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February 13, 2006
Crazy-Long Rookie J.B. Holmes's First PGA Tour Win Comes Supersized
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February 13, 2006


Crazy-Long Rookie J.B. Holmes's First PGA Tour Win Comes Supersized

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The FBR Open bills itself as the Greatest Show on Turf, a bold claim backed up by staggering numbers (a PGA Tour--record 168,337 spectators roamed the TPC of Scottsdale last Saturday; 536,767 turned up for the week), stunning decibel levels (the par-3 16th, enclosed by luxury boxes and grandstands, is the rowdiest hole on Tour) and a first-rate field (sans Tiger Woods, who was off chasing a reported $3 million appearance fee in the United Arab Emirates). Not so fast, FBR Open. There's a challenger in the house. His name is J.B. Holmes, and last week he was the Greatest Show on Turf.

Outside of the golf cognoscenti, most people had never heard of Holmes, although he was a four-time All-America at Kentucky, played a starring role during a U.S. victory in last summer's Walker Cup and dominated the Tour's qualifying tournament in December. None of that prepared fans for what happened at the FBR Open. The 23-year-old Holmes, in only his fourth start as a Tour member, won the tournament by a whopping seven shots with a game that combined jaw-dropping length and a deft touch on the greens. This was the second coming of John Daly, except that Holmes has a brain, a killer instinct and grace under pressure.

Holmes showed what playing long ball means in 2006: This Hercules averaged 320 yards off the tee, and he did it using clubs other than driver on at least 10 drives. He launched 25 drives of at least 330 yards, eight of them in excess of 350. Yes, the fairways were rolling--it hadn't rained in the Phoenix area for 110 consecutive days--but Holmes's massive driving stats were only slightly inflated.

This is serious. The 5'11", 190-pound Holmes is that long. "I only played with him once, a couple of years ago in an outing at Kentucky, and he hit it a hundred yards past me," says veteran Tour pro Steve Flesch, a fellow Kentuckian who stopped by the scoring tent to congratulate Holmes after the rookie capped his 21-under-par performance with a birdie on the finishing hole (following a 354-yard drive). "I purposely didn't play with him again because it's too depressing."

Flesch was kidding about purposely not playing with Holmes, but he wasn't joking when he said the 100-yard gap between them was bad for his mental health. He's not kidding about Holmes's talent, either. "J.B. is the real deal," Flesch says. "I'm telling you, he's going to make the Ryder Cup team--this year."

Everything you need to know about Holmes, who changed his first name from John to J.B. after making it through Q school to avoid confusion with the notorious porn star, could be found on two holes in the final round. Aggressively attacking a back pin at the par-5 13th hole while holding a one-shot lead over Ryan Palmer, Holmes bounced his second shot over the green and into an awkward position in a swale. After Palmer lagged close for a gimme birdie, Holmes chipped 20 feet past the cup, but drained the comebacker to retain the lead.

At the par-5 15th Palmer pulled his tee shot into the water guarding the fairway, took a drop, went for the green and hit into the water again en route to what would become a triple bogey. Holmes, still one up, pumped a three-wood 300 yards. "That was probably one of the bigger swings of the day, simply getting it in the fairway," Holmes said. He had 257 yards, over water, to the pin, with a little breeze in his face. He ripped a four-iron (this is not a typographical error) to 14 feet, holed the eagle putt and suddenly was ahead by six.

Welcome to golf at Holmes Depot, folks. You've got 257 yards, 230 over water? Whip out the four-iron (Big Play, page G11). "I smoked it," Holmes said. "The four-iron was definitely huge, with Ryan being in the water. The putt was probably the second-best shot of the day."

Last year's Masters runner-up, Chris DiMarco, played a practice round with Holmes at the 2003 U.S. Open. "He hit the ball forever," DiMarco says. "He absolutely has superstar potential. He won the Q school by three shots, and let me tell you, Q school is brutal."

After regular school, Q school probably seemