Van Sickle: Fall Series turned into Comeback Swing

Van Sickle: Fall Series turned into Comeback Swing

Ames's yearlong swing changes paid off at last in Orlando.
Fred Vuich/SI

The last thing we expected from the PGA Tour’s first Fall Series was relevance. The four-week FedEx Cup playoffs in August and September were supposed to bring down the curtain on the “real” season, and the seven leftover tournaments figured to be orphans doomed to wither and die in the shadow of college and pro football. But we were wrong. The Fall Series turned out to be the Comeback Swing, as name players such as Chad Campbell, Steve Flesch, Justin Leonard and Mike Weir rediscovered their games and returned to the winner’s circle. Hey, we could call it the Resurrection Connection — tell the boys down in marketing to get to work.

Stephen Ames composed the theme’s final movement on Sunday at the Tour’s honest-to-goodness final stop, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, and his one-shot victory over Tim Clark may have implications for 2008, because Ames won with a retooled swing.

It’s not as if the old Ames was a chop. Remember how he blew away the field at the 2006 Players Championship? And despite competing while in the middle of a swing change, Ames played well enough this year to get into one of the final pairings on Sunday at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. Both Sunday rounds went badly — two trombones (76s) — but simply getting that far was encouraging. Now the makeover appears to be complete. “I came here to work on my swing, and here I am winning,” said Ames. “I’m progressively getting better at the ripe old age of 43.”

Why change a swing that had worked so well in the past? “My back didn’t hold up,” said Ames. “I was done after the [2006] PGA.” So, shortly before last year’s Skins Game (which he would win), Ames embarked on a full-swing makeover with the help of Sean Foley, the national coach of the Canadian Junior Golf Association. (A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Ames now is a Canadian citizen and lives in Calgary.) Ames says he was only “40 percent” comfortable while contending at the Open and the PGA. And, in fact, he was a cumulative 45 over par for the ’07 Masters, Players, U.S. and British Opens and the PGA. Last week he said he was finally close to 100%. “The work that Sean and I have done has made such a difference,” said Ames, who broke through a crowded leader board with three birdies in a row on the final nine, starting at the 13th.

To clinch the win Ames parred in on the Magnolia course’s three newly lengthened closing holes — no mean feat. He found a greenside bunker at the par-4 18th but played a brilliant 65-foot sand shot to three feet and made the putt for a four-under-par 68. He was 17-under 271 for the week. “The second shot wasn’t what I wanted,” said Ames, “but the bunker shot turned out perfectly.”

The only player who finished the week nearly as happy as Ames was Kevin Stadler, who came in 15th at 10 under. The $73,600 Stadler won lifted him from 127th to 124th on the final money list, giving him exempt status for ’08. Stadler, the son of Craig (the Walrus) Stadler, was the only player not already exempt to crack the top 125. He bumped Ted Purdy, who began the week at No. 125. “It’s not life or death,” said Stadler, “but it’s a hell of a big deal.”

The Fall Series couldn’t make that ultimate pronouncement, but the Tour’s last lap certainly turned out to be a bigger deal than expected.