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Steven Alker continues amazing PGA Tour Champions run, wins 2022 Charles Schwab Cup

To think it all started at a Monday qualifier 15 months ago.

Thirty-two events and $4,710,612 later, Steven Alker has reached new heights. On Sunday, he clinched his first PGA Tour Champions series title at Phoenix Country Club, punctuating his win with a big smile and a fist pump on the 18th green.

Alker shot a final-round 68 to finish solo third, which was a whopping eight shots back of tournament winner Padraig Harrington, but still good enough to clinch the series title for the first time. With a Harrington win, any finish inside the top five would have been good enough for Alker.

“Amazing. Honestly, just having friends and family and the support here this week has been amazing,” said Alker, who has lived in Arizona since 2002. “Playing with Padraig today, it was kind of difficult because ‘Do I chase him, do I protect?’ … I just tried to play my game as good as I could, but he played amazing and just glad to be champion.”

This moment is the culmination of a rapid-fire success rate for Alker since joining the senior circuit.

In 2021, 18 days after he turned 50 which made him eligible for the PGA Tour Champions, Alker flew to Seattle looking for an outside shot at getting into the Boeing Classic. He got in thanks a strong Monday qualifier score, a rout he had to take because he had no status on the tour.

He hasn’t played in a PGA Tour event since 2017 and he spent the majority of his pro career slogging through Korn Ferry Tour events. According to Harrington, Alker grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour into his late 40s is what most likely set the table for his amazing run now.

“The fact is he was always a nice player,” Harrington said Wednesday before the championship got started. “He’s probably as physically fit now as he was 20 years ago, so he hasn’t gone backwards. The players who tend to do nicely out here are the ones who are still trying to be competitive from 45 years of age to 50 years of age. Those are the ones. You can’t give the game up for five years or eight years or 10 years and hope to come out here and find it again, you know, unless you were a world-class player. You’ve got to keep being competitive and he did that. That’s why you’re seeing his good play now. He was still on the Korn Ferry Tour when he was 49 years of age. There’s not a lot of guys at 49 who could do that.”

Rounds of 67-73-67 in his first Champions event netted him a tie for seventh in the 2021 Boeing Classic, and that would be it for his Monday qualifying days as that top-10 finish earned him a spot in the field the next week at the Ally Challenge, where he finished solo third. From there, he kept getting into more Champions events because he kept stacking up top-10s.

In fact, he posted six straight top-10s and earned a spot in the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs. In the second of the two playoff events last year, Alker found victory lane at the TimberTech Championship. A second-place finish at Phoenix Country Club the following week capped a whirlwind stretch and put $1,146,207 into his bank account.

The calendar change to 2022 didn’t slow him down. Alker won three times before June 1 and then won for a series-tying fourth time to open the Schwab playoffs.

By the time they got to Phoenix, Alker had a commanding lead in the points race. Even Harrington’s blistering weekend scores of 62 and 65 had no bearing on the steady Alker. He didn’t make a bogey until the 12th hole Sunday. He had another one on 13 but then birdied the 14th. A birdie on the 16th was his 21st of the week.

Alker’s third-place finish is worth $210,000, bringing his 2022 total $3,544,425 and career total to $4,710,632.

“Just a lot of hard yards. It’s just, you know, I’ve played everywhere, I’ve played everywhere and I think that kind of helped today in a way just playing the PGA Tour and Australasia and Asia and Korn Ferry,” he said. “I’ve played everywhere. It’s been an amazing journey and just to be here and to have this opportunity has been amazing.”

Now it’s time to celebrate, but how?

“I like red wine,” he said. “I don’t want to mix drinks tonight, won’t be a good idea, but we’ll have a couple. It will probably sink in a bit more tomorrow, but yeah, this is neat, it’s so cool.”

Alker will also collect $1 million in bonus money for winning the Schwab Cup series title, money that will be paid out as a lump sum deposit into a Schwab brokerage account.


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Date Published: November 13th, 2022

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Phil Mickelson among LIV golfers reacting to Rory McIlroy's comments on the PGA Tour, Ryder Cup ahead of finale in Miami

Phil Mickelson didn’t want to “detract from what’s happening this week” at LIV Golf’s Team Championship in Miami at Trump National Doral, but a recent Rory McIlroy interview with the Guardian was too juicy to avoid.

At a press conference ahead of the upstart circuit’s season finale, Mickelson was complimentary of McIlroy, who said the “us versus them” dynamic between LIV Golf and players on the PGA and DP World tours has gotten out of control.

“You know, I think a lot of Rory. I really have the utmost respect for him, and I look at what he’s done in the game and how he’s played this year and his win last week and No. 1 in the world now, and I have a ton of respect for him,” said Mickelson. “We’ll have three months off after this event to talk about things like that and so forth, but this week something is happening that I don’t want to deflect focus on, which is we’ve never had a team event like this in professional golf.”

McIlroy also took exception to Mickelson’s recent comment that LIV Golf is trending upwards and the PGA Tour is trending downwards, calling that statement “propaganda.”

