Driving the Distance with J. B. Holmes
Rated second in driving distance in the PGA, Holmes has enormous talent—golfing from age 14 months to becoming a rookie winner of the FBR Open—but he wants to be known mostly for his character on and off the course
“More than anything, golf can teach you that life is not fair,” says J.B. Holmes. “You get good bounces and bad bounces, and you have to learn to take the ups and downs as you go. Nothing is ever a smooth ride. But if you see something you want, go for it. Work hard, and do your best. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.”
No doubt there were plenty of J.B. Holmes skeptics among the 82,000-plus spectators gathered on February 5, 2006, for the final day of the FBR Open in Scottsdale, Arizona. Holmes, a rookie on the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, wasn’t expected to win a PGA event yet. Rookies rarely win in the elite world of professional golf, and no rookie had ever won the FBR.
But Holmes had followed his own advice. He had worked hard, done his best, and gone for it, scoring 68, 64, 65, and 66 during the tournament. He was only 23 years old, making him the second-youngest player to win the tournament. His $936,000 first-place winnings also helped propel him onto the million-dollar winnings list faster than any golfer before him, including Tiger Woods.
The win proved to be both a climax and a beginning for the young golf phenom from Campbellsville.
Lifetime of Preparation
“I started playing golf when I was 14 months old,” Holmes says. “I don’t remember a whole lot, but my parents have pictures and video of me hitting golf balls when I was still in diapers. It is just something I have always enjoyed and grown into.”
By the age of 3, Holmes would sit perfectly still for hours watching golf on television with his dad, Maurice, an insurance agent in Campbellsville. Golf balls were his favorite toys, and Holmes says he could tell if one was missing from his five-gallon bucket.
“I grew up hitting real golf balls in my back yard, and I played with real balls until I started hitting the neighbors’ cars,” Holmes recalls. “I would set up little golf courses in my yard and the neighbors’ yards. I pretended to play Jack Nicklaus, my favorite golfer.”
Holmes liked Nicklaus not only because he is one of “the greatest golfers of all time,” but because of his values.
“Nicklaus is a big family guy,” Holmes says. “Golf is what he did, not who he is. That was something I really respected.”
Today, Holmes has earned that same kind of respect from his fellow golfers, including Kenny Perry, a veteran PGA player who lives in Franklin.
“J.B. has so much talent and ability,” Perry says at a breakfast meeting in Bowling Green. “He hits it so far that it is a great advantage. He is also a really fine Christian man.”
Back in Campbellsville, a young Holmes graduated from imaginary backyard tournaments to real play at the Campbellsville Country Club.
“Our parents would drop us (Holmes and his best friends) at the club at 9 a.m. and pick us up at 9 p.m.,” Holmes says. “We would play 54 to 72 holes a day. The winner would get a Coke. It was great fun.”
Holmes made the Taylor County High School golf team when he was in third grade and spent 10 years on the team. He won the Kentucky state high school golf tournament in 1998 as a sophomore.
But golf wasn’t his favorite sport as a child.
“Baseball was my favorite sport until I was 12,” Holmes says. “Little League was fun. My dad coached the team, and I was pretty good. At that point, I didn’t realize I was good at golf.”
The young athlete started playing on a junior amateur golf tour.
“I won my first four events,” he says, “and I was Player of the Year. When I was 12, I won a statewide tournament. That was huge. I slowly figured out that I was pretty good at golf.”
Even so, Holmes says he didn’t think about a professional golfing career until he was a sophomore or junior in high school. It was soon clear Holmes possessed enormous talent. He was a two-time state amateur champion (in 2002 and 2004). He won the Kentucky Open Championship in consecutive years (2003 and 2004), and was a U.S. Amateur medalist in 2003.
In college, he played on the University of Kentucky team, and was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2005, the same year he represented the U.S. in the 40th Walker Cup Match. By then he knew he had “a good chance of making it.”
By any standard, Holmes made it quickly.
