When JB Holmes withdrew from The Barclays last August to undergo corrective brain surgery he anticipated a twelve-week absence from the game. Now, nearly five months and an additional surgery later, he makes his competitive return at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Though Holmes’s original surgery- to remove a malformation of the skull responsible for his worsening headaches and debilitating vertigo – ranked “only about a one out of 10” in terms of difficulty, his allergic reaction to an adhesive used in the procedure resulted in a second, unscheduled trip to Johns Hopkins.
He may not remember much about it, but this second visit to the operating theatre wasn’t exactly short on drama.
“Then three or four days after I noticed [the problem], I got really sick one night.
“I was vomiting… I felt bad most of the day, then I started vomiting. Any time you get something to deal with your brain and you start doing that‑‑ so I went to the hospital. [They] put me on some painkillers. I was in a lot of pain.
“Actually, they had me on so much painkillers I didn’t remember much. I woke up in Baltimore. I started out in Campbellsville and woke up in Baltimore. So I remember vaguely getting on the plane and getting off. I woke up and just kind of looked around, and a head nurse came in. I said do I have a cell phone, clothes, anything? And she’s like, nope. And I was like, okay.
“So my parents ended up showing up three or four hours later. That was Sunday. So the next day I woke up and I was ready to watch football. I was checking my fantasy football team, and they said, well, it’s Monday. I was like, I missed Sunday?”
Holmes spent the rest of his recuperation diligently avoiding neck movement – the better to allow a golf ball-sized web of titanium to fuse with the base of his skull – and dreaming of his return to golf, which eventually arrived at the start of December.
Hindered by a stiff neck and muscles unfamiliar with the formerly intuitive business of swinging a golf club, his first solid strikes with the driver had trouble threatening the 250-yard marker.
In the weeks since, the bomber’s swing speed has returned to something approaching its explosive peak – “‘I’m still hitting it over 300 yards. It’s not what I’m used to, but it’s far enough to be able to get out here and play” – but his presence at Torrey Pines this week is more about rehabilitation than it is launching a full-blown, FedEx Cup offensive.
“The first goal is to make the cut, the second goal is to win the tournament. It always is, when I come out – that’s my goal. But realistic expectations. If I come out here and make the cut and just play solid, that’s probably a pretty good start back.”
As for the chunk of bone responsible for all this: it resides on a windowsill in his house in Isleworth, Florida; souvenir of a journey he would rather not have taken, regardless of how salutary an experience it may yet prove to be.