J.B. Holmes completes comeback at Wells Fargo Championship
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
For the win!

The road back to the winner’s circle

Almost three years ago, J.B. Holmes was diagnosed with Chiara malformations in his brain and discovered he needed surgery to remove the pressure that was causing vertigo-like symptoms. He had his first — yes, that’s right — brain surgery in September 2011.

He keeps the piece of his skull that was removed in his closet. Now, he might put it in the trophy he won on Sunday at Quail Hollow Club. 

Holmes had a second brain surgery a month after the first because the plate that was put in his skull became infected.

“That was the most painful part was when I tried to do that, so they went back in and stitched it up this time, didn’t use any glue,” said Holmes.  “Basically, I had the same surgery twice.  They went in and removed a piece of my skull to get my brain so it wasn’t sitting on that, and the spinal cord fluid could flow through.”

As if that wasn’t enough, he fractured his ankle last March while he was roller-blading. And that’s not all — Holmes suffered from an elbow injury after he hit too many balls trying to come back to competition, so he decided to endure yet another surgery.

However, Holmes never let himself ponder if he’d ever get back to the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour.

“I never dwelled on it, but there is always that flash that will come into your head, but I never thought I wasn’t going to be back out here, I never let myself go there, it was always just the next step and next process to get back to where I needed to be,” he said.

“It was just one step at a time.  I looked at it like that.  If you looked at the big picture of everything that was happening, yeah you could get down on yourself, but after the surgery it was, I need to get better and do my rehab and after that I need to get my swing speed back, and steps like that.  So I never sat back and looked at the big picture.

“And there’s a lot of other people that could have it a lot worse.  So even if I never played again, to have the career I had before that, a lot of people would kill for that, so it was a blessing to be out here, and it still is a blessing to be out here and you gotta look at it day by day and hope for the best.”

Holmes didn’t have the best start or finish, but it was enough to get the job done on Sunday.

Despite an early bogey on no. 2 and late bogeys on nos. 16 and 18, Holmes, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead over Martin Flores, hung on to capture the Wells Fargo Championship by a stroke over Jim Furyk, who fired a closing seven-under 65, 13-under — which was good enough to keep him waiting in the locker room for nearly two hours while he waited for Holmes to finish.

It wasn’t exactly an easy lull for Furyk, though (but hey, is it ever?), but he took positives from the week.

“I felt good about (my round),” he said. “Put the ball in play a lot, hit a lot of greens, wish I could have got one more down the stretch, 16, 17, 18.  I had a 3-putt back at No. 10 that ends up being a thorn in my side, but it was a really good finish.  It was nice to get on again and get the blood flowing.  I felt like at Augusta and Hilton Head I got close to contention.  I wasn’t happy with the way I putted the golf ball.  I felt like I putted it beautifully today when I switched to a new putter, a new Odyssey that I loved, and I’m looking forward to using it here for the next couple of weeks.”

Furyk was gracious in defeat.

“Once J.B. birdied 15 I felt like, okay, it’s time to pack up, it’s a 3-shot lead with 3 to go, but 16, 17, 18, a lot can happen,” said Furyk after Holmes secured the win.  “The bogey at 16, the clutch putt was the one at 17, if he misses that one, it’s a whole new ballgame coming up 18, but I know he was probably dying a million deaths out there but he sucked it up and made a good 2-putt at that hole, and made that last putt with authority and knocked it right in the middle.”

J.B., who has never been known for his haste with regard to his pace of play, stood over a four-footer for bogey, looking like he was about to pull the trigger. Then, he backed off to re-evaluate the situation. After all, it was for his first victory since the 2008 Waste Management Phoenix Open, not to mention everything he’d endured health-wise. But, he wasn’t per se sweating over that last putt.

“I wanted to try not to get too excited, to calm yourself and make sure you hit a good putt,” said Holmes in his post-round presser.

“I’ve missed a 3-footer before, so it wasn’t like it wasn’t in my mind or anything, but I felt confident over it.  It was an inside left putt, and I’ve been putting great all week so I felt I was comfortable with it.”

With the victory, Holmes not only earned a spot in this week’s Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, but he also secured a two-year exemption — prior, he’d been playing on a medical exemption. Now that his comeback is complete, he’s ready to move past the surgeries and injuries and look toward the future.

“I’m trying to get past that and live now,” he said. “I’m going to be in the present.  All those things are difficult but everybody has very difficult times in their life and goes through hardships and mine was that so far.

“Something else could happen next week, we don’t know.  But it was a good experience for me and I grew from it.  You gotta  can’t learn from mistakes or what’s going on, then you’re behind in the game.”

Meanwhile, the biggest disappointment from Sunday’s final round? Phil Mickelson, who shot a four-over 76 to follow his sizzling nine-under 63 from the day before. Mickelson struggled with his putting once again. He missed several short putts throughout the day and topped it off with a four-putt on no. 16 that led to a double-bogey.

“I had two great rounds and I had two pathetic rounds this week, but I really enjoyed the week, I enjoyed the golf course,” he said.

Mickelson will use his play at Quail Hollow as a stepping stone heading into The Players Championship.

“I’ve felt good and healthy all week, have for a couple of months now and I hit a lot of good shots this week,” he said. “I’ll see Dave Stockton tomorrow and see if I can get this putter a little more consistent, because I had two great putting days and then I had just two horrific ones.”

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)