OAKVILLE, ONT. - The last time Stephen Ames was the low-scoring Canadian at the RBC Canadian Open was 2009, and as the Calgary resident said Tuesday, that seems like a century ago.
It has been a while since Ames was in the spotlight. He won four PGA Tour events between 2004 and 2009, and grabbed headlines in 2006 for suggesting he liked his chances of beating Tiger Woods in match play.
Today, Ames is nine months from his 50th birthday, just shy of being eligible for the Champions Tour. He is one of 19 Canadians who will be playing at this year’s Canadian Open, to be held at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., Thursday through Sunday.
Ames will be making his 16th appearance in the Open, which will feature young, fast-rising Canadians such as Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., and David Hearn of Brantford, Ont. Ames missed the cut at the tournament the last two years, just as he has done in nine of his 17 PGA events this season. But he still has one of the best short games on the Tour. And he’s as outspoken as ever.
The Trinidad-born Canadian is 164th in FedEx points, and 180th on the PGA money list. The player once accustomed to top-10 finishes has just one inside the top 25 this season. But while most players notice a decline in their short game as they age, Ames has thrived in that area. He’s third in the PGA behind Sergio Garcia and Greg Chalmers for best putting average.
“My game hasn’t been great,” Ames said. “I’ve struggled with the driver, it’s been the weak part of my game. If I get my game back to where it was, hitting and ball-striking-wise, I won’t have a problem competing with these guys because my short game and putting are still very strong.”
That should serve him well when he decides to venture off for the Champions Tour, where the courses aren’t as long.
He is impressed with the young golfers emerging from Canada and striking out on the PGA Tour. He likes helping young golfers, but thinks Canada’s development model falls short.
“Golf Canada is in my opinion not doing the job of being the governing body of golf for Canada,” Ames said. “The models of Australia and Sweden are great models to follow. I’m referring to facilities for practising, having elite practice facilities in each province.”
Ames stressed that young Canadian players need to be able to work their skills indoors during the winter, and that’s a tough financial challenge for Golf Canada. He pointed to young American and South Korean stars thriving because they are putting in enormous amounts of time practising. He warns about being too patient with young players.
“It takes time for these guys to get there … but at the same time it’s also an excuse,” Ames said. “There’s time, but I think the time comes from how much time you put into it to get there quicker.”
Ames said he hopes the Canadian Open continues to be played in new locations across the country, something Golf Canada suggested Tuesday is likely to happen 2015 through 2017. Ames hoped for Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Calgary.
Ames also said much can be done to increase the participation in golf across Canada. He suggested more 12-hole courses for amateurs, and said course developers should think hard about who they are designing for.
“Pros make up less than 1 per cent of the population of the world that plays the game, so why are we building courses that suit us?” Ames said. “We should be making them to suit the majority of people who play.”
Ames’s 14-year-old son Ryan will be his caddy this week.
“It’s very enjoyable to have a family member with me reaping the same enjoyment from the game I’ve enjoyed for years,” Ames said. “Hopefully he’ll continue the Ames tradition, the sarcastic Ames tradition.”