For J.B. Holmes, qualification for the 2014 USPGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club means more to him than it does to most
By Robin Barwick
To J.B. Holmes, qualification for the 2014 PGA Championship means more to him than it does to most.
Not only is Holmes playing in his home state of Kentucky this week, but he is making his first appearance in the PGA Championship since 2011, to realise the primary goal he set at the start of 2014 to reach Valhalla.
It has been a long and occasionally harrowing road for Holmes, 32. He blazed his way onto the PGA Tour in 2006, in his first full season as a professional at the age of 24, but the former University of Kentucky All American golfer’s high-flying career came to a standstill in 2011 when he required brain surgery. Correcting a brain defect that affected his balance and left him with extended spells of dizziness, Holmes later required further surgery when he suffered an allergic reaction to a titanium plate inserted in his brain.
Back on tour in 2012 and 2013, Holmes then broke his ankle while roller-blading, which meant his 2013 season was left in tatters, with just five starts, four missed cuts and $15,000 of prize money.
Finally, in May this year, Holmes completed his rehabilitation on the PGA Tour with his first win in six years, at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.
“When you go through the problems like I did, it changes you,” starts Holmes, who won his first two PGA Tour events in 2006 and 2008. “I’ve tried to focus on appreciating the opportunities I have, and now if I have a bad week or miss the cut, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a golf game and I have got a good life.”
Edging out a charging Jim Furyk by a shot in the final round at Quail Hollow, the victory secured Holmes’ place in the field this week; returning him to the course where he not only competed regularly while at college at ‘UK’, but also where he provided a burst of youthful, fearless, big-hitting exuberance to the American Ryder Cup effort in 2008 – as well as two and a half points from three matches – as the United States defeated Europe for the last time to date.
“I’m really excited to come back,” says Holmes, who grew up in Campbellsville, 80 miles south of Valhalla, and came here as a spectator for the PGA Championships in 1996 and 2000. “It’s been a long road the last few years to get back into some major tournaments. I’ve played this golf course a lot and it sets up good for me.”
Holmes is so happy to be inside the ropes in a major in his home state, that he wishes he could meet every single autograph request.
“I don’t usually have that many people wanting autographs,” says Holmes, “but I feel bad this week that I can’t sign everybody’s. I have been trying to sign as many as I can between holes.”
Holmes tees off today 7:05pm (UK time) tomorrow in the first round, playing with Luke Donald and Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
Robin Barwick travelled to the PGA Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is the official car of the PGA Championship