challenge and then tied for ninth place at the Ascension Charity Classic.

It didn’t stop.

Alker played 10 tournaments in 13 weeks and only missed the top nine once. He ended up winning the TimberTech Championship and then placed second in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

“It was crazy,” Alker said. “I played a full schedule at Korn Ferry and then at the end of the year I went to this 10-tournament streak and by the end of the year I was exhausted.

“People have asked me, ‘What is your secret sauce? What turned everything upside down? What’s the matter?” And really no… there is no secret sauce. I can’t pinpoint one thing for sure… It’s just a few things that came together and put me in line.”

He started the 2022 season at the same frenetic pace. He placed second in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on his season debut at the end of January. The success hasn’t stopped.

“It’s a series of emotions,” Alker said. “I didn’t play well for a couple of weeks, but I immediately came back and played well the next week. So it’s interesting.

“All those emotions came together and made this a really fun year.”

Everything changed for Alker the moment he decided to leave his life chasing cuts on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours.

His thinking. His attention. His goals. His approach. All of them were new. All the requirements of professional golf, from trying to earn enough money to provide for one’s family to reaching par, have been dropped.

“I’ll be perfectly honest here: It was a bit refreshing, almost to the point where it was like hell maybe I shouldn’t say the importance of being on tours like the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry is gone. , but it was just a change of direction, a change of environment. This is what I’ve been looking forward to the most.”

He spent the previous two years trying to make the necessary adjustments to his game. Some of it was tangible, like the small changes to his equipment, the work done on his punching, and the new focus on his health.

About 18 months before joining the PGA Tour Champions, Alker realized that his body was not in the best shape. He saw trainer Tyson Marostica find that Alker couldn’t rotate his right shoulder outward or left hip inward. Marostica developed a training plan for Alker to correct these two problems, as well as strengthen the stability of Alker’s shoulder blades. As a result, according to Marostika, there have been “huge changes”, especially in regards to the stability and functionality of Alker.

“I see it mostly with round-to-round consistency,” Marostica said.

“He walks away from the first round, we don’t have fatigue, we don’t see changes in the backswing, we don’t see problems with fatigue later in the rounds, and it’s pretty impressive when you see him. He’s just stable, he’s consistent.”

However, the most important changes Alker made were intangible. Alker said goodbye to long days at the range and on the golf course. If he is at home in Fountain Hills, Arizona with his wife and two kids during the week between tournaments, he spends time with his family during the week and then spends the weekend building up his strength.

“You learn from the experience and I think that’s why I’m playing so well now that I’ve learned that I don’t have to spend hours on the range,” Alker said. “I don’t have to train every day.

“It just won’t work for me right now. I better get some rest and be with my family.”

As any golfer knows, the momentum to correct and tune up can be overwhelming. He can eat for hours. This can paralyze the golfer’s game. It can be overwhelming.

Now imagine that you are doing this by getting paid to play golf.

“Then you go down different paths to try to improve, make changes, make big changes, and sometimes they can hurt you,” Alker said.

“Week after week, I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t [compete]. And then after I lost my business card, it kind of started up again, just trying to get back on tour. It was just really hard, hard grinding.”

In the midst of a ten-year absence from the PGA Tour, Alker changed his mind about his career. His family was young. They were at school. He was the father.

Golf was no longer so important. Life unfolded in front of him, and this led to changes both for himself and for his game and his family.

For the first time he saw what it was like to play without the burden of work.

When he started playing weekends on the Champions Tour late last year, Alker couldn’t help but look up to the stars. There was Ernie Els. There was Freddie Parse. Miguel Angel Jimenez. Then he was next to them at the training ground. He played next to them in the final pair.

“You can see it means a lot to him,” said David Thoms. “You know what he does means a lot to his family.

“[He’s] someone who really paid their dues along the way.”

Alker says he’s still the same guy he was when he got lost playing golf a few years ago. He hasn’t splurged on any major purchases despite the $4.48 million he made from the PGA Tour Champions being more than five times the amount he made from all of his PGA Tour events and three times more than he earned on the Korn Ferry Tour.

It took Alker some time, longer than most in his position, to do so, but he’s here.

“It’s a completely different atmosphere,” he said. “This is a second wind for me. It’s a second chance, maybe a third chance, maybe a fourth chance. I don’t know how many chances I had right now. just feel that there is an opportunity to do great things.”