Kiwi golfer Steven Alker is slowing growing accustomed to playing against – and beating – major champions.
And when he tees off at the US Senior Open in Pennsylvania tomorrow morning, he'll be facing another – compatriot Michael Campbell.
While 2005 US Open champion Campbell is relatively unfamiliar with this level of competition, plying his trade on Europe's Legends Tour, Alker has quickly become one of the men to beat.
The 50-year-old has found career-best form on the Champions Tour, winning four tournaments since his debut last year, including the Senior PGA Championship in Michigan last month.
Alker has earned almost $5 million since turning 50 and, after experiencing some early nerves while being surrounded by players like Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk, says he owes his success to an increasing comfort level on the tour.
"Initially – and there's still a little bit there – you're kind of stargazing," Alker told Newstalk ZB. "They're legends of golf – World Hall of Fame players.
"The hardest thing is trying to focus on my game when I'm playing with these guys, trying not to watch them, though I want to learn stuff and see what it's all about.
"But I'm focusing more on my game now and I'm comfortable in their company. And that's huge – to play good golf you've got to be comfortable in your environment and make sure you're focusing on your game. That's the biggest part."
That comfort was clear four weeks ago when Alker earned a three-shot victory on his senior major debut, topping a leaderboard that included two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer in third.
With that win Alker booked his spot at next year's PGA Championship and another triumph this weekend would likewise earn him entry to the 2023 US Open. But the Hamiltonian knows a difficult and lengthy course at Bethlehem will present a different challenge to what he has typically encountered this year.
"You've got to drive it good this week, I've been focusing more on that," he said. "That's always the test at the USGA events and the US Open – you've got to drive it on the fairway.
"The course is pretty staunch, it always is. The rough's up and it's got a little bit of a different set up to what we normally play on the Champions. It'll be a good test."
Alker will however be buoyed by his recently acquired knowledge of what it takes to claim one of the senior tour's most prized trophies.
"I can draw from that experience a few weeks ago," he said. "If I'm there or thereabouts with one round to play and amongst it, I kind of know what to expect.
"Just knowing that I can win one, I've been there and done it, that'll be huge coming down the stretch."
Campbell, meanwhile, is making his second Champions Tour appearance of the season, having finished in a share of 55th at the Senior PGA Championship. The 53-year-old, who now runs a golf academy in southern Spain, has automatic qualification for the US Senior Open after famously holding off Tiger Woods to win the 2005 US Open.