NAPLES, Fla. — Steven Alker posed for a picture with his playing partners Jim Furyk and Bernhard Langer, grabbed a bottle of water and took a swig.
He walked to his bag — the same bag Sam Workman attended and treated as he would his own child for the past four years — stood over his clubs and sighed. Not once but two long sighs. As if he were releasing his emotions.
“I miss him and just the things he did and said,” Alker said about his caddie, who died Feb. 6, less than one week after Alker revealed Workman was diagnosed with cancer.
“The routines we got into, going to miss that a lot.”
That tee shot on the first hole of the Chubb Classic at Tiburon Golf Club Friday was the first Alker hit in a tournament without Workman on his bag in more than four years. He finished with a 3-under 69. Alker 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 seasonlong 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.
“He knows how I work on the course,” Alker said. “Sam is very even-tempered. It was just great for my game. We just went out and played. It didn’t matter whether I was shooting a high number or low number, nothing changed.”
Caddie Sam Workman diagnosed with terminal cancer
And that was the case right through the first event of 2023 in Hualalai, Hawaii, in which Alker, who is from New Zealand and lives in Fountain Hills, Arizona, started his defense of the Schwab Cup by finishing second. About a week later, Alker announced that Workman had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“He was complaining about some pain and having a few problems,” Alker said. 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.
“Still kind of in shock, really, that he’s gone so quickly,” Alker said Thursday.
That week in Texas meant as much to Alker as any trophy sitting in a case.
“I just got to know Sam even better than I did, being around his friends and family,” Alker said. “That was kind of special.”
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.
Replacing Workman will not be easy
For Steve Alker, golf will go on but with a huge void. Troy Martin will carry Alker’s bag this week. Martin posted a tribute to Workman on social media.
“I will do my best to honor Sam Workman this week,” he wrote. “These are big shoes to fill.”
Alker’s bag was adorned with a Houston Astros sticker and Alker and Martin both wore Astros caps Thursday to commemorate the team’s World Series championship last fall.
The Astros were Workman’s favorite team.
Alker is not sure who will carry his bag in the future. He said it is difficult to even think about. He hired Martin this week and is covered through April with various caddies, including his wife, Tanya, who will be part of the rotation.
At that point, Alker hopes to find a full-time caddie.
Alker got off to a good start in Hawaii but has not set any goals for the season, which is not any different than a year ago when everything happened organically.
“I kind of said at the end of last year when did (winning the Schwab Cup) become a goal?” he said. “It kind of became a goal during the year, as the year went on. So right now, it’s kind of too far to look ahead. That would be amazing to do it again.”
And each time he walks on the course to defend that title, that day will be dedicated to Sam.