Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. – You never know when you’ll run into exactly the right golfer for a chat. A long time had passed since I’d spoken in person with Stephen Ames, but there he was on one of the two practice greens at PGA National’s Champion course. The Honda Classic starts here Thursday, and Ames was putting on its pristine surface that looks almost unreal, it’s so unblemished.
The last I’d spoken with Ames, one of five Canadians in this week’s tournament, he was considering making changes to his team. Yes, golf is a team game on the PGA Tour. You didn’t know that? Anyway, the 48-year-old winner of four PGA Tour events was not happy last July after missing the cut in the British Open. Peeved, he talked about altering his starting rotation. Maybe swing coach Sean Foley would go. Maybe his mental coach Alan Fine would go. Ditto for his caddie Don Donatello.
Fast-forward seven months to where Ames is now. He has a new caddy, but is back working with Foley and Fine, who are at the Honda. Ames recently saw Foley for the first time since the RBC Canadian Open in July, the week after the British Open. They worked together during the Farmers Insurance Open last month in San Diego. But they’re not spending as much time together.
“I’ve knocked Sean down considerably,” Ames said of the amount of time they’re working together. “It’s the same thing Tiger has done. I gave up too much control. I needed to rely more on myself. Now I have Sean tell me one thing I need to do, and I get on from there.”
Ames will turn 50 on April 28, 2014, when he’ll play the Champions Tour. He’s eligible off his position on the career money list, and his PGA Tour wins. The way he was talking, his 50th birthday can’t come soon enough.
“It’s no fun here,” Ames said of playing the PGA Tour. “The pace of play is so slow. The officials don’t have the balls to stand up to the guys.”
Ames looks at each tournament’s draw to see if he’s playing with quick or slow players. He said that everybody knows who the slow players are. He said the slow players set money aside every year to pay the fines they know they’ll get. I think he was serious when he said this.
“Yes, they do. They set money aside at the beginning of the year. It’s their slow play budget.”
Ames is starting Thursday at 7:15 AM, in the threesome ahead of Tiger Woods. That, he said, means chaos, given the number of spectators that will follow Woods and scurry ahead of his group to watch him play the next hole.
“The PGA Tour should almost have a starting time (that is, an empty time) ahead of Tiger,” Ames said.
I asked Ames what he thinks of the anchoring ban that the USGA and R&A have proposed. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week that the PGA Tour is against the ban. The European Tour is apparently going to support the ban. More chaos is in the air.
“From what I’ve read, you have two heads butting,” Ames said, meaning the USGA and the PGA Tour.
But what does he think about the proposed ban? Is the player who anchors the putter making a stroke?
“They should be swinging the putter,” Ames said. “Nerves aren’t involved when you anchor. Tiger made a great point when he said we swing 13 clubs, so we should also swing the putter. The USGA is 15 years behind (in its proposed ban), though. It comes down to a bunch of egos now trying to make a decision. I’m just glad I’m leaving.”
But he’s leaving eventually for the Champions Tour. Don’t many players anchor in its tournaments?
“Basically everyone anchors,” Ames said, “so the Champions Tour would need a local rule [if the proposed ban goes through and the PGA Tour goes along with it in the end]. If the Champions Tour doesn’t have a local rule allowing players to anchor, the Tour could go.”
It was time for me to go, which was too bad. Ames was just heating up. He’s a talker, and he doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. When it comes to golf talk live, Ames is a major champion.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein