It's not unusual for a player and caddie to differ over club
selection. It is unusual when a player and caddie bicker over
club sandwich selection. It happened on June 27 in Lemont, Ill.,
site of the Western Open. Stephen Ames, a 40-year-old Tour
veteran, had just stepped out of the lunch wagon that serves
caddies at Tour sites when he noticed that the surface of his
sandwich was a bit dark, like a bentgrass green viewed from down
grain. ¬∂ Ames frowned and asked, "Is this whole wheat or white?"
¬∂ His caddie, seated at a table under the trailer's awning, threw
up a few imaginary grains of wheat, pretended to watch them drift
away and said, "Looks like whole wheat." At that, Ames wheeled
and stepped back into the wagon with his plate. His caddie,
addressing Ames's back, said, "It won't kill you." ¬∂ Ames ignored
the snarky comment. Good help, he would explain a few minutes
later, is hard to find.
Or, he added with an affectionate sideways glance, not so hard.
Not when one of the job applicants grew up hitting hundreds of
balls a day beside you under a certain mango tree on the
Caribbean island of Trinidad. Not when the potential bag toter
understands your passion for stewed chicken and macaroni pie. Not
when the looper's cellphone already has the phone numbers of your
mom and dad, wife, sister-in-law and swing coach on speed dial.
Yes, it's a brother act. And while these Ames brothers don't
croon syrupy harmonies like the similarly named quartet of
yesteryear, they hope to make beautiful music next week when
Stephen tees it up in the British Open at Royal Troon. Since May
2003, when he hired 31-year-old Robert to carry his bag, Stephen
has earned more than $2.4 million and has climbed 53 places in
the World Ranking, to a career-best 31st. Heading into the
Western Open, the naturalized Canadian citizen had played 16
events, notching eight top 10s, a tie for ninth in the U.S. Open
and a freakishly high profile in the official Tour stats. (He was
sixth in greens hit in regulation, fourth in birdie average,
second in final-round scoring average, second in the all-around
category and 12th on the money list.) "With all the money he's
making," says fellow Tour pro Neil Lancaster, "he needs to move
to Florida for tax purposes."
Who gets credit for Stephen's hot streak? "Stephen, obviously,"
says Robert. "He hits the shots. He makes the putts. He handles
the pressure." But Stephen is quick to point out that his little
brother, who is analytical to a fault, supplies the kind of clear
thinking that has often been missing from his game. "I'm a feel
player, I'm very right-brained," says Stephen, whose resume is
highlighted by two European tour victories and a tie for fifth in
the '97 British Open. "Robert is the opposite, very left-brained.
Butt our heads together and we're an amazing combo." It also
helps that Robert is used to Stephen's on-course quirks, which
include a lot of bantering, sound effects and cartoonlike mimicry
of other players. Asked to explain his lighthearted approach,
Stephen makes a bug-eyed face. "It's a game!" he croaks. "It's
not life and death."
The compatibility of the brothers should surprise no one. Stephen
taught Robert how to play in Point-a-Pierre, Trinidad, where the
boys were raised (along with sisters Anna-Lisa, 38, and Carolyn,
37) by their parents, Michael and Marilyn. The family lived just
off the 5th hole of the Point-a-Pierre Golf Course, one of seven
tracks in Trinidad and Tobago, a former British colony off the
coast of Venezuela. Michael works as an engineer at the Texaco
"Robert has a better swing, technically, than I do," says
Stephen, who taught himself to play at age 13 by reading Jack
Nicklaus's Golf My Way. The brothers have represented Trinidad
and Tobago in three World Cups, their best finish coming last
year when they tied for 15th out of 24 teams at Kiawah Island.
Robert, who twice won the National Minority College championship
while earning a degree with honors in business economics at
Florida A&M, has played on the Hooters, Tommy Armour, South
American and Canadian tours. He had planned to take a shot at the
PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament this December but put that aside
when he learned that his wife, Katherine, will give birth to
their first child in October.
Neither brother is a celebrity in Trinidad. Stephen is one of the
few Caribbean golfers to play on the Tour, but the average
islander can identify only one--Puerto Rico's Chi Chi Rodriguez.
"I get absolutely no recognition from the Trinidadian media,"
says Stephen. "Golf there is still considered a rich man's
sport." He is better known in Canada, where he has lived since he
married his wife, Jodi, in 1990--possibly because, unlike former
Masters champ Mike Weir and the four other Canadians on Tour,
Ames actually lives north of the border, in Calgary. At last
month's U.S. Open, Stephen was surrounded by a covey of Canadian
journalists after every round.
To get to this point, the Ames boys have had to work on the
player-caddie relationship, which is inherently stressful, even
without sibling issues. In April, during the final round of the
MCI Heritage at Harbour Town, Stephen wanted to hit a club off
the tee of the 332-yard 9th hole that would leave him a full
pitching wedge into the heart-shaped green. Robert, noting that
the wind and tee location were the same as the day before,
recommended a four-iron. Stephen took the club and drove his ball
down the left side about 220 yards, bringing into play a tree
that he had pointedly said he wanted to avoid. "I told Robert I
wanted to be short, not long," says Stephen, who ended up parring
the hole on his way to an even-par 72 and a tie for seventh.
