Happy birthday to Stephen Ames. And this is not just any birthday. Today, the Calgarian turns the big Five-Oh.
So is the four-time winner on the PGA Tour happy about his big day?
"Hell no. It's 50! Who wants to get there?" Ames chuckled in mock protest. "Actually, I'm OK with it - it's just a number."
But it's a big number, one that makes him eligible for the Champions Tour, that career mulligan circuit for the older set. He will make his official debut as an Old Guy on May 22 at the Senior PGA Championship, one of that tour's five majors.
"I look at it as being fortunate," Ames said, "because I have another place to play. Someone referred to it the other day as the back nine of my career. For me, it means I have 15 more years of golf and having fun with it and not having to worry about a job or a pay cheque coming in. I'm pretty much set - it's nice."
Ames is ready to compete on the Champions Tour and thinks he can play well. Compared to many of the older guys, he's in great shape. His back problems that troubled him years ago haven't been an issue for some time and in preparation for his move to the 50-and-over tour, he's lost 11 pounds.
"I've been working out hard," he said, "doing some hard cardio. It's not about weights for me, it's cardio and all of a sudden the weight started dropping off. I was a size 35 pant and now I'm slipping into 32s."
Ames, who is being inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame later this year, has also been working hard on his game, adding some distance to his drives and concentrating on his scoring clubs. Those will come in handy on a tour where the courses are 7,000 yards as opposed to the 7,500 he's been playing.
"I expect to play well," he stated. "The only difference is that instead of hitting 3-irons into greens, I'll be hitting 9-irons."
After years of working with Sean Foley, Ames parted ways with the guy he brought to the PGA Tour last year. The two remain friendly but Ames found it hard to get time on Foley's busy schedule. So he's been seeing Calgary swing coach Paul Horton, and is happy with the new relationship.
"The changes I'm making, I'm understanding them and I'm starting to hit it further, which is a bit scary," he said. "The hard thing we're struggling with right now is keeping it on the golf course. That's just because I'm not quite secure with it yet. But overall, I'm definitely seeing the difference. I'm not as short as the numbers are saying right now."
In addition to less mileage on the scorecard, Ames is also looking forward to the more relaxed atmosphere on the Champions Tour, which he says will fit his personality. It's definitely a fan-friendly circuit and the out-going Ames believes he'll enjoy that part of it, something that's been missing from the current PGA Tour.
"I'm going to get to be me a little more," he said. "The guys out here [on the PGA Tour] as so serious and stern-faced and there are no smiles... I'm still enjoying it out here but it's tougher and so that's why I'm really looking forward to the Champions Tour."
Ames will spend this year going back and forth between the two tours, playing 20 on the PGA Tour and filling in the rest of the season on the Champions Tour. For the first time in his career, he'll also get a home game, teeing it up in the Shaw Charity Classic, the stop in Calgary. Sleeping in his own bed while playing a tournament is something he's never done, but he's looking forward to helping the tournament become even more successful than its maiden run last year.
As he did on the PGA Tour, Ames will take to the Champions Tour in his own way. On the course, he should be a contender with that silky smooth swing of his. Off it, he will be the same guy too -- he never worries much about what others think and he's not afraid to say what's on his mind. That's refreshing. Stephen Ames leads a stress-free life and that's a good way to be.