As a boy in 1991, J.B. Holmes played on his high-school golf team in Kentucky – while he was in third grade.
As a man in 2011, he underwent two brain surgeries to relieve a defect that was causing him vertigo and intense headaches.
As a golfer with a great comeback story on Sunday, he won the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte by a single stroke.
Holmes’ victory finished a superb overall week for the tournament at Quail Hollow Club. Since the event began in 2003, it has never seen more glorious weather than what it reveled in over the past four days.
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The final round at Quail Hollow in 2013 was a cold mess. Fans had to dress like they were going to an NFL playoff game in Chicago in January. The tee times were moved up so far trying to dodge more inclement weather that you had to choose your religion on Sunday morning: church or golf.
This time, the fans were all in shirtsleeves, sundresses and good moods, which is what a battalion of 75-degree sunny afternoons will do for you.
This was also the first time in four years the Wells Fargo Championship didn’t have a playoff.
It nearly did, though. Needing to make no worse than a bogey “5” on the final hole to avoid a playoff, Holmes played four iffy shots in a row. On his fifth, he stood over a putt of slightly over three feet that could win the tournament.
If he made it, he earned the winner’s check for $1.2 million. If he missed, he would go into a playoff with Jim Furyk.
The putt was only 38 inches – about the length of an acoustic guitar. You could almost hear Holmes’ nerves strumming as he stood over it.
He took a step back. He wanted to enjoy the moment, he said later, and also to thank God for the chance to win on tour for the first time since 2008.
Then Holmes knocked it in, bear-hugged his wife, Erica, and capped his return from not one but three injuries.
There was the brain surgery, of course. Because he has a quirky sense of humor, he now keeps a piece of his own skull in his closet at home in Orlando. Now that he’s got a new trophy, does that go in the closet, too?
“I put the skull in the trophy,” Holmes joked.
Holmes also broke an ankle rollerblading in 2013. That same year he also had surgery to correct tennis elbow and didn’t hit a single golf ball for five months.
“I had two brain surgeries and broke my ankle and had arm surgery, and the list goes on,” Holmes said.
Once, Holmes had been a golf prodigy. Because he played on his high school golf team as a third-grader in Campbellsville, Ky., that meant his varsity golf career lasted 10 years.
But at age 32, after spending 2013 away from the game, he had become a forgotten man on the PGA Tour entering this tournament.
This week, though, everything came together. Holmes has always been one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour – both his personality and his “grip-it-and-rip-it” playing style are reminiscent of 2014 Masters champion Bubba Watson. Holmes coupled that with standout putting.
Holmes was a popular winner, but certainly Phil Mickelson has been Quail Hollow’s favorite bridesmaid for the better part of a decade. He has finished in the top 10 on seven different occasions, coming within an eyelash of winning several times without ever getting it done.
As usual, Mickelson was the most crowd-pleasing golfer at the tournament this week. He shot a scorching 63 on Saturday and briefly held the tournament lead that day.
But Mickelson can be an all-or-nothing player, which is why thousands of fans (including Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who followed Lefty for awhile on Sunday) consider him their favorite golfer.
On Sunday, it was nothing.
Mickelson missed a half-dozen putts of four feet or less. He four-putted the 16th hole. And so Mickelson ended up with a 76, one day after shooting his 63, and tied for 11th.
“I had two great putting days and then I had just two horrific ones,” Mickelson said.
Rory McIlroy, the other golfer with the biggest name on the leaderboard to begin Sunday, also failed to make a charge on his 25thbirthday. He was consoled a bit by the fans who sang “Happy Birthday” to him at several spots on the course.
Then there was Furyk, a previous champion at the event. He shot a 65 early in the day and then waited to see if his four-day total of 13-under-par would hold up. It almost did.
But then Holmes made that last putt, and the fans cheered in the dying sunlight, and a fine tournament had its fine ending.