Hamilton professional Steve Alker was only visiting the United Kingdom because he had to the leave the States and was attending a family wedding. The next thing he knew he had booked his place to be the only Kiwi golfer for the 140thOpen Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Alker, who is plying his trade on the web.com Tour (formerly Nationwide Tour), shot rounds of 69 and 68 at West Lancashire to win the Local Qualifying Event by two shots and secure his place in his third major championship of his career.
It was a lucky break that he was even teeing it up in the event looking to gain a berth in the oldest championship in golf.
“We had to leave the country to sort out our visas and we were here [in the UK] for my wife’s father who was getting married again so we were killing two birds with one stone,” said the 40-year-old.
“It worked out well date wise and obviously with the chance to play The Open I will stay on now. I’ll miss a tournament on the Nationwide Tour but that is not really a problem.”
Alker, who is currently 63rdon the money list, has played in the Open Championship in 1998 and 2007 where he missed the cut on both occasions. He said it was a mixture of emotions when he qualified again.
“Well I was obviously feeling relief and its very pleasing. I went there with the goal of trying to qualify and there were only three spots and it all went well, went to plan and I am very excited for a couple of weeks’ time.”
The 2009 NZ PGA Champion has had a mixed season on the web.com Tour in 2012 where his highest finish is a tie for fourth at the Chile Classic but he feels he has turned a corner recently in his game.
“It has been coming around. I worked with my coach a couple of weeks working on a few things and that have really helped to be honest. Obviously I putted nicely and stayed in the groove all day. Playing 36 holes in a day is tough scoring wise. You don’t really know what is going on, I just tried to knuckle down and play my game and make some birdies.”
His seven under par total included 11 birdies and four bogeys to secure a place in the field at Lytham, 49 years after Bob Charles became the first New Zealander and first left-handed to win a major championship. The significance of that is not lost on Alker.
“It’s funny my wife was looking at a programme the other day and she noted that Bob that won there in ’63 so that is kind of neat. You never know. I am just going to play the game and you never know what can happen.
“I enjoy links golf. Conditions wise it can be horrible sometime. I enjoy that type of golf. Keeping the ball on the ground a bit more in windy conditions is fun. I haven’t seen Lytham before so I am interested to see what it’s like.”
Playing in a major championship is always a special honour. Alker plans to travel to the southern coast of the UK to get out of the habits of American golf and ready for the demands of playing a world-famous links at the Open.
“It is always good to know that people will be watching back home your friends and family and the media watching how you go. I am looking forward to it. A major championship is always a good challenge and experience for me. I am looking forward to getting my golf in good shape and hopefully get in and have a good finish.
“My following back home and the response from friends and family and the media has been great. I am looking forward to the tournament and hopefully I’ll do New Zealand proud. “
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