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Interview with Ambassador Steven Alker

Interview with Ambassador Steven Alker

Q. First we'll start with just some questions about Straight Down's products.  What are some of your favorite pieces and why? 

STEVEN ALKER: You know, obviously there's going to be a great range. I'm kind of just a plain sort of no frills, no stripes or anything like that. I just like the range they've got, first of all, and the material is fantastic. For golf, it's ideal. 

I know they do a lot of different outdoor wear and for golf, it's perfect. 

I feel good in it. They say when you feel good, you play good. That's where I'm at with it. It's great. I enjoy wearing the stuff, even just for normal day wear. It's ideal. 

Q. Did you have a lucky blue shirt there for Sundays for a while?

STEVEN ALKER: I did. I was going mention that. It was kind of like a gambler's shirt. It's got hearts, it's got the ace of spades, it's got the whole deck of cards on it. That was one of my favorites. I won a couple times in it, I think, and I believe I wore it the last day of the Schwab Cup when I won.

Q. Off the course, do you have any favorite Straight Down wear? You mentioned you do wear it away from the course. 

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, a lot of the light weight shirts, the quarter-zips are great just to throw on when it's a bit cool. It's not too heavy, and you don't even feel like you have it on.

Q. Any other superstitions with your clothing or what you wear?

STEVEN ALKER: Not so much. We don't have cuts on the Champions Tour anymore. I had a superstition there for a while where I wouldn't wear black on a Friday or on cut day. But now not so much. I like a black and white polo -- even if it's a pattern to wear on the last day because it's kind of like New Zealand colors. Kiwi colors, black and white. Like our All-Black rugby team. Black and white is a New Zealand thing. 

I think since I've started wearing the gear, it's freed me up a little bit. I've tried a few different things.

Q. Let's talk about this year. What does it mean to call yourself a major champion?

STEVEN ALKER: You know, it's not something that I really have a big focus on during the year. It's just something that -- I think I played one or two and was like, this is pretty cool. I had a chance to win some. So it became a goal. It was great to win the Senior PGA. Obviously, it gets me in the PGA Championship the week before the Senior PGA, so that's pretty neat.

I think this year I'm kind of focusing a bit more on those, trying to build up to those, if you like.

Q. What has been most gratifying about this past year?

STEVEN ALKER: Just about everything. I think the whole new atmosphere, the environment I'm in has been really neat. It's a different vibe, playing with a lot of the legends and the champions of the game, that's been fantastic to get to know them a little bit more, which has been great. Made some new friends. 

I think the most pleasing thing that I'm most proud of is my consistency during the year. Every week I had a chance to win, which was great. So I got myself in positions with chances to win, just playing different new courses.

The whole thing was great. Just tried to get the most out of it and have a bit of fun with it, too. That's what's come back into my game, just having a bit more fun, enjoying my golf.

Not just enjoying my golf because I'm playing well, but enjoying my golf because of what I'm wearing, where I'm playing. Just the whole vibe of the Champions Tour has been great. I've really enjoyed it.

Q. Can you talk about that a little bit? Straight Down, mostly amateurs wearing it, and they try to make the game fun for people and make fun clothing. You kind of mentioned it; does the clothing help you have a little bit more fun with some of the bold colors or patterns, some of those things?

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, absolutely. As I said, just kind of mix it up a little bit and have a bit of fun with it. That's what I like about the golf apparel, Straight Down gear, is you just have that option to have a bit of fun with it, and as I said, it's just great to wear. 

Q. Is there a story of how you found your way to wearing Straight Down?

STEVEN ALKER: A little bit, yeah. Rod Pampling who has been an ambassador for a couple of years now, it was the Sunday night of Schwab Cup last year -- sorry, the previous year of '21, where I just finished up a nice season, only played 10 events, won an event, finished second in the Schwab Cup, we're sitting just having a wine with Rod and just chatted about apparel and he's asking me a few questions. He's like, I've got this stuff that I'm looking for someone, and it would be nice to wear some nice stuff. I think he was texting or even made a phone call that night to Mike and said, you've got to get this guy on board. So that was really cool. 

Then Mike contacted me literally a few days later and said, would you like to wear the stuff. We've kind of got from there. Yeah, it's been just over a year now I've been wearing the stuff, but it was pretty neat.

