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Shatel: Stephen Ames is Senior Open's first-round co-leader, but his caddy got the attention

Shatel: Stephen Ames is Senior Open's first-round co-leader, but his caddy got the attention

Scenes from the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday

Troy Martin is your co-leader after the first round of the U.S. Senior Open.

Oh, sorry, Stephen Ames. Yes, you actually shot the five-under 65 that is tied atop the leaderboard. Right. You are the player. Martin is the caddy.

But here in the Big O, Martin is the celebrity.

As Ames was rolling in putts at Omaha Country Club like Ty Webb — nanananana — the Danny Noonan part of the duo was attracting the attention.

A nice gallery followed along as Ames assaulted the back nine. But whom were they following?

“It was neat,” said Martin, a Millard North grad and veteran caddy who lives year-round in Omaha.

“I kind of feel bad because you want your golfer to be the man, but I had so many well-wishers out there. It was kind of unusual. I saw people from all over, high school friends out there.”

Ames got a glimpse of Martin’s local connections earlier this week.

Ames and his wife, Kelly, are staying with Troy and Mary Martin in west Omaha — the “basement suite,” as Ames put it.

On Tuesday night, Martin threw a party for a few hundred of his friends — including caddies and some tour players. A band played on the front yard while refreshments and food were served on the driveway.

“You don’t see that very often,” Ames said.

Martin also arranged for a “Canadian care package” for Ames. It was provided by Rob Facca, the former UNO hockey player and current Chicago Blackhawks scout, who lives in Omaha and is from Canada.

Among the Canadian goodies: ketchup chips.

“They’re ketchup-flavored chips,” Ames said. “My wife enjoys them. I’m the Oh Henry! bar. She’s the Coffee Crisp.”

On the eve of the first round, Ames cooked chicken and Martin made salmon, and the two couples drank wine and watched the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the home cooking extended to Omaha Country Club, where Martin did the Senior Open yardage book — as part of his “Bucket Boy” yardage book business.

Martin has walked and driven OCC and looked at the old course from all angles. So when Ames arrived Monday night, the two walked nine holes before playing on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We kind of had a game plan set,” Ames said.

“The main thing for this golf course is if you’re in the fairway, it’s a plus. Two, you’ve got to figure out where the pins are on the greens to give yourself the easiest putts. We were diligent on where to hit it and where not to hit it.

“We did our homework.”

Ames got a nice break when he teed off Thursday morning: temperatures were low 70s, little wind. Perfect conditions.

And near-perfect playing, 11 of 13 fairways hit and laser irons to the correct side of each hole. Ames said his 32 on the back could have been lower. He three-putted the 17th from 8 feet.

“It was a dream come true,” Martin said. “He played so good. He could have birdied every hole on the back nine with the exception of 18. He hit the ball near flawlessly today, had the distances down and played a great round of golf.”

The local boys down at the bar will tell the story like Martin orchestrated the entire round. But that’s not how the local hero tells it.

“My role is very limited,” Martin said. “I’m just giving him numbers and being his friend out there. He doesn’t need much help. He’s so talented. When he’s on, it’s fun to watch.”

Ames has won four times on the PGA Tour, including the 2006 Players Championship. He’s won twice on the Champions Tour, including this year’s Principal Classic in Des Moines.

Best finish in a major: top 10 in the 1997 British Open.

Martin’s best finish in a major: winning the 2008 Senior Players title with D.A. Weibring.

“I’d like to win a second,” Martin said. “I might retire.”

Ames won’t let him. The two stumbled into a partnership last winter. Thanks, Peter Jacobsen.

Martin, who kicked around mini tours as a player, happened to be hanging out with tour veteran Dave Stockton one day. Stockton needed a caddy. Martin thought it would be interesting.

He never looked back. Stockton. Weibring. Steve Lowery. Nick Price. Nick Faldo. Jay Haas. And Jacobsen. Martin has carried their bags, lived the fun life on the senior tour, and then headed back to his hometown to cheer for his Huskers and Bluejays.

This past winter, it looked like the road might end as Jacobsen talked of retirement. And Martin thought he would give full attention to his yardage book business.

Then one day, Jacobsen and Martin were paired with Ames and wife/caddy Kelly. While Jacobsen talked of retiring, Kelly played matchmaker between Ames and Martin.

In their first four tournaments, Ames finished tied for 10th, second, 32nd and won in Des Moines. For a cool $484,000.

“When we started out, I told my wife, “When you caddy for me, you don’t ask me how I felt about a shot,” Ames said. “(Troy) was asking how do you feel about this club? He seemed just a little too nice, like what is wrong with him?

“But that’s him. He’s been great, and it’s been a great friendship.”

They call it Nebraska Nice, Stephen. Like the Martins taking the Ameses out to the Drover on Thursday night.

“We’re going to show him a whiskey steak,” Martin said.

Does that go with ketchup chips?

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