CHARLOTTE, N.C. – J.B. Holmes put all the broken pieces back together.
Well, almost all of them.
Three short years after undergoing a pair of brain surgeries, a year after breaking an ankle and less than a year after undergoing elbow surgery, Holmes reminds himself how blessed he is keeping that one little fragment of himself he couldn’t put back together.
Holmes keeps a tiny piece of his skull in a small specimen jar in his closet at his home in Orlando, Fla.
“I rarely look at it, I just know it’s up there,” Holmes said. “It’s been a long road.”
That little piece of skull is a powerful symbol Holmes insisted upon keeping.
“The doctor was a little taken aback when he asked for it,” says Erica, his wife.
It’s a reminder to Holmes how precious life’s opportunities are, how grateful he should be for the blessings he enjoys.
Now Holmes has another special keepsake to take home.
With a 1-under-par 71 Sunday, Holmes won the Wells Fargo Championship, becoming the first 54-hole leader to win this event since 2008.
“I’ll put the skull [fragment] in the trophy,” Holmes cracked. “It’s been a long road, and it’s nice to get in the winner’s circle again. My game’s in a good spot. I worked really hard on it in the offseason. It’s nice to have that hard work pay off.”
Even with a bogey at the last, Holmes prevailed, finishing at 14-under 274, a shot ahead of Jim Furyk (65) and two ahead of Martin Flores (72).
It’s Holmes’ third PGA Tour title, his first since 2008, but it’s probably his most meaningful because of everything he overcame to win it.
Before making a final 3-footer to secure the victory, Holmes backed off his putt, paused and took a deep breath while gazing into the distance.
What was he thinking?
“Just enjoying the moment,” said Holmes, 32. “You don’t get that very often, so I was thanking God for letting me have the opportunity to do it, whether I made it or not, just enjoying being there.”
Erica was misty eyed recounting her husband’s journey to Sunday’s trophy.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “He worked so hard to get to where he is. There were times when he was going to rehab twice a day, then acupuncture, then to workouts.
“He’s so grateful to be out there now. He was so frustrated with the game. He was questioning everything about it, and having the year off really changed his perspective and made him realize how lucky he was.”
Holmes was a big deal when he came out of the University of Kentucky. He was a big-hitting power player who helped the Americans win the ’05 Walker Cup. He turned pro later that year and won the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
As a rookie, Holmes won the FBR Open in Phoenix. Two years later, he won it again, then helped the Americans win the Ryder Cup in his home state of Kentucky.
The game didn’t get easier after all of that. In fact, it got a lot harder.
Back at The Players Championship in 2011, Holmes was playing great, but he wasn’t feeling so well. After tying for sixth at the TPC Sawgrass, he told Erica something wasn’t right. She’s an emergency room nurse.
“He told me at The Players, `I feel really dizzy, I almost fell in the water,’” Erica said. “I’m thinking he has a sinus infection, or an ear infection, something’s going on.”
J.B. played while visiting doctors. His game, though, began to suffer. He hadn’t missed a cut all year in 2011, but then he missed the cut at the British Open, and he missed another in his next start at the Greenbrier Classic. Finally, he withdrew from the PGA Championship.
Erica said the search to discover the source of J.B.’s dizziness was actually more scary than the brain surgery that corrected it. J.B. was eventually diagnosed with Chiari malformations, structural defects in the cerebellum that were causing vertigo. He had surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital late in the summer of 2011. Complications required a second surgery.
Out of golf for almost five months, Holmes made a successful return to the PGA Tour in late January 2012. He made $.1.1 million that year, finishing 82nd on the FedEx Cup points list. Holmes, though, would have more physical challenges. He broke an ankle rollerblading in March of 2013. Shortly after that, he underwent elbow surgery for pain that was bothering him before he broke his ankle. He missed nearly an entire year, making his return this year at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Holmes said having most of last year off might have been the best thing for him.
“I was in a bad spot,” Holmes said. “I was unhappy with the way things were going and that kind of gave me a break, literally, and gave me time off from golf and let me reevaluate.
“It ended up being a really good thing for me. I probably wouldn't be here if I wouldn't have broken my ankle last year.”
The broken pieces of the man are all healed now, and he’s feeling stronger than ever for it.