LOUISVILLE — J.B. Holmes loves golf as much as he ever has, but if the former University of Kentucky golf star doesn’t fare well this weekend in the PGA Championship at Valhalla, the disappointment won’t linger like it would have for many of his previous 32 years.
Holmes, a Campbellsville native and former Southeastern Conference Golfer of the Year, has survived both brain surgery in 2011 to repair Chiari malformations (vertigo-like symptoms), and then a broken left ankle in 2013 while rollerblading with his wife Sara.
Holmes has rebounded in a big way this season, with eight top-25 finishes, including a recent victory in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. That was Holmes’ first PGA Tour win in eight years.
Holmes was asked this week how he’s changed, both on and off the golf course, given all he’s been through. “When you go through anything like that, it’s going to change you,” said Holmes, who was slated to tee off in the first round of the PGA this afternoon. “I’ve tried to really focus on more just appreciating the opportunities I have, and if you have a bad week or miss the cut, it doesn’t really matter.
“It’s just a golf game and no matter what I do, my family loves me, God loves me, and I’ve got a good life. Golf’s just part of it, that I’ve been given the ability to do, and through that, hopefully I can do good things and help other people.”
Things such as raising money for breast cancer with his wife and lending time and money to help fund Trooper Island, a summer camp for underprivileged kids that’s a project of the Kentucky State Police. Several troopers were on hand at a press conference this week to thank Holmes for his charitable efforts, making Holmes an honorary state trooper.
“It’s just giving back,” Holmes said, when referring to an event called the ‘Pink Tie Ball’ that he and his wife put on each year for cancer. “I had an aunt that died of breast cancer, and I’ve had some hard times and been fortunate to pull through. I have the God-given ability to be blessed to make a living playing a game, and so I try to give back and help when I can.
“And Trooper Island is a great area that helps underprivileged kids to be able to enjoy some experiences they normally wouldn’t be able to,” he added. “It’s a great cause, and I’m glad to help something that’s important to the state troopers. My job is not very hard compared to what they have to do, keeping us safe. They take care of those kids. They deserve a lot more credit. I’m just giving them some money.”
Kentucky state trooper Billy Gregory said Holmes is being overly modest.
“He has been faithful in his efforts, steadily contributing not only financially but through autographs and memorabilia and things that we can auction off and raise money for,” Gregory said. “So we really appreciate it.”
Holmes has done all this while managing to earn nearly $2 million on the PGA Tour this season.
And he’s clearly excited to be here this week, at a par-71, 7,458-yard Valhalla layout that is something of a home course for him and would seem to fit his game pretty well.
Valhalla is the site of one of Holmes’ best experiences in the game: He was a member of the winning 2008 United States Ryder Cup here.
“It’s nice to be in my home state,” Holmes said. “It’s nice to have my friends and family around. I’m really looking forward to the week. The golf course is in great shape and should be a lot of fun. I played this course a lot in college, and it’s been one of my favorite golf courses.”