“But just — maybe I shouldn’t have said stuff like that, I don’t know,” responded Mickelson, “but if I’m just looking at LIV Golf and where we are today to where we were six, seven months ago and people are saying this is dead in the water, and we’re past that, and here we are today, a force in the game that’s not going away, that has players of this caliber that are moving professional golf throughout the world and the excitement level in the countries around the world of having some of the best players in the game of golf coming to their country and competing. It’s pretty remarkable how far LIV Golf has come in the last six, seven months. I don’t think anybody can disagree with that.”

The Greg Norman-led operation receives its financial backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, where no expense has been spared. Building a new golf series certainly isn’t easy, and LIV has done well to attract a few of golf’s biggest names like Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith. But the problems that come with building a startup become less challenging when you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars to throw around. According to Sports Illustrated, LIV Golf’s first-year expenditure totaled upwards of $784 million, with another $1 billion committed for next year, when the series becomes a 14-event league.

As for excitement levels across the world, so far LIV has held seven events: Four in the United States, one in England, one in Thailand and one in Saudi Arabia.

McIlroy also said he felt “betrayal” in regards to LIV players putting their Ryder Cup futures in jeopardy, noting how Graeme McDowell had a chance to captain the Europeans in 2027 and the legacies of Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood are mainly based around the biennial bash against the Americans.

“A betrayal? We can still qualify for the team as far as I’m aware. Unless we’ve been told we can’t qualify, then I’m still ready to play as much as I possibly can and try to make that team,” said Poulter. “I mean, look, my commitment to the Ryder Cup I think goes before me. I don’t think that should ever come in question. I’ve always wanted to play Ryder Cups and have played with as much passion as anyone else that I’ve ever seen play a Ryder Cup.

“You know, I don’t know where that comment really has come from, to be honest.”


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Date Published: October 26, 2022

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Fred Couples has a case that he just played the best round in PGA Tour Champions history

There are any number of remarkable numbers that tell the story of the stunning round Fred Couples played on Sunday at the SAS Championship, but we’ll start with the most important: 60. The World Golf Hall of Famer had never shot a score that low in his 2,172 rounds on the PGA Tour or his 420 previous rounds on the PGA Tour Champions.

With a run of 12 birdies in his final 14 holes at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., Couples posted his career-best 18-hole score en route to a six-shot rout over Steven Alker, shooting a 20-under 196 for the week. And to think Couples made a double-bogey 6 on the first hole to start the tournament on Friday?

 

The victory was the 14th of Couples’ senior career, but his first since June 2017, a winless drought that totaled 1,939 days. And it came seemingly out of nowhere; in his seven previous PGA Tour Champions starts in 2022, Couples had had just one top-10 finish (T-2 at the Mitsubishi Electric). And in three previous starts in this tournament, he’d had just one top-10 (fifth in 2011).

 

Couples, who turned 63 earlier in the month and has spent a career making the game look easy, wrote down nothing higher than a 4 on his Sunday scorecard. Yet rather than any of his 2s or 3s, it was a 4 on the 10th hole that stood out to Couples. After making five straight birdies to finish his front nine and grab the lead, Couples found water off the tee on the 428-yard par 4. His third shot came up just short of the green, 30 feet from the hole, only for him to roll it in for the par save.

“Today was just an unreal day,” said Couples, who became the third oldest player ever to win on the Champions Tour behind Bernhard Langer and Scott Hoch. “The putt on 10, I knew was a huge boost.”

Given his score, it was no surprise Couples had it going with his putter. But he claimed it was his approach game that stood out. “I never hit it like that,” said Couples, whose previous best score was a 61 in the final round of the 2014 Shaw Charity Classic. “Yesterday, I didn’t feel well, and, today on the range … I'm really never hit it like that. Every shot, I hit and went on the golf and did really, really well.”

To call this the most remarkable round in PGA Tour Champions history isn’t overstating things. Kevin Sutherland shot a 59 back in 2014, but it was in the second round of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic, and he didn’t even win the tournament. Couples’ 60 was the lowest final-round score by a PGA Tour Champions’ winner in the tour’s 43-year history. He broke his age by three shots. He was trailing by three shots on the fifth tee only to claim the title by six.

 

“It’s easy to say because we’re standing here, but I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played,” Couples said. “I’ve shot 58 and 59 before, never in a tournament, but for a little bit of money and stuff, and you pay a lot of attention, but today I just was trying to stay two or three ahead of Jerry [Kelly] because I knew I could birdie at any given time.”

And he did it with a late replacement on his bag; Couples texted Griffin Flesch, son of fellow PGA Tour Champions player Steve Flesch, early in the week to see if he could help when his regular caddie, Mark Chaney, was at home with his mother. “I said just get to Raleigh on Tuesday and we'll have a good time, and we did.”

