THE LAD FROM HAMIL­TON

Steven Alker would be what many de­scribe as the def­i­ni­tion of a "jour­ney­man tour pro­fes­sional", hav­ing won from Fiji to Prince Ed­ward Is­land in Canada, to qual­i­fy­ing for the Bri­tish Open. How­ever, he still has great mem­o­ries of playing golf with the boys

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

We talk to Steve Alker who has been on tour for over 20 years and is still lov­ing it.

When I caught up with Steve, he had just ar­rived in Wi­chita, Kansas and was get­ting ready to tee it up at the Wi­chita Open. Only five weeks away from his 47th birth­day, he is one of the older play­ers in the field but he still rel­ishes com­pet­ing against the young guns that bomb it down the fair­ways and are fear­less around the greens. Steve will play me­thod­i­cally down the mid­dle and not make too many mis­takes. He has a strong and steady game that has taken him around the world since turn­ing Pro in 1995 and win­ning very early on at the Fiji Open.

Steve re­calls hav­ing fond mem­o­ries of his first win at the 1995 Fiji Open. Not all were fond mem­o­ries, some are bet­ter de­scribed as un­for­get­table, as he had a very dodgy stom­ach be­fore tee­ing off. He al­most didn't play, but af­ter mul­ti­ple vis­its to the toi­let on the front nine he re­ceived some lo­cal as­sis­tance. "A lo­cal guy saw the dis­tress I was in and gave me some plant to chew on while I played the back nine. It bloody worked and I was able to go on and beat Grant Moorhead in a play­off!" Steve re­calls.

Learn­ing to play the game at St An­drew's Golf Club in Hamil­ton in the mid-80's, Steve quickly made the ju­nior teams where he be­came good mates and strong com­peti­tors with Phil Tatau­rangi, David Smail and Michael Long. He quickly rat­tles off many other great play­ers that he com­peted with and against at tour­na­ments all around the North Is­land. "When you looked up to golfers like Colin Tay­lor, John Gat­ley and Alan Smith, we got a great ed­u­ca­tion on and off the golf course. There are many great sto­ries from those days but none I want to share in print!"

It was dur­ing this pe­riod that Steve hooked up with coach John Grif­fin, who was liv­ing in Hamil­ton at the time and has been his golf coach ever since. "John re­ally gave me a golf swing that is very ef­fi­cient and has en­sured I have stayed com­pet­i­tive. It re­ally is based around the ba­sics. My old mate from the Waikato, and one time fel­low tour­ing Pro on the Cana­dian Tour, Paul Par­lane, who now lives in Los An­ge­les, also helps me with my game. Since he worked for John for many years the three of us are very much in-sync. As John is rarely in the US, it is great to have Paul rel­a­tively nearby and oc­ca­sion­ally on the road with me to en­sure I am on-track. Paul re­ally knows the data of the golf swing, so where John is very much vis­ual and fo­cuses on the ba­sics, Paul is more about the num­bers and he can quickly iden­tify where I am get­ting off-track. This has been a great for­mula for the last 12 years. It was great to be home ear­lier this year for the NZ Open and have John tell me it was the best he had seen me swing the club in many years".

Steve was for­tu­nate to wear the New Zealand blazer at the 1990 and 1994 Eisen­hower Tour­na­ments. Playing in the 1990 event in Christchurch was magic es­pe­cially as he fin­ished tied sec­ond with a very strong Amer­i­can team that fea­tured David Du­val and Phil Mick­el­son. The team from Swe­den won and played some out­stand­ing golf. It re­ally was a golden era of NZ am­a­teur golf with Stephen Sc­ahill, Michael Camp­bell, Moorhead and Phil Tatau­rangi be­ing great com­peti­tors and win­ning the 1992 Eisen­hower Tour­na­ment.

Steve and his English wife Tanya met when she and a friend were trav­el­ing through NZ. Through a mu­tual friend they were told to look-up John Grif­fin. "I was in Queen­stown work­ing on my game with John get­ting ready to go to Canada; the rest, as they say, is his­tory. Tanya came and cad­died for me in Canada. That was the true test of our re­la­tion­ship!! She sur­vived that and then she con­tin­ued to caddy for me on the Aus­tralasian tour and a few Web. com events. She also cad­died for me in two US Opens and a Bri­tish Open. So the stand­ing joke at home is that I need to qual­ify for a ma­jor for her to pick up the bag and caddy for me again!" →

A lo­cal guy saw the dis­tress I was in and gave me some plant to chew on while I played the back nine. It bloody worked and I was able to go on and beat Grant Moorhead in a play­off!" Steve re­calls.

Steve and Tanya have lived in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona off and on since 2003 while he has played on var­i­ous tours. But in 2010, they set­tled there as they had two chil­dren to en­rol in schools. "Our son Ben is about to turn 14 and our daugh­ter Skye will be 12 in July. They are not par­tic­u­larly sporty but per­form­ing youth theatre is their thing right now. They have good voices which they cer­tainly didn't get from my side of the fam­ily"!