Q. What's it like going from Monday qualifiers to Schwab Cup champion so quickly? What's the secret?

STEVEN ALKER: Secret? Yeah, there's no secret sauce. I've been asked that question so many times. But I think first, to have only done that one qualifier and then to keep top-tenning, and then to get a win nine events later. To avoid Tour school, that was the other thing. Not just the qualifiers but the Tour school, which is pretty grueling, only five spots I think at the end of the year. So that was very pleasing to get through that and not have to do it, and now to be where I am. It's pretty special.

When I really sat down and thought about it over the Christmas break, I'm like, yeah, I've come a long way in the last 12 months.

Q. To go at it this long, you've really got to love competing and love the game. What do you love about golf as a profession and what do you love about just golf as something to do? The competing side and then the game itself and the process of playing. 

STEVEN ALKER: Well, for me, the grind is still there, to try and get better and grind in competition. There's been a lot of grinding through the Korn Ferry and the PGA TOUR, Australasian, I've played everywhere. That's still in me.

I think when that goes, it'll be time to hang up the clubs. That's what's been so great, perseverance.

I think off the course, it's funny, I'm not a guy that really gets into just playing a casual round. It's hard for me simply play a casual round with a mate. I might do it from time to time, but I'm still out there with my mates grinding, let's play for a few bucks, let's try and take it off today. It's still there. I enjoy that part of it.

But I also enjoy my downtime. I don't practice as much as I used to off the course now. During my downtime -- I had two weeks in the UK, I didn't take the clubs with me, and I just had family time and just drank and ate, ate too much. But it was just good to not play golf. That was cool, too.

Now that I'm getting older, I don't feel like I need to play as much golf. 

Q. Is that the secret to the longevity, just kind of loving the grind?

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, I think so. You've got to have that in you. I've gone through phases in my career where it becomes a real grind. Things like working on your game, you think you're doing the right stuff to get better, and it doesn't, and then you beat yourself up. That's the biggest thing. 

So I've kind of learnt to not beat myself up so much. I think that's what I've done pretty well the last five or so years before building up to the Champions, not beating myself up. That's a long-term goal; let's keep at it and try and have some fun with it and just get on with it. That's my attitude now with the whole game, where I'm at with the Champions. Maybe seven, eight, nine less left in me, so I've got to make the most of it, don't sweat the small stuff and get on with it.

Q. Going down the stretch with Padraig, a three-time major winner and probably a Hall of Famer on the last three holes, what was that like and what was it like to come out on top?

STEVEN ALKER: It was very pleasing. As good a year as I've had, to actually just come to the Schwab Cup and have to finish fifth -- there's still a bit of pressure there. Yes, to win, obviously, and he put the pressure on me by winning, so I still had to finish tied fifth. I went into the week pretty calm. I felt good about my game, coming off of a few good weeks. I had only won a couple of weeks before, so I felt confident. I liked the golf course. It was a good fit to my eye. I had played well there in '21.

Yet the last day there was tension -- I think I made a couple of bogeys on 13 or something, so put a little bit of pressure on myself really. Padraig was winning, and he was ahead, so he was doing his thing.

I just stayed calm. I knew my game was good, and I just kept going. I made birdie on like 14 and 16, I think. That kind of sealed the deal. That kind of summed up the whole year was for me. I was just playing freely. I had a lot of confidence in my game, and nothing really kind of bothered me. 

Those two bogeys late on that fourth day, as much as they could have been hurtful and detrimental to me, I was kind of in control most of the day and kind of felt like that's how the whole year was. 

Q. What are the goals for the new year after such a great season? 

STEVEN ALKER: Goals for new year? We'll wear some more funky Straight Down outfits. That's the first thing. Experiment a little bit more. 

But in terms of results, as I said, maybe focus on some majors a little bit more, try and build up for them. It would be great to win another Schwab Cup. If it doesn't happen, hey, it doesn't happen. 

I think if I keep doing what I'm doing, and obviously want to get a little bit better -- I think I'll have to get a little bit better to win more Schwab Cup with some more competition coming up, but maybe focus more on just winning, and things will take care of itself if I just focus on winning and focus on majors a bit more.

Q. Have you ever been to Oak Hill?

STEVEN ALKER: I have not, no. I played the golf course next door actually at Irondequoit, which is a heck of a golf course, as well. Heard good things about it.  Seen it on TV. It's a bit of a monster I've heard. 

Yeah, it should be fun. I'm looking forward -- especially back-to-back weeks with the PGA and the Senior PGA.

Q. What's the secret to longevity for you?

STEVEN ALKER: I've worked hard on my fitness the last few years. That's been a big thing. Staying competitive, especially in the environment I've been in with the Korn Ferry, that's been huge. And again, having perseverance, having that long-term goal, and not trying to beat yourself up too much. Just stay in the game.  That's the bigger thing. That's worked for me. 

Q. Did you ever think of hanging it up? 

STEVEN ALKER: You know, I've always answered this question by saying, I never really thought about hanging it up, but doing something else in the golf world probably, but never really got to a point where I was like, I'm done, this is it, this is not working. I've always just had this mentality that this is what I do. I enjoy doing other things, but this is my craft. This is what I enjoy. Stick at it; there's going to be shit times, it's going to happen. Shit happens. Just keep going, pounce on and keep chasing that perfect round. 

Q. What are some of those other things that you like to do off the course where you wear some of the Straight Down? 

STEVEN ALKER: I've got a young family still. Kids are 18 and 16 about to go to college, so they might be getting out of the house soon. I'll have a bit more time with the wife and some more time to focus on the garden. I enjoy some gardening. Just puttering around. I'm not a novice or anything, I'm not an expert, but here in Arizona we've got rocks and palm trees and cactus. There's not a lot you can do, but a bit of fiddling and messing around in the garden. That's kind of my go-to and getaway if you like.

Then I'm into sports. I watch all sports. I still try to watch some New Zealand sports back home, the cricket and the rugby, all that sort of stuff, follow it. I keep busy with all sorts -- with the kids and the garden. We like to get out and do things when we're home. We eat out a lot, but I also like cooking and experimenting. All that stuff is a lot of fun.

Q. From being a global player, any good stories over the years of any exotic locations that you've been to to play or seen things just playing in America someone wouldn't see?

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, I've been in Asia a few times. You see a lot of funky stuff.  I've played on golf courses where the monkeys have been jumping out of trees and stuff like that. Africa you're playing, and there's elephants and giraffes next to you. It's wild stuff. 

I remember, when traveling, this is going back to my amateur days, almost 20 or 25 years ago, a buddy of mine, we were traveling to London for the first time. We were around 16 or 17 years old, and we were on the tube station for the first time, and we've got like three or four pieces of luggage, and it's rush hour, it's crazy, and we're like chucking luggage on and the doors closed on us. So we're on the tube, so we've still got luggage on the platform. 

Just mad, mad stuff like that. 

Yeah, I think the travel is the thing where it's bizarre. You have some amazing things happen and you see some crazy stuff. 

Q. I think as you've gotten to know Straight Down a little bit more, some of the values Mike likes to have with the brand, mastery, authenticity, hard work, quality, that kind of stuff. What are some ways as you've gotten to know Straight Down a little more that you feel like you fit Straight Down and Straight Down fits you?

STEVEN ALKER: I think the lifestyle aspect of it. Mike has obviously got all bases covered, your golf wear, outerwear, casual stuff and the shoes. Whatever you want to do he's got apparel for it. That's what I like about the brand. His outerwear is great. It's good quality stuff, and you can't beat it.

I've worn a lot of different apparel, and Straight Down is the best I've ever worn.

Q. Do you have a favorite among your wins? Obviously the Senior PGA is a major, whether it's beating who you beat or where it was or how you did it. 

STEVEN ALKER: I think that and just winning the Schwab Cup are the two biggest. The Senior PGA, the way I won it, four behind going into the last day and shoot 8-under, that was pretty special. 

Then just winning the Schwab Cup. The last tournament was kind of like two tournaments in one. It was a big week, having family and friends there and just being able to celebrate with them afterwards. That was huge. 

To keep the focus on trying to play a tournament and then trying to get the Schwab Cup done, I was pretty proud of that, to close it out. Those are my two moments and two events that really stood out during the year for sure. 

Q. The word "grinder" gets thrown around a lot.  Do you feel like you're a grinder? Sounds like you like to practice, you're a hard worker. 

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, you know, I do, but now that I'm getting older, it's different grinding. I'd rather go to the gym and look after my body a bit more than going to hit 100 or 200 balls on the range or spend some more time on my short game and pitching and putting than just beating drivers for half an hour. 

I think I've gotten to a point in my golf swing where I've got a good blueprint, and I know what works and I've got something to fall back on. I don't need to hit a bunch of balls and grind so far. I'd rather go grind a little bit more on the short game and just work on that. That's what I found on the Champions. These guys are good wedge players and still have really good short games, so you've got to be on the ball there and have a good short game. 

