Pardon Steven Alker if his emotions get a hold of him at some point this week. It’s only natural.
With his son, Ben, making his debut on his bag and family members of fallen caddie Sam Workman in attendance at The Woodlands Country Club, Alker fired a 66 during Friday’s first round of the Insperity Invitational, moving to the top of a packed leaderboard alongside Justin Leonard and Colin Montgomerie.
Winning the 2022 title on this golf course was special, but considering the circumstances, a repeat might hold even more sentimental value for the native of New Zealand.
Workman had become more than a friend since the two first worked together in the Bahamas in 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour. He was, in Alker’s words, “a motivator, a decision-maker and a fighter.”
Together, they experienced Alker’s dramatic rise from grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour in his late 40s (Alker’s last event on the PGA Tour was 2017) to dominating the PGA Tour Champions in 2022 and winning the season-long Charles Schwab Cup. Alker, 51, won four events, was second in four others and had 18 top 10s in 23 starts last season, a meteoric rise in which Workman played a big part.
But earlier this year, Alker announced that Workman had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“He was complaining about some pain and having a few problems,” Alker said in February at the Chubb Classic. Workman had liver cancer that spread to his stomach. A week later, Alker was mourning the loss of his closest mate on the course after spending most of that time by Workman’s side at his home in Beeville, Texas. Workman was 55.
Alker is especially grateful Workman was able to experience his resurgence that started with his first win on the Champions Tour, the 2021 TimberTech Championship at Broken Sound in Boca Raton.
It was the first time Workman was on the bag of a winner and Alker presented him the flag from the 18th green.
In honor of the caddie, who was a huge Houston Astros fan, each of the PGA Tour Champions players is wearing an Astros ribbon in his honor.
The first tee shots are in the air. @ChampionsTour players will be paying tribute to Sam Workman the late caddie for defending champ Steven Alker this week by wearing @astros ribbons pic.twitter.com/1dLKdJR9Zo
— Insperity Invitational (@InsperityInvtnl) April 28, 2023
And on Friday, a number of Workman’s friends and family members made the three-hour trek from Beeville, a small town that sits less than an hour from Corpus Christi and the Gulf of Mexico.
When asked what it meant to see Workman’s crew on hand, Alker admitted it was significant.
“(It means) a whole lot. We’ve got a bunch today. We’re going to have even more tomorrow, some of the Beeville crowd,” Alker said. “The ribbons are a nice touch, and great to have some of the family out, so good support today.”
Alker, who started on the back nine, rolled in birdies on four of the first six holes to get out to a hot start. And he did so with his son making his debut, something that allowed for some quality bonding time.
“It is special. Obviously, just the time, spending the time together,” Alker said prior to Friday’s round.
And how did he fare?
“He did fantastic. This really is his first competitive round. We’ve done some fun rounds, but he was great.” Alker said. “The ball was always clean. We had some spot-on yardages. He actually did some yardages today. It was great. Yeah, he did very, very well.”
Reporter and columnist Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post contributed to this post.