J.B. Holmes is tied for first heading into the third round at the British Open in Royal Portrush. He recorded a solid 68 on Friday and is neck and neck with Ireland’s Shane Lowry at 8-under-par.
The 37-year-old from Campbellsville (Ky.) has yet to win a major championship in his career, as his best finish prior to this weekend was third at the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon.
If you think this moment will be too big for the red-bearded American, just remember that he’s played above his age group his whole life. Holmes made his Taylor County High School varsity team as a third-grader.
His dad Maurice called the golf coach to see if J.B. could get a tryout. He talked to IndyStar in 2016 about the fateful day.
“The coach said, ‘Well if he can shoot around 50 on nine holes,'” Holmes recalled. “And my dad said, ‘Well, I’ve got a third grader doing that now.’ Coach said, ‘Come on and have him try out.'”
He went on to be the sixth man on the team before he even turned 10. He told the Golf Channel’s Jimmy Roberts after Friday’s round that the experience taught him “not to be scared of anybody.”
“It was different, that’s for sure,” Holmes continued. “I lettered for 10 years. I don’t know if that’s a record.”
He eventually graduated and earned a scholarship at the University of Kentucky, just 90 minutes from his home. By his senior year in 2005, he not only won SEC Golfer of the Year, but led the Wildcats to its only conference championship.
These accomplishments, plus his success on the professional level, led to his induction in the 2012 UK Athletics Hall of Fame.
He Has Dealt with Adversity off the Course, as Well
Holmes hasn’t just played above his age group. He’s dealt with adversity with his own personal health over the last decade.
J.B Holmes received two brain surgeries in 2011. The first was to fix structural defects in the cerebellum known as Chiari malformations, which required removing a small portion of his skull. The second one was to deal with his allergic reaction to the adhesive used in the first procedure.
According to Golf.com, side effects included vertigo, headaches and vomiting. The second procedure required an airlift from his home in Kentucky to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
“They had me on so much painkillers I didn’t remember much,” he said in 2017 to Golf.com. “I started out in Campbellsville and woke up in Baltimore. I remember vaguely getting on the plane and getting off.”
Prior to these procedures, he had notched two PGA Tour wins at the 2006 and 2008 FBR Opens. He also competed on the 2008 Ryder Cup champion team. While the recovery process from the surgery was only about three months initially, he ran into other health issues.
According to another Golf.com article, he injured his elbow after overexerting during his recovery and rolled an ankle during rollerblading.
“It was one medical event after another,” he said, “but at the same time, I enjoyed taking a year off and just getting on a good workout routine. There was a lot of rehab involved. At one point, I was going to rehab at three different places a day in Orlando. But at least I got to take vacations with family and friends.”
While he tumbled outside the top-200 in the world from 2012-2014, he finally turned his career around with a win at the 2014 Wells Fargo Championship. He has since notched victories at the 2015 Shell Houston Open and 2019 Genesis Open, as well as qualified for the 2016 Ryder Cup team.
While his life is back on track, he certainly doesn’t take it for granted after his medical turmoil from just eight years ago.
“If I really sat down and just think about it, yeah, it was extremely scary,” he said. “Luckily, I didn’t dwell on it…I’ve got to go get surgery, let’s get it done. Do what I’ve got to do to get back out here.”
He tees off at Saturday at 10:50 a.m. Eastern time on NBC.