Q. I think you said the game became fun again; is that right? Or has it always been fun?

STEVEN ALKER: I think the whole change of atmosphere -- it's been a lot of fun.  We play a lot of pro-ams out here, mixing with different people, and getting to know the guys in this environment, I've found they've loosened up a little bit in their older age and they're more approachable, so you can have more fun with them, which has been great. It's made it fun to play and to be out there every week with them. Just have a bit of fun, a bit of a drink, playing in some pro-ams, meeting new guys, and then you're playing with two of these guys on Thursday, you tee up on Friday -- with two guys you might have never played with. So that's the fun part of it.

Q. Was there a moment where you thought or maybe you saw this season coming?  It's hard to see this -- such great season, but was there a moment where you were like, this is different, or I feel like I can really have a lot of success here? 

STEVEN ALKER: I think so. I turned 50 in late July, and I played the Boeing in '21 the first week of August. I had that nice run and then I won my ninth event in Florida. I feel like my game is in good shape. I can compete against these guys. 

Then you go into 2022 you don't quite know where you're at, what you've got going in the new season, and I had a good finish in Hualalai and then I won four or five weeks later in Mississippi. So now I'm like, okay, now I've got two. Now the wins are snowballing a little bit, and gets that confidence up and you're looking for another win. So the focus shifts to winning rather than just trying to play well and have good finishes.

Yeah, that changed pretty early on on the Champions Tour. I think that's what I went with and rolled with, and yeah, just that focus shift was there early to go out and win, which was huge.

Q. How would you describe yourself? 

STEVEN ALKER: How do I describe myself? I'm pretty easygoing and optimistic.  Nothing fazes me too much. Enjoy life. Enjoy being around company, the family and good people. I think I'm pretty competitive. If it comes to board games with the kids, there's a little bit of leeway there, but when it gets out on the golf course, I'm pretty competitive. I like to have fun at the same time, but if it comes down to the last nine holes, crunch time, I get pretty competitive. I get into it. 

Yeah, that's pretty much me in a nutshell. 

Q. What would you say if someone asked, what are the secrets to success?

STEVEN ALKER: You know, in a couple of words, just perseverance. Hard work goes a long way. I'm a pretty hard worker.

I think it's got to a point where I'm not so hard on myself. Don't be so hard on yourself. That's the biggest thing. Obviously you're your own critic, but with golf being such an individual sport, it can get pretty intense. So just don't beat yourself up and just look at the positives. That's the only way to get through it.

Q. Remind me, you did talk about you were playing a mini Tour in Phoenix during COVID, and that kind of played a little bit of a part in your success or maybe got the juices flowing again while COVID was shut down? What was the story there? 

STEVEN ALKER: Yeah, you know, it was kind of a chance -- what was it, 2020, I was still on the Korn Ferry, I think in a wraparound season. I just did a bit more work on the body, getting fitter and stronger. That was a good opportunity for me.

I think it might have been late June was it, early July, we got back on the Tour and started playing again. I kind of struggled a little bit, I'm sure a lot of guys did, just to get going. Yeah, there was that period where for a couple of months the motivation wasn't there, it was just hard to get back into the swing of it, get back into the grind.

I think I finished the season pretty decent, then went and played okay, the following season. It was a reflection period. That was the biggest thing for me. What's the next step, should we go for this, am I up to it, is it possible. 

Q. Who do you think you'll play your practice rounds at Oak Hill with or who do you want to play them with?

STEVEN ALKER: If Tiger is playing, I should give him a call.

Q. Have you played with Tiger?

STEVEN ALKER: I have not, no. Been really close a couple times. I knew his caddie very well, Steve Williams. He's another Kiwi guy. We were always chatting even on text and email and stuff. Got to know him pretty well. So I've met Tiger a few times, but it would be good to play with him.

Q. Growing up who were your golfing idols? 

STEVEN ALKER: Nicklaus was the big guy, Seve Ballesteros, just the flair and the way he played. I met the guy. Never got to play with him, but that was pretty neat. Those two guys. Had some guys who I grew up with a bit older in my amateur days who I looked up to, mentors, who looked after me when I was younger, showed me the ropes and taught me the etiquette of the game. I was appreciative of that.

Yeah, there's been four or five guys. But in terms of legends of the game, I think those two, Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros for sure. 

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