Stephen Ames wanted to play in this week's Kemper Open so much that he was willing to miss the birth of his second child.
"I was torn," Ames said. "My heart wanted to be home. At the same time, my mind was telling me, `No, you're going to go play golf.' I've got to go start."
Just teeing off in a PGA Tour event was a victory for Ames, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who lives in Calgary with his wife, Jodi, and sons Justin, 2, and Ryan, who was born Tuesday morning.
Ames, who stands at 5-over-par 218 after shooting a 73 yesterday, has had difficulty obtaining a visa to enter the United States to play in tournaments and had been banned from the country for five years because of an incident in 1991.
The 35-year-old Ames refused to comment on the specifics of the situation, but according to reports in the Toronto Star and Calgary Herald, he and his wife were returning to Florida, where they lived at the time because Ames was playing on the Ben Hogan Tour (now known as the Nike Tour).
When informing U.S. Immigration officials of their country of origin, Jodi Ames confirmed she was a Canadian citizen, while Stephen Ames said, "U.S." instead of Trinidad and Tobago. The discrepancy was discovered and U.S. officials handed him the five-year punishment.
"We have advised him not to comment on his past situation in order not to jeopardize his future career on the PGA Tour," said Chris Clark, Ames's American representative with IMG. "He has to abide by the stipulations which have been put on his visa. He has to document every time he enters and leaves the United States."
The State Department also declined to speak about Ames's case. A spokeswoman said the department does not comment on specific cases since visa records are confidential.
Ames found out just last week that a visa would be approved in time for him to play in the Kemper, ending a six-month wait. For each U.S. tournament in which he played last year, he had to apply for a visa waiver -- 13 in all. The first Trinidad and Tobago native to play on the tour, he had been trying since December to obtain a visa for this year, and finally was granted a one-year visa to enter the United States to play in tournaments and make sponsor appearances.
"It's been tough mentally to deal with," Ames said. "The hardest thing is getting yourself prepared, not knowing the date, when you're going to go in. . . . When I found out a week ago [about being able to enter the United States in time for the Kemper], I started hitting a lot of golf balls. Needless to say, I was sore."
While he was banned from the United States, Ames played on the European PGA Tour, and won the Benson & Hedges Open in England in 1996, and tied for fifth at the 1997 British Open.
Though he could have continued to play in Europe, Ames longed to return to the United States. "I personally believe this is where I belong," Ames said. "The conditions are suited for guys with patience and experience. I think I've reached that."
During his rookie season last year, Ames finished 83rd on the PGA Tour money list after playing in just 16 tournaments, and finished third in his first event, the Nissan Open. He wants to squeeze in as many tournaments as he can this year. So far, he plans to enter 19 events. Next week, he is scheduled to go to Atlanta for a U.S. Open sectional qualifier, then to Memphis for the St. Jude Classic.
Ames has no expectations as to how he will finish in the Kemper.
"I'm happy just to be here," he said. "My main thing before I left home, no matter what happened this year, I was going to enjoy it, enjoy the perks of being on tour. Whatever happens, happens."
CAPTION: Stephen Ames, 35, stands at 5-over-par 218 after three rounds at the Kemper Open. He is the first Trinidad and Tobago native to play on the PGA Tour.