Healthy Holmes ready to take on Valhalla

J.B. Holmes pumped his fist after winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May. Holmes' first win since 2008 earned him a spot in this week's PGA Championship.
J.B. Holmes pumped his fist after winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May. Holmes' first win since 2008 earned him a spot in this week's PGA Championship. ASSOCIATED PRESS

When Campbellsville native J.B. Holmes completed his three-year climb from brain surgery to PGA Tour winner in May at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., he gave a fist pump, then dropped his hands and looked around the 18th green to absorb the scene.

His caddie, Brandon Parsons, flashed his hand toward Holmes for a handshake. Holmes wasn't having any casual pleasantries and went for a full-body embrace.

"It had been a while," Holmes said. "It was nice to be in that spot, and I wanted to take (the scene) in."

Holmes, a former UK golfer who was once the SEC Player of the Year, won the tournament by a shot over Jim Furyk. The win was his first since 2008 and qualified Holmes into this week's PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville as well as next year's Masters Tournament.

"I didn't necessarily think about all that extra stuff," he said. "I was happy that I was finally back in that position."

The 32-year-old is 33rd in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoff standings, his highest ranking since the year before his surgery. He has made 15 of 18 cuts and has recorded six Top-20 finishes, not including this weekend's Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Holmes grew up in Campbellsville, where he was "interested in golf since I was in diapers." He met Parsons as a child, growing up with Parsons and his family. Parsons' dad, David, was the golf coach at Campbellsville High School and directed Holmes and his son through their formative golf years.

At UK, Holmes won six events over his career, earning the SEC's Player of the Year nod in 2005 as the Cats' best player during its only conference championship season.

"I had always wanted to play there," he said. "The improvements they've made there (with the new golf facilities) have only made the program better."

Holmes had a pair of PGA Tour wins and a Ryder Cup appearance to his credit when he started experiencing dizziness and vertigo during the spring of 2011.

"I was playing at the Players (Championship in May) and I started feeling dizzy. I had early hints that something was going on, but it wasn't anything too obvious," Holmes said. "I had something like this before, but not like this. I was getting dizzy and stayed dizzy."

He battled those symptoms and was evaluated several times throughout the summer of 2011. The symptoms, especially the dizziness, worsened, and Holmes withdrew from the PGA Championship after a first-round 81.

Holmes found out through another set of tests that he was suffering from Chiari Malformations, the term given to a structural defect in the brain's cerebellum that upsets a person's central balance and causes dizziness, among other symptoms.

"I've always had it, and the doctors told me that (the effects) are a matter of how strong the symptoms are," Holmes said. "Either they're strong or not, and they got worse at that time."

Surgery was the best and most effective option, Holmes said, and he underwent brain surgery to help curb the malformation in his brain. The surgery was successful in helping reduce symptoms, but Holmes was allergic to an adhesive on the titanium of a plate inserted on his skull that was inserted during the first surgery. Holmes struggled to get healthy enough to rehabilitate, and he underwent another procedure to take out the plate in his skull.

His family was concerned throughout the entire process, Holmes said, but his main concern was getting to rehabilitation as soon as possible so he could begin playing golf as soon as was possible.

"It was a relief," Holmes said about the procedure. "There was a relief that we had to have something that you can do, because there was no way I could be able to stay on the PGA Tour like that."

Once the initial effects from both operations subsided, Holmes focused on nursing his golf game back to full health.

"I've always had a big shoulder turn in my swing, so it was a big thing to get shoulder speed back," Holmes said. "I was hitting about 10 yards short in my irons, and I wasn't really hitting a consistent mark, so I had to work my yardages a bit."

In 2013, though, the constant repetitions caught up to his long and powerful swing, and he fought an elbow injury at the beginning of the year.

"I hit too many balls too early; I got tennis elbow, and I was fighting that," Holmes said. "My arm was hurting, so when I broke my ankle I had a whole year off and it was probably a blessing in disguise."

Holmes did not break his ankle on a bad swing or during an awkward shot; instead, he did it roller blading with his wife.

"I wasn't doing flips or spins or anything like that. I was going along slowly and I hit a crack or something, and my ankle snapped. I couldn't do it in a million tries if I wanted to."

His drives have not suffered from the wear and tear; Holmes ranks third on the tour in driving distance this season. Long drives have been a dominant characteristic in Holmes' game since he started playing golf.

In June, Holmes earned the second top-20 major finish of the year, a tie for 17th place at the U.S. Open in Pinehurst after an explosive final four holes. He responded to a double bogey-bogey stretch in the final holes of the fourth round with a pair of birdies that left him a shot short of automatic qualification into next year's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington.

Entry into the next few majors shouldn't be an issue, as Holmes is ranked 65th in the world after ending the 2013 season at 475th in the world rankings. He is healthy now, and focused on moving up in the golf landscape, starting this week in Louisville.

"You're always trying to get better," Holmes said. "You want to be the best player in the world. You don't really pay attention to the ranking. You have to go out and play up to that number."

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