Golf writers in Canada have been fortunate over the years to have plenty of fascinating characters to follow. Certainly Moe Norman has to be ranked number one when it comes to the most fascinating. But these days, Stephen Ames fills the bill nicely. When he talks, well, he sure talks. Ames is ranked 83rd in the world and easily in the top five of quote machines.
Ames, a resident of Calgary, isn’t afraid to say what he feels, which instantly makes him a media favourite. Most golf watchers remember when he said in February 2006 that it was amazing that Tiger Woods got the results he did because he wasn’t the most accurate driver. Ames was only speaking the truth, and in his own way was paying Woods a compliment.
As it happened, Ames had been asked then how he felt about meeting Woods in their first-round of the 2006 Accenture Match-Play Championship. “Anything can happen, especially where he’s hitting the ball,” Ames answered. That was vintage Ames. Woods birdied the first six holes of their match and won 9 and 8.
Asked after the match how he reacted to Ames’s comment, Woods said, simply, “9 and 8.” Nothing more had to be said.
Ames wasn’t fazed, even if many people laughed at him. He went out and won The Players Championship a few weeks later, shooting five-under 67 the last round to win by six shots. His round demonstrated the kind of ball-striker he had become. He was again asked about what he had said about Woods.
“I got my ass kicked, and that was it,” Ames said. Straightforward, as always.
But he also made a statement that astonished planet golf. In winning, Ames became eligible for the 2006 Masters that was around the corner. He told the media, however, that he had “no plans of playing at Augusta.”
Huh? No plans of playing The Masters? No plans of going to the so-called sacred ground for a second appearance?
Ames had planned a family vacation in Trinidad & Tobago, the country where he was born. His two sons were on spring break. His wife, Jodi, was still recovering from lung cancer. What was The Masters to a planned vacation with his wife and their two boys?
Talk show hosts erupted, particularly in Canada. Ames’s representatives at IMG in Toronto got on the move quickly. Soon the announcement was made that Ames would indeed play The Masters. But you always got the feeling that he’d have gladly stayed away.
Ames prefers to be himself. What’s wrong with that? He speaks his own mind. He was playing in the group behind Woods at one Players Championship and the first thing he asked after he signed his scorecard was, “What did the Chosen One shoot?”
Vintage Ames again.
Last week was more of the same. He said too many Tour players didn’t appreciate what they had, that they took their good fortunes on the PGA Tour for granted. He said slow play is a big problem on the PGA Tour. He didn’t hold back.
Ames has to be ranked near the top of the list when it comes to being quotable, for sure. It doesn’t hurt that he can play, of course.
“I’m more prone to speaking my mind and not being politically correct,” Ames has told this writer. “I prefer being the person I am than somebody else. The media doesn’t understand my sense of humor. I’m too candid, too sarcastic. A lot of golfers are two different people. They’re great off the course but on it they’re absolute beasts.”
Asked about the time he said he had no plans to play The Masters, Ames didn’t hesitate.
“That was honest, but I got criticized. Come on guys, is it really the end of the world if you don’t play The Masters? For those guys (talk show hosts, presumably), just to get a ticket to go see it is the greatest thing in the world. But it wouldn’t change my life if I don’t play Augusta. What will change my life is if I lost my leg or my right arm. A lot of people don’t see that, and that’s unfortunate.”
These days Ames is struggling with his game. He’s always battled within himself because he’s a feel player who has also tried to develop a more technically sound swing so that he could compete at the highest levels of the game. Ames has worked with swing coach Sean Foley since a few months after he won the 2006 Players Championship. He told a Calgary Herald writer last week that his game has been “crap, actually,” and that he needs more time with Foley. Foley, of course, has been working with Woods. He and Ames worked extensively at last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass.
As Ames, now 46, continues to refine his game, it is to be devoutly wished for that he does not modify his speaking habits. The PGA Tour and the media need honest, open players. Nobody in the sport ranks higher than Ames in those departments.