"Scotts­dale is a great golf area and I have great fa­cil­i­ties in which to play and prac­tice at the TPC Scotts­dale; in the sum­mer when it hits over 110F. for about 3-months, it is nice to leave and head out on tour or have a fam­ily hol­i­day". For the rest of the time, es­pe­cially over win­ter, Steve en­joys prac­tic­ing and playing with many of the other PGA Tour play­ers that also call Scotts­dale home.

"Cur­rently I am trav­el­ling be­tween 22 and 32 weeks a year and this has been my life for the last 20 years. Be­ing away from home is tough but over the sum­mer school hol­i­day break, my fam­ily joins me for a few weeks. The Web.com tour is quite dif­fer­ent from the PGA Tour and it's not just the amount of money we are playing for! We play in smaller cities and some beau­ti­ful ar­eas. The event in Utah is in a re­sort area, very sim­i­lar to Queen­stown, so I feel re­ally com­fort­able there. The cour­ses are ob­vi­ously not as well man­i­cured and gen­er­ally have less rough and are a lit­tle more open than on the main tour. I pre­fer the more tra­di­tional tree lined cour­ses and we have a few of these com­ing up; I am look­ing for­ward to playing over the next cou­ple of months and hope­fully, to re­gain my card for the PGA Tour".

Steve has been for­tu­nate to have had no se­ri­ous in­juries to date. "Af­ter hav­ing knee surgery in 1999, I have re­ally made an ef­fort to stay 'golf fit' which I be­lieve has helped pre­vent me from fur­ther in­jury. I have a daily 40-minute rou­tine that in­volves a lot of stretch­ing and golf-re­lated Pi­lates ex­er­cises that keep me rel­a­tively flex­i­ble, en­sur­ing that I have very good mo­bil­ity. I've never been a run­ner, so I gen­er­ally hop on the ex­er­cise cy­cle for my car­dio work­outs. But the older I get, the more I have fo­cused on my work­outs and I guess my swing re­flects this. I now feel stronger in my body and I feel that my golf swing is more ef­fi­cient. My ball strik­ing is much im­proved and I'm hit­ting the baller fur­ther to­day than at any other time of my ca­reer: I am now av­er­ag­ing 290-yards off the tee. Yes, the ball and club are dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from those that I played in am­a­teur golf but I do be­lieve this taught me the skills of be­ing a shot-maker and to trust my short game".

Steve is also very ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity to play on the Se­nior Tour. "See­ing my old Cana­dian and Aus­tralian Tour mate, David McKen­zie cash some re­ally nice cheques when he turned 50, has given me that ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion". But in the mean­time, just sur­viv­ing and keep­ing his card on the Web. com tour is the main goal but he would like to get back onto the PGA Tour next year. "The play­ers are re-ranked on the Web.com tour ev­ery four weeks, so en­sur­ing you have a good rank­ing is im­por­tant to help you keep your sta­tus. There are some tour­na­ments I would like to re­ally like to qual­ify for, like one of the play-off events in Boise, Idaho, where I lost a play-off in 2014".

"It was great to win the Cana­dian Tour Or­der of Merit in 2000, hav­ing Tanya cad­dy­ing for me made that pretty spe­cial, and hav­ing won three times on the Web.com tour is some­thing I am re­ally proud of. The 2002 Louisiana Open, 2013 Utah Cham­pi­onship with a ca­reer best 61 in the 3rd round and the 2014 Cleve­land Open. All three of these wins came by “play-off” and I ac­tu­ally hold the Web.com record for the tour's long­est ever play-off when I de­feated Dawie van der Walt on the 11th hole! I ended up fin­ish­ing 20th in the Web.com rank­ings that year, to earn my card back on to the main tour".

Playing in the ma­jors is some­thing that Steve has al­ways enjoyed but re­ally hasn't done as often as he would have liked. "I qual­i­fied for the Bri­tish Open in 1998, 2007, and 2016 but missed the cut. In 2012, I had a great time playing the dif­fi­cult Royal Lytham St Anne's course and fin­ished tied for 19th place". This was same Open where Ernie Els de­feated Adam Scott. He has qual­i­fied for both the 2013 and 2014 US Opens for ties in 45th place and un­for­tu­nately missed the cuts.

For a young lad from Hamil­ton who worked as a petroleum en­gi­neer "Okay, I was work­ing at a petrol sta­tion and as a car­pet cleaner, I am pretty happy with my ca­reer in golf. Yes, I would very much like to win the NZ Open and have a vic­tory on the PGA Tour, but I am re­ally proud to have won the 2009 NZPGA Cham­pi­onship at Clear­wa­ter when it was part of the Web.com tour. To de­feat my old St Andrews Golf Club mate, David Smail, as well as Josh Geary, was a very spe­cial day for me. But right now, it is all about the next golf course, the next tour­na­ment, the next city and mak­ing the next cheque, so that I can con­tinue my dream". I now have less than 750 days un­til I join the PGA Se­nior Tour, so bring it on!

Steven Alker plays his shot dur­ing the Bar­ba­sol Cham­pi­onship at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand Na­tional on July 22, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.

↑Steven Alker with the 2009 NZPGA Cham­pi­onship tro­phy at Clear­wa­ter Golf Club.

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