"There's two ways of looking at it," a sweetly smiling Robert
reminded his brother last week. "If you had hit it down the
middle of the fairway, the tree wouldn't have come into play."
Stephen snarled theatrically.
"That was a turning point," says Stephen, who had pointed out to
Robert that while the wind and the tee might not have changed
overnight, the golfer had. Standing over the ball, Stephen felt
different. "Robert tends to take things from yesterday, but a
golf shot is always right now." One week later, on the advice of
his sports psychologist, Stephen assumed responsibility for his
club selection. "Now Robbie simply gives me the yardages and any
other information I need to make a committed swing. I see the
shot, I pull the club, I hit the shot. If anything goes wrong,
I'm to blame, not him."
The arrangement has served both men well. "The beauty of our
player-caddie relationship," says Robert, "is that I'm not afraid
of losing my job." But that trivializes the benefits that Robert
provides his brother. "Some caddies are only cheerleaders, but
Robbie has the eyes of a coach," says Dennis Sheehy, who is the
brothers' actual swing coach, having worked with Stephen since
the mid-'90s and with Robert since 2000. "He can see if Stephen's
swing is off during a round, and he can help him get it back."
The downside, although neither brother wants to dwell on it, is
that Robert has put aside his own aspirations for golf glory to
help Stephen achieve his. "I would like Robert to fulfill his
dream," says Marilyn Ames, who phones her boys from Trinidad on
Wednesday nights to wish them luck before every tournament. "If
he is now financially able, he should go back out there and
Stephen thinks that Robert was spinning his wheels as a
tournament player and wasn't going to get any better until he
learned to trust his intuition as much as he trusts his numbers.
"Feel it!" Stephen has been known to squawk, annoyed by his
brother's tendency to pace off the precise distance to the hole.
"I felt he was wasting his money," Stephen says. "I thought
bringing him out with me would help his game."
Robert, who says that caddying on the Tour is like getting an
advanced degree in self-awareness and course management, thinks
the experience has helped. But he worries that the healthy income
he makes caddying for Stephen will turn him into a salary slave.
That's why he continues to work on his game in his free time. It
also explains his uncertainty about where he belongs on the
player-caddie continuum. On the one hand Robert refuses to put on
a family badge and eat with Stephen in the clubhouse, preferring
to take his meals at the lunch wagon. On the other hand he still
feels apart from the career caddies, some of whom were ticked off
at this year's Players Championship when he won their
closest-to-the-hole contest on the 17th hole at Sawgrass.
Robert's nine-iron to 4'8" earned him $1,000, an Omega watch and
whispered complaints about touring pros not belonging in caddie
competitions. Fortunately Robert's strong work ethic and playful
demeanor have impressed both caddies and players. Davis Love III,
whose brother, Mark, used to caddie for him, approached Robert
last season and said, "Hang in there. I know how tough it is
being on your brother's bag."
Robert wasn't even sure his efforts were fully appreciated by his
brother until March at Doral, when the two of them overheard an
exchange between golfer Joe Durant and his caddie, Bob Low. "Hey,
Bob," Durant said at the locker room door, "that was good work
out there today. Thank you."
"Stephen sees this," Robert recalls, "and says, 'Joe, is that how
it goes?' Then he looks at me with the stupidest smirk on his
face and says, 'Hey, Robbie, that was good work today!'" But ever
since, Stephen has ended the week by complimenting Robert on his
work. "But in a serious tone," Robert adds with satisfaction.
Sheehy, impressed by the positive impact that Robert has had on
Stephen's game, deflects any suggestion that Stephen has a
selfish interest in keeping his brother on the bag. "Robert has
his dream," Sheehy says, "but what a second-best, to share your
brother's dream." Robert, for his part, responds with a shrug and
a smile. "You don't cut off your nose to spite your face," he
said last week, glancing at Stephen's golf bag like a mother
checking on a toddler. "I still have time to make it as a player,
and this way I get a taste of what golf is like at the highest
level. It's awesome."
Big brother, munching contentedly on his rebreaded sandwich,
pointed out that not many siblings get to walk together down the
fairways of Royal Troon during the Open Championship, as he and
Robert will do next week. As for what he owes his brother,
Stephen suddenly turned earnest. "I owe him more than I can say.
I've always wanted to be recognized as one of the best players in
the world. I've always wanted to compete in the majors every year
and maybe have one fall in my lap. With Robbie's help, with what
I've achieved already, considering where we come from...."
Stephen hesitated, searching for the right words ... and then
gave up. "And with tons of recognition, too!" He rolled his eyes
to show he was being facetious.
Robert, always quick with the needle, flashed a smile. "Got some
issues to deal with, brother?"
Judging from their laughter, fame beyond Canada is simply one
more goal the Ames brothers plan to pursue as a team.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN HEAD GAME Stephen (in red shirt) says that Robert's more analytical approach to the game has helped his play.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG SWING SET Robert, who won the caddie contest this year on Sawgrass's 17th (left), lacks Stephen's natural feel for the game.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN FAMILY LINE After a difference of opinion, Robert no longer chooses clubs for his brother, but he does help read putts.
"I felt he was wasting his money," Stephen says. "I thought
bringing him out with me would help his game."
"Some caddies are cheerleaders," says Sheehy, "but Robbie has
the eyes of a coach. He can see if Stephen's swing is off."