ANCASTER, ONTARIO | Before Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan were his star pupils, Sean Foley spent time tweaking the swing of Canadian Stephen Ames. It was Ames who made the outspoken swing coach’s reputation after plucking him from obscurity in 2006.
But Ames, once regarded as one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, has slumped, and after missing the cut at the British Open, the golfer said it might be time to clean house. That means firing his caddie, his trainer, and parting ways with Foley, whom Ames said can’t fit him into his increasingly busy schedule.
It could just be Stephen being Stephen. Ames is one of the game’s most outspoken players, who wears his heart – and his frustrations – on his sleeve. This is just the latest example of the former Players Championship winner expressing his emotions in a very frank, public way.
“(Foley is) on a different schedule now,” Ames said at the RBC Canadian Open last week. “Before he would be on Tour with me.”
Ames admits he is partially to blame for not seeing his swing coach, who he started working with after winning the 2006 Players Championship. At that time Ames was struggling with a balky back and unable to solve his physical woes, he turned to Foley, then an unknown coach working outside of Toronto with some aspiring junior golfers.
Foley had PGA Tour dreams, and big-swing theories, but no credibility. Ames’ success – he won in 2007 – gave Foley access to the driving ranges of the PGA Tour. And no one works a driving range like Foley, endlessly acknowledging those around him and interacting with players and caddies.
But these days Ames doesn’t qualify for many of the more notable tournaments and hasn’t flown from his home in Florida to see Foley very often. As well, the demands on Foley’s time have gone up since he started working with Woods in 2010. He says his schedule is workable, but adds: “it is always on the edge of chaos.”
Is it possible to take on too much – too many golfers demanding too much time and not be able to give them access? Standing near the clubhouse at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, site of last week’s Canadian Open, the dapper Foley – always impeccably dressed – hadn’t yet addressed the issue with Ames. He was aware of it, but seemed to downplay Ames’ remarks, adding that frustrations get the better of people sometimes.
Would he be upset to part ways with Ames?
“Yeah, sure it would be disappointing,” says Foley. “But it all comes down to communication.”
And he says his schedule is no more of a challenge than it was two years ago when he had other players like Chris Stroud and Sean O’Hair in his stable.
Mahan backs that up. He says Foley’s schedule has the same challenges it always did, but the swing coach finds a way to make it work.
“I’ve got it pretty sorted – it is learning to say no,” Foley says. “For me that’s a tough thing to do. But what I’ve built with Stephen and Hunter and Rosie (Justin Rose) and Tiger – it is always on the edge of chaos. But it never falls that way and I like being intense and alive. We’ve done well and everyone knows what we’re working on and the direction we’re leading.”
Except, apparently, Ames who says he’s lost, aimlessly pounding balls at home in Calgary without determining what his shortcomings are.
Foley couldn’t be blamed for being pragmatic when it comes to his players, though he denies that’s the case. After all, he’s always said he works on a percentage of winnings. Woods, Mahan and Rose have made nearly $11 million this year, a windfall for Foley, who says he had his most successful year financially to date in 2011.
Ames, on the other hand, has only made $183,236 heading into the Canadian Open, after making slightly more than $500,000 last year. It would be easy for Foley to simply allocate his time on the golfers that make him the most money. But he’s insistent that isn’t the case.
In fact, Foley says Woods takes less of his time now.
“He understands what he needs to do,” Foley explains. “When people say I’m going to get fired because I’m not warming up with him – that’s my goal, to have him understand and not need me as much. That’s my goal with every player.”
As our interview winds down, 21-year old Seung-Yul Noh wanders by. Foley asks the golfer if he is practicing “the right way.” “The way we talked about,” Foley says, as Noh smiles and wanders towards the range. One more in the stable?
“This kid is the real deal,” Foley says enthusiastically. “He has a swing speed of 125. His skill set is insane – he’s that good. I found time for him.”
Making time will be increasingly difficult for Foley as the success of his students rise. There will surely be more Ames-like issues cropping up. But when you think about it, becoming too successful is a nice problem to have.