He went straight from college golf to a 2005 win at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, known as “Q-School”—the tournament that determines who gets to play in PGA tournaments. Most players have to do time on the mini tours—the golfing equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues—before earning a spot on the tour. Holmes skipped that rite of passage, earning his card on his first attempt.
Just as quickly, he tied for 10th in his first PGA Tour event, the 2006 Sony Open in Hawaii. The FBR Open was only his fifth tournament as a professional and his fourth on the PGA Tour. Holmes went from not being ranked in Official World Golf Ranking at the beginning of the 2006 season, to 77 after the win in Scottsdale.
Beginning of a New Life
That win not only changed his standings, it changed his life.
“It’s as big of a lifestyle change as you can get,” Holmes says of his lightning-fast leap from small-town college golfer to golfing celebrity.
“When you think about a dream job, you expect to see all the good things,” he says, “but there is a lot of traveling, and I am away from my friends all the time. It is a big change and a little hard to deal with. But that comes with the job. It has been a lot of fun and very exciting. It’s like any other job. Sometimes it’s a downer. If you are playing well, it is great, but if you are playing bad it can be horrible. Golf is very emotional as a job.”
It can also be grueling.
“You get to the tournament on Tuesday morning and hit range balls,” Holmes says as he describes a typical tournament week. “Then you play nine holes and check into the hotel. On Wednesday, there is a Pro-Am tournament. You may also hit more range balls. You eat dinner and go back to your room. On Thursday, the tournament starts. Two or three hours before you tee off, you eat breakfast and hit range balls. Then you spend 20 minutes or so on the putting green. After playing five and one-half hours, you grab some dinner and go back to the room and go to bed. You get up the next day and do the same thing. If you make the cut, the routine is the same on Saturday and Sunday. When that tournament is over, you check out, pack up your stuff, hop on a plane, and do it all over again the next week.
“It’s not the fairy tale job some people think, but it is a fantastic job that I’ve always wanted to do. If you play well, it is a really fabulous living. But it wears on you being gone six and a half months a year. Most people also don’t understand how mentally draining it is. If you don’t make the cut, you lose money because you still have all the expenses of flying to places, hotels, and food. If you are missing cuts, you are losing money. It is all performance-based.”
So far, that isn’t a problem for Holmes, who is known for his ability with a driver, the club that offers the most potential for both distance and disaster since it is the hardest club to control. Holmes currently ranks second in driving distance in the PGA, hitting the ball a phenomenal average of 308.7 yards off the tee, according to official PGA statistics. In the FBR Open, 16 of Holmes’ drives exceeded 340 yards.
David Leadbetter, a legendary golf coach, analyzes Holmes’ golf swing on Golf Digest’s Web site (www.golfdigest.com).
“Stocky and barrel-chested, J.B. is an immensely strong and talented young man,” Leadbetter writes. “He has huge forearms and plays with a strong left-hand grip, making the kind of compact action I think we’ll move toward in the modern swing. His big upper-body turn, lower-body resistance, and explosive first move down are the keys to his power… His swing is simple but powerful—no wonder the driver is his favorite club.”
As with most power players, putting is the part of the game that most troubles Holmes. It is one of the areas where he hopes to improve.
“I want to be more consistent,” he says. “I want more top 10 finishes, and I want to win another one this year. I want to give myself a chance to win.”
But more importantly, Holmes says he wants to be known for his character on and off the golf course.
“I’d rather be remembered as a good person,” he says, “and not just for my golf career.”
Still, he wouldn’t mind winning a few more golf tournaments.
FOLLOW J. B. HOLMES
You can track Holmes’ career easily over the Web. His official Web site is www.jbholmes.com. There you will find his schedule, photos, and many statistics. Go to www.PGATour.com to compare Holmes with your other favorite players. This site ranks players on a variety of skills and earnings, and includes profiles of all the PGA Tour players.
Holmes is sponsored by Cobra,Yum! Brands, and Titleist/Footjoy. The Cobra site at www.cobragolf.com talks about the clubs he prefers and his wins.