June 18, 2014

Air Capital Classic: Steven Alker has an overtime story to tell

Steven Alker didn’t swing his golf clubs for four days prior to Wednesday’s pro-am event at the Air Capital Classic.

Steven Alker didn’t swing his golf clubs for four days prior to Wednesday’s pro-am event at the Air Capital Classic.

As a winner of the Tour’s previous event, that might defy logic. But the 42-year-old from New Zealand had good reason.

Alker outlasted South African Dawie van de Walt in an 11-hole, sudden-death playoff at the Cleveland Open for his fourth victory. The playoff’s length set a tour record and matched the longest in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.

The two-hour playoff came on the heels of a 1-hour, 19-minute rain delay at Lakewood Country Club. By the time Alker sank a three-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole – the sixth time he and van de Walt played the hole that day – and collected his $108,000 winner’s check, he had missed a flight, needed a hotel room and waited an extra day to depart for the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C.

“To be honest, it’s maybe just sinking in now,” said Alker, who missed the U.S. Open cut with two rounds of 76 prior to his arrival at Crestview Country Club. “For the U.S. Open, it was kind of rush-rush getting down there and trying to prepare.

“This week it’s a little more relaxed.”

Alker will start the tour’s 12th event of the season in 12th place on the tour’s money list. To get there, he had to overcome a bogey-bogey finish that left him tied with van de Walt at 14 under, and a 10-hole exchange of pars in the playoff.

“We just kind of got dizzy in the end,” Alker said. “I lost track of how many holes we played.”

Alker and van de Walt filled the Golf Channel’s programming window – and spilled over – with a series of missed opportunities. Alker eventually hit his approach close on the 11th and made the short putt for his first victory since the Utah Championship last July.

“I had my chance early on, then Dawie nearly chipped in a couple times,” Alker said. “He had some great shots. I was kind of in the moment just doing my thing and I’m sure Dawie was, as well.”

There was little time to savor victory for Alker, who had taken a red-eye flight to Cleveland earlier that week after advancing through a 36-hole sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open. It was the second consecutive year Alker earned a U.S. Open spot and his third straight year in a major championship.

The 2013 U.S. Open provided a springboard for Alker, who started that year without full status on the Tour. He tied for 45th at Merion and, one month later, shot a third-round 61 at the Utah Championship en route to a playoff victory over Australian Ashley Hall.

Alker ascended up the money list, but the late start to his tour season did him no favors. He finished in the 26th spot heading into the Tour finals, one spot from collecting his first PGA Tour card since 2003.

“I still looked at it in the offseason with a lot of positives,” Alker said. “I played in a U.S. Open, I had a win and got back my status. There was a lot of positive stuff, so the offseason wasn’t as bad as it could have felt.”

After his latest victory, Alker will have half a tour season to try to stay in position for a PGA Tour promotion. A putting adjustment at Cleveland served him well, and continued to do so even though he missed the cut at Pinehurst.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, keep trying to putt well and hopefully get another win under my belt,” Alker said. “That’s what we’re out here for, and if you can do that, it’ll give you a bump.”

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