Holmes a Rookie Who is Feeling Like a Veteran

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The Players Championship is the kind of week that makes J.B. Holmes realize how quickly his life has changed.
 
A year ago, he was a senior at Kentucky watching on television as Fred Funk saved par from the bunker on the last hole to win the richest prize on the PGA Tour. Holmes knows a little about the TPC at Sawgrass. He has played it on a video game, and he played nine holes last year after a college match across the street at Sawgrass Country Club.
 
J.B. Holmes
J.B. Holmes is playing in his first PLAYERS Championship.
But the circumstances were entirely different Tuesday.
 
He is the only rookie in the 144-man field that tees off Thursday, and they don't offer invitations. The Players Championship, known in these parts as the fifth major, is for players who finished in the top 125 on the money list last year, who won majors in the last five years or who are PGA Tour winners.
 
That's where Holmes comes in.
 
The first player in 22 years to win medalist honors at Q-school straight out of college, Holmes needed only four starts to capture his first PGA Tour title, overpowering the TPC of Scottsdale to win the FBR Open by seven shots. He is 11th on the PGA Tour money list, and a good week at Sawgrass could earn him a ticket to the Masters.

'Last year I was in college,' he said. 'It's all been a big change really fast for me, and I'm still trying to adjust.'
 
The first step is figuring out the Stadium Course.
 
Since moving to this Pete Dye creation in 1982, The Players Championship has had a variety of winners -- the power of Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, David Duval, Greg Norman and Adam Scott; the solid iron play of Nick Price, Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington; control players such as Funk and Justin Leonard.
 
The par 72 is only 7,093 yards, relatively short by today's standards. Stranger still is that in an era where tees often are pushed back to cope with the big bashers, this one hasn't changed in eight years.
 
It is a complete test because of the angles required off the tee, precision into the greens that are severely contoured and the pressure of the final three holes, none greater than the island green for the par-3 17th.
 
'I do think the course doesn't favor any one style of play,' Phil Mickelson said. 'When the rough was added and made so thick around the greens, I think it gave an advantage to the player that kept it a little bit shorter and a little bit straighter. But because the greens are small and tough to hit, there's an advantage to a guy who can hit a little bit longer. Whoever is playing well is the guy that has the advantage.'
 
Holmes falls under the power category.
 
He overwhelmed the field in Phoenix, hitting his final tee shot over a lake meant to guard the left side of the fairway. But the 23-year-old rookie knows there is more to golf than distance.
 
'Everyone thinks we can just hit it a mile,' Holmes said, referring to himself, Camilo Villegas and Bubba Watson. 'You've got to putt out here. You can hit it a long ways, but being able to putt is the biggest advantage. You've got to have a short game, you can't just hit it long.'
 
Make no mistake, though. Holmes can hit it long.
 
And he has been doing that a long time.
 
Holmes fell in love with golf by sitting on the sofa with his father, watching on television. He was so good at such a young age, that he made the high school team in Campbellsville, Ky., when he was in the third grade.
 
'My dad just called the coach, and there wasn't a whole lot of people playing golf then,' Holmes said. 'He said, 'What do you need to shoot to play on the team?' He (the coach) said, 'He needs to shoot 50 on nine holes.''
 
Holmes could do that. In fact, he was among the top two players on the team before he finished the sixth grade, and once he got through the teasing for being so young, he blossomed into a star at Kentucky. Holmes helped the United States win back the Walker Cup last summer in Chicago.
 
'I always swung hard when I was younger,' he said. 'Swung as hard as I could. Did it all the way until I was probably 15 or 16, and realized I didn't have to swing as hard as I could every time. It's easier to gear it back than it is to gear it up.'
 
The next lesson is adjusting to life on the road.
 
Among the changes for Holmes are traveling alone. His father flew from Kentucky for the final round in Phoenix to watch him win, but Holmes is too young and hasn't been on tour very long -- remember, he was studying for exams this time a year ago -- to meet enough people to have dinner.
 
He flies to the next city, to the next hotel.
 
'We're on the East Coast, and I know more people that might come out,' he said. 'This is the stuff I didn't know about. It's like I skipped my rookie year. It's early in the year, and I feel like I've been out here a while.'
 
Being the only rookie at The Players Championship might make him feel even older.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship