CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – J.B. Holmes was a 3-foot putt away from winning the Wells Fargo Championship when he backed away to size up the situation.
This wasn’t about pressure. He was just happy to be there.
Nearly three years removed from brain surgery, Holmes was in a far better place Sunday at Quail Hollow. His 3-foot bogey putt gave him a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk, capping a remarkable comeback from a health issue that wouldn’t be classified as the garden variety in golf.
Not many other guys keep a piece of their skull in a container in their closet.
“Just enjoying the moment,” Holmes said. “You don’t get that very often, so getting up and thanking God for letting me have the opportunity to do it. Whether I made it or not, just enjoy being there.”
He made it more stressful than he needed, with two bogeys on the last three holes and an 8-foot par putt on the other. Jason Bohn had the best chance to catch Holmes, one shot behind until pulling a 4-iron into the water on the par-3 17th and making double bogey. Phil Mickelson never had a chance, missing four putts from the 4-foot range and closing with a 76 to finish out of the top 10.
It was the third PGA Tour victory for Holmes, and by far the sweetest of his career.
Three years ago, he began to feel dizzy, and it wasn’t much longer when he was diagnosed with structural defects in the cerebellum known as Chiara malformations. He had brain surgery — twice. The first time was to remove a piece of his skull. The second time was from an allergic reaction to the adhesive that was holding the titanium plate to the base of the skull, causing severe headaches.
If that wasn’t enough, he injured his left elbow from hitting too many golf balls in a rush to return. Holmes spent a year getting more cortisone shots than he cared to remember, and when he broke his ankle while roller blading for exercise last year, he used that time to have elbow surgery.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Holmes said. “I’ve had some ups and downs. It’s a great feeling to be out there and to get one done.”
Holmes made enough key putts to allow for some mistakes at the end. He ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, including a 30-footer on No. 11 that opened up a two-shot lead. He gouged a fairway metal out of the rough on the par-5 15th to set up a 6-foot birdie putt that stretched his lead to three shots.
Perhaps the biggest putt of all was an 8-foot par save on the 17th hole. That kept his lead at two shots.