When golf's just a game

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

If Stephen Ames had ever doubted whether golf is a game in which the mind must conquer the muscles, the principle was hammered home this summer.

While standing on the vast fairways of the Old Course at St. Andrews in July, it suddenly struck Ames he couldn't compete with the world's best players at the British Open while his thoughts and emotions were on the other side of the Atlantic.

Back home in Calgary, wife Jodi was awaiting surgery to remove part of a lung in which doctors had found cancer.

Suddenly, four-footers for birdie and buried lies in the bunker were inconsequential with Ames' only concern centred around his wife's frightful brush with cancer.

"When I went across to the British Open, I realized, 'What am I doing here? I'm not even thinking,' " recalls Ames, 41, now happy to report Jodi has received a clean bill of health after a recent checkup, although full recovery could take a year.

"It's such a feel game over there and I realized I wasn't reacting to the shots I was seeing and that told me that mentally I wasn't there at all. I realized it was just too difficult to perform.

"I learned a lot from it, as did everybody on our team. Now I'm looking forward to next year starting off again. You never realize how every aspect of your life has to be very balanced so you can perform like I did the year before. That's how it is with all the best players."

In 2004, Ames won the Western Open, posting 11 top-10 finishes for more than $3.3 million US in earnings.

This season, with his wife's health a constant concern after she was diagnosed in June, Ames struggled with just three top-10 finishes. He even travelled the PGA Tour circuit with his two young sons while Jodi was recovering back home.

His best showings were late-season charges for a seventh-place tie at the Canadian Open and a $155,000 payday, along with a 10th place finish at a World Golf Championship event. Both results came after Jodi was well on her way to recovery, although Ames could only climb to 83rd on the PGA Tour's money list with relatively modest earnings of $959,000.

"She's back but it will take more than a year for her to get used to the breathing part of it, which is normal, but so far there's no chemo or anything else needed," Ames says.

He expects a much better season in 2006, although he'll hardly touch a golf club again until January before heading to San Diego to work with long-time coach Dennis Sheedy.

Then it's off to the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to start the year in Palm Springs Jan. 26-30.

He'll also be wearing more Nike swooshes in the new year after the expiration of current endorsement deals with Pengrowth and Firethorn.

Although he still intends to do some personal appearances for Pengrowth, Nike will be his prime sponsor with a full bag of that company's clubs strapped over the shoulder of brother Robert, his caddy. As always, victories are a prime goal, although year-long consistency on the money list is most satisfying.

"You could win an event and not have a very good year," argues Ames, whose 2004 Western Open victory is his only PGA Tour title.

"I think it has to be about achieving goals you set for yourself. If you look at everything that happened to us, I'm quite satisfied with the way I performed, how everybody dealt with it and moved on."

As with most tour players, Ames feels an improved short game in 2006 will push him to more top-10 finishes and eventually wins, much like the game's top names.

"It's more short game than anything," Ames suggests. "The Canadian Open is a good example and maybe the world championship event in San Francisco where I also faltered. It wasn't ball striking, it was very much the short game that let me down and most of that may have been to do with my lack of playing.

"I look at the bigger guys' games and as good as I hit the golf ball, if I had their short games I'd win four or five times a year."


Videos

Photos