One Good Zone Deserves Another


Stephen Ames had that look.
I first saw it on the putting green early Sunday afternoon when I watched him and playing competitor Vijay Singh going through their final preparations for the last round of The Players Championship that Ames would win by a stunning six shots against a field that included 48 of the top 50 ranked players in the field.
There was an almost dream-like quality to the way Ames chipped and putted in the moments before he and Singh, comprising the final pairing, teed off Sunday at Sawgrass. Bunker shots emerged softly, landing lightly and tight to their targets. Ames shoulders were square, his step was light, his movements were in synch and his posture was athletically-erect.
Of course I didnt realize it at the time. No one, certainly not me or anybody I know, is that smart. But reflecting back and replaying it in my minds eye, it was clear afterward that Ames was preparing to enter that most sought after place in golf'The Zone.
His body language combined focus, relaxation and energy.
Ames had hinted he knew he was getting there as early as late Saturday when someone asked him if he was still scarred from the 9 and 8 match play dismantling he suffered at the hands of Tiger Woods earlier this year in California.
I put it aside right away, Ames said. Woods had been in the zone himself that day at LaCosta, stringing birdie after birdie and leaving Ames in his turgid wake.
The good golf shrinks like Bob Rotella and Gio Valiante make their living trying to define and put their patients/clients/students in the zone. What I know about this is that Ames magical mystery tour around 18 holes Sunday, all factors considered, was the longest and most compelling zone visit I have seen this year.
I am reminded of what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously opined about obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio way back in 1964. I dont know if I can define it, Stewart wrote. but I know it when I see it. Same thing applies to the zone.
Woods had put it to Ames at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. And Ames had gotten even, with interest, at The Players.
His final round 67 was eight shots better than the scoring average for the field and was the low round of the day. It left him tied for first in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation for the week. The victory exempted him into The Masters and the British Open through 2008. It exempted him on the PGA Tour through 2011. And it earned him spots in this years U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
Four years ago Ames had posted an early final round 67 in this event only to come second, losing by two when Craig Perks needed just one putt on the final three holes at Sawgrass.
This time 67 was much more than good enough. And, oh-by-the-way, Ames played those daunting final three holes in six under par for the week.
My enduring memory of Ames Sunday at Sawgrass will remain fixed on how he bottled it for four-plus hours on one of the worlds toughest golf tests.
I will be surprised if anybody, including Tiger Woods, plays a better, more compelling, efficient and quietly-spectacular round of golf this year.
If I am proven wrong, I cant wait to see the evidence.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt