Alex Cejka Begins his Defense of KitchenAid Senior PGA Title
The situation matters little. Good days, bad days, days when he shoots 65, days when he shoots 76 ... when you run across Alex Cejka, who bounces like a pong pong ball across the landscape of life, the man usually has a smile across his face.
Last year, he had plenty of reason to be pleased. Having turned 50, he started 2021 with very limited status on the PGA Tour Champions, with a plan to try Monday qualifying to get into events. Then he nearly beat Steve Stricker in his second Champions start, in Naples, Florida. And won the Regions Tradition in Alabama, the season’s first major, defeating Stricker in a playoff. And then added a second major, prevailing at the 81st KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For Cejka, back to defend his Senior PGA title this week at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, the first five months of 2021 pretty much was a blur. A good one, at that. Which was a nice change of pace, actually, as the man had been fighting and scraping and battling for a good portion of his life.
As a child, Cejka and his father fought to escape Czechoslovakia, eventually landing in Germany after a harrowing journey. It took him six attempts to earn a European Tour card. He battled many years to hold onto his PGA Tour card, eventually making 414 starts and winning once, at the 2015 Puerto Rico Open. Turning 50 represented a new chapter for him, a golden opportunity, and he has made the most of it.
“You win one tournament, it could be luck. Doesn’t matter if it’s an old tournament or major, or senior major,” Cejka said at last week’s PGA Championship, where he shot 72-79 and missed the cut on a long, tough track. “But winning two ... you’ve got to play well, and I beat great players on a great course, so it was special.
“I drove the ball really well. I had that one month (May), and even a month later, I drove it well and putted well. That’s the best combination in golf. I wasn’t afraid and I hit bombs and I hit it straight and it made every golf course easier, if you will, for me.”
Cejka shot 8-under 272 at Southern Hills and beat Tim Petrovic by four shots. World Golf Hall of Fame member Retief Goosen was a distant third. Cejka could not believe the size of the champion’s Alfred S. Bourne Trophy – it is 42 inches tall – and it barely fit in the RV that his wife, Alyssa, had driven to Tulsa from their home in Las Vegas, parking it outside their hotel.
“We celebrated, that was nice, we had the bus here,” Cejka said. “It was special. I didn’t want to leave this place.
“It took a long time to sink in, even like at the Tradition. I couldn’t really believe it until those little trophies, the replicas, arrived at home (in Las Vegas), and I had them in the kitchen, on the table. And this is where I realized, yes, I did it, and nobody can ever take it away from me. No matter what happens in the future, those trophies are at home, sitting on my mantle, and they will always be there.”
Cejka’s early success on the PGA Tour Champions was no surprise to those players who had competed against him for years on the European Tour. He stays in top shape, kept his game in order through his late 40s, owns 11 International victories, played in a dozen World Cups for Germany, and even competed at the 2016 Olympics.
“He's just a great golfer,” said Irishman Paul McGinley, European Tour player, former European Ryder Cup captain and now an analyst for Golf Channel. “Underestimated, great golfer. Great golf swing. Hits the ball dead straight. Just aggressive and ‘go get 'em’ attitude and got the bit between his teeth now at this level obviously with his win (at Regions Tradition) giving him confidence. No surprise to see him win, and he'll be around quite a while. He's got all the ingredients.”
Cejka has yet to win in 2022, but he does have two top-5 finishes since the start of April. He said his game was “good, not super-great.” Cejka took a day early last week to get to Michigan to get a better look at the Harbor Shores course upon which he will compete this week.
“It’s a really tricky golf course,” Cejka said. “It’s not really that long, but the greens ... they’re so severe. I didn’t expect that at all. Glad that I saw it. There are some places, it doesn’t matter how good your short game is, when you miss it on the wrong side, you have zero chance over those 5-foot mounds over there. You have to play really smart, and you have to execute your shots.
“It’s like everywhere else. You have a game plan, but if you don’t execute your shots you’re screwed, basically, you know what I mean?”
With that, Cejka let out a hearty laugh. These days, with life going so well, he has plenty of reason to enjoy it.
“You re-evaluate your life, you know, you just, it's no point being miserable,” Cejka said. “It's just a game, it's a great game, it's a stupid game, you know? But we all love it, we all play it. I think what I've noticed the guys who play well are always happy, and I'm trying to be as happy as I can be. I'm always trying to be happy on the golf course even if you have bad lies, bad day, bad breaks, bad rounds, you know?
“I'm just happy to be around.”