 

The disappointing part? While the three-event Charles Schwab Cup playoffs begin next week, Couples said this is his last start of 2022. He jumped to 34th in the rankings, easily qualifying for the post-season. But Couples knows his body can only handle so much golf, and despite the incredible day and week in North Carolina, he’s not going to push himself. However, the memory of Sunday will motivate him in 2023.

“My game can come and go. I’m done for the year. [But] my game on the Champions Tour is trending in the right direction.”

 

You could say that again.


 

Article By: Ryan Herrington

 Date Published: October 16th, 2022

Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson among big names at Saudi-backed Aramco event at Trump Ferry Point

The stars will be out in New York this week as the Aramco Team Series heads to Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point. Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda, Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson headline the Ladies European Tour event on U.S. soil. The LPGA does not have a tournament this week and heads next to South Korea.

Charley Hull, who recently won on the LPGA in Texas, clinched last year’s Aramco event in New York at Glen Oaks Club. The Englishwoman is among the field of 78 that includes fellow past and current Solheim Cup players such as Leona Maguire, Carlota Ciganda, Anna Nordqvist, Madelene Sagstrom, Catriona Matthew and Dame Laura Davies.

Also in the field is Sweden’s Maja Stark, the LPGA rookie who earned her card via victory at the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Stark has won three times on the LET this season.

The Aramco Series carries points for World Rankings and the Race to Costa del Sol, a season-long race that determines the LET’s top golfer.

Golf Saudi backs six of events on the LET schedule. The tournaments, backed by the Public Investment Fund, remain controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.

Former World No. 1 Nelly Korda won the Aramco Team Series event at Sotogrande in Spain in August while big sister Jessica won the team portion. The series consists of five events, with the final being held next month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In New York, the 54-hole individual stroke play event will take place alongside the 36-hole team event, with each tournament having a purse of $500,000.

Golf Channel will air the event live on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It will also be streamed on GolfChannel.com and the NBC Sports app.


Article By: Beth Ann Nichols

Date Published: October 11, 2022 

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Dusek: LIV Golf is wreaking havoc on equipment endorsement deals. 

Dusek: LIV Golf is wreaking havoc on equipment endorsement deals. 

More than a century before Instagram Reels, Twitter takeovers and highly-polished YouTube videos started being made, Harry Vardon signed a deal with Spalding. The company paid him to tour the United States and play scores of exhibition matches using the brand new Vardon Flyer golf ball. That made Vardon, the winner of six British Opens, one of the first golf influencers.

In the years after he inked that deal in 1900, pros from Gene Sarazen to Jack Nicklaus to Joaquín Niemann have been signing lucrative sponsorship agreements with golf equipment companies.

The model for endorsement deals has not changed much since Vardon’s day. Companies pay players and supply them with equipment and technical assistance in exchange for the right to use their name, image and likeness in advertisements and commercials.

Players also agree to be involved in photo shoots, be available for a negotiated number of corporate functions and wear the brand’s logo on their bag, hat or shirt. Incentive clauses for things like winning a PGA Tour event, a major championship, finishing first on tour in driving distance and making a Ryder Cup team are also common.

Fulfilling the contracts is usually easy for pros because they just need to play golf, smile, shake a few hands and stay out of trouble, but with the emergence of the LIV Series, brands are being forced to reevaluate their marketing plans and reassess the value of players.

According to several brand insiders that Golfweek has spoken with, all of whom insisted on anonymity, golfers are typically obligated to compete in at least 15 to 18 PGA Tour events in a season to fulfill their endorsement contracts. If the player gets hurt, brands make accommodations and adjustments.

For elite players, reaching that threshold is easy. Last season, competing in the four major championships, the Players Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, then at Rivera, Bay Hill, the Memorial and the three FedEx Cup playoff events would get you to 12 tournaments. Sprinkle in a few events in preparation for the majors and you’re set.

However, the PGA Tour indefinitely suspended golfers who decided to play in LIV Series events. Many high-profile (and high-priced) players who participated in the first LIV Series failed to play in 15 PGA Tour events last season.

Kevin Na played 14 PGA Tour events last season, Sergio Garcia played 13 and Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen each played 12. Lee Westwood played in 10, Bryson DeChambeau (who was injured for part of the year) played in nine, while Phil Mickelson played six.

Now, imagine you are the CEO or the head of marketing for an equipment maker. What would you do if a player who was contractually obligated to compete in 15 PGA Tour events, and who did not sustain an injury, signed with LIV Golf, knowing he’d be suspended, and only played 11 or 12? Are you holding the player in breach of contract and not paying him, maybe pro-rating his payment based on how much he did play? Or just paying out the whole thing?

“If you pro-rate, you risk pissing off the player or the agent and creating some bad blood,” said one insider. “And if there is a deal struck between LIV and the PGA Tour and golfers get to do both at some point in the future, you may have burned a bridge with a star.”

Clubs, balls, and equipment have been flying off the shelves over the last few years, so as lucrative as some endorsement deals are for star players, brands may pay golfers their full contract payment even if they failed to play enough.

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Date Published: October 3rd, 2022
 
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