BOCA RATON — All Steven Alker needed was to see was that “Big Stop Sign.”
That was when everything else became a Go, including his first professional win in more than seven years.
Alker had just rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 15 on the Old Course at Broken Sound Sunday to take a one shot lead over Jim Furyk in the TimberTech Championship. He then walked to the side of the green, closed his eyes and started talking … to no one but himself.
“Just trying to stay in the moment … see that big stop sign and get all the thoughts out of my head,” he said after shooting a 68 to cap a 17-under 199 for his first Tour Champions title. “I still had three holes to go. I was only one ahead of Jim. Sometimes you just got to do that. It’s been awhile. I hadn’t won for seven years.
“I just like to see a big stop sign. Stop all your thoughts.”
Seven years or 2,907 days. But who’s counting?
Alker, the New Zealand native who moved to Arizona in 2002, has seen a lot of stop signs in his career. A golf lifer, if there was a tour he found it. From the PGA Tour of Australasia (yes, there is such a thing) to the Korn Ferry Tour to the Canadian Tour to 86 starts on the PGA Tour in which he missed 47 cuts.
Then came his 50th birthday on July 28 and another whole new world (tour?) opened up.
So Alker did something he is very familiar with; he attempted to qualify for the tour. He did, and about three weeks after hitting half a hundred he was teeing it up for the first time in the 50 and older circuit. That ended with a T7 at the Boeing Classic, which meant he automatically qualified for the next tournament.
That ended with a third-place finish and a spot in the next event. Then a T9 and a spot in the next event. And then a T7 and … you get the gist.
Alker literally was playing week to week, needing to finish in the top 10 to qualify for the next event. He did that six consecutive weeks until falling off to a T15 at the SAS Championship.
But by then, he had enough points to advance to the Charles Schwab Cup, which started the next week. Now, after the first two events in the Charles Schwab Cup, he has risen to No 22 in the standings with the championship coming up next weekend in Phoenix.
“We never changed a thing,” said Sam Workman, Alker’s caddy for the last three years. “We had a game plan and we stuck to it.”
Yeah, keep making pars and birdies, or it’s back to the Korn Ferry Tour.
“I never would think about it,” Alker said. “I’ve just been really focusing on playing my game … work on the areas that aren’t so good and just try to improve.”
That area this week: “I think I putted better than I have the previous month or two.”
Alker played in the final grouping Sunday and entered the third and final round tied with Furyk one shot behind Tim Petrovic. He overtook Petrovic with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 9. He never relinquished the lead although Furyk caught him for three holes until that clutch putt on No. 15.
And while Alker will always remember that long putt, Furyk will look back on No. 16 when he missed an 8-foot birdie putt that would have pulled him back into a tie with Alker and put the pressure on the “rookie” for the final two holes.
“Steven made that big putt at 15 and I couldn’t top him on 16 and he then played really solid,” Furyk said.
Alker remained calm and even gained a stroke on Furyk with a birdie on No. 18 as Furyk desperately attempted to make up that stroke. That gave him a two-stroke victory over Furyk and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Now, the man from Down Under who lives in the Grand Canyon State has a new favorite place.
Winning the TimberTech changes everything for Alker’s second act in his professional career. He now has full exempt status for the Tour Champions 2022 season. No more going week-to-week wondering if he would be forced to play in a Monday qualifier.
“This now is one of my favorite places in America,” he said of Boca Raton. “And this now is my favorite golf course in the world.”