Since you won’t find today’s NatPost column online, here it is — a look at the swing changes and new way of thinking for Stephen Ames:
Two years ago, Stephen Ames gained a dubious distinction. After [photopress:ames1_players.jpg,full,alignright]suggesting to the press – rightfully I’ll add – that Tiger Woods wasn’t overly accurate with his driver, the world’s No. 1 golfer thrashed Ames in the opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, concluding the match nine holes ahead with eight to play.
Ames became the butt of jokes and gained a new nickname – 9 and 8 – as well as a reputation as being a poor match play golfer. Even Ames seemed to recognize that fact — going as far as to suggest at one point that he might skip the Presidents Cup because he didn’t like the format.
What a difference 24 months makes. As the match play tournament kicks off today with both Ames and Mike Weir in the field, the Calgary resident is now considered a contender. Last year he redeemed himself, dispatching Robert Karlsson, Vijay Singh and Stewart Cink before losing to Chad Campbell. Ames finished in fifth place, taking home US$260,000 for his troubles. His success at the event kicked off a highly lucrative year that saw Ames overhaul his swing, record four Top 10 finishes and win the season-ending event on the PGA Tour.
This year Ames comes into the tournament ranked 27th in the world, on the heels of strong showings at the season-opening Mercedes Championship where he finished third, and followed up with a tie for 10th at the Sony Open. His confidence has risen with his success, to the point where Ames comes into to-day’s match against slumping Charles Howell III convinced he has as good a shot at winning as anyone not named Tiger.
“I think I could be pretty hard to beat,” Ames said confidently during a recent phone interview from his Calgary home. “It comes down to the mental part of it.”
And while Ames has been working hard with Canadian swing doctor Sean Foley, he’s also been focused on developing his on-course instincts with mental coach Alan Fine. The old Ames was known for being his own worst critic, a trait that built up over the course of a round or tournament. The new version of Ames is more patient, with both his game and himself.
“In the past I would just beat myself up,” he said. But at 43, Ames has convinced himself that patience – as opposed to frustration – will lead to better performances.
“I’m a lot more patient than I used to be, that’s for sure,” he explained. “Patient in the sense that I don’t let the bogeys and double bogeys get to me in the way they used to in the past. Because you just don’t know what it’ll all come down to in the end.”
Indeed, at the Mercedes in January, Ames struggled on Saturday while paired in the lead group with Weir. However, on Sunday he looked and played like a different golfer, shooting 66 to bypass Weir and end up in third place.
Though making the changes to his swing is part of a long process, Ames said he’s been witness to a lot of positive results. His ball striking is crisper and his often ailing back has been trouble free.
The changes have created a golfer more certain of his abilities and more focused than perhaps at any time in his career. Traditionally the careers of PGA Tour pros start to wane when they reach Ames’ age. But Ames is convinced he’ll get better in coming years, especially given his new swing and renewed push on physical fitness. Put it together and he’s certain he’s playing the best golf of his life.
“It has to be pretty close,” Ames said. “With me I feel more and more confident as a person and my body is holding up and I’m working at it. I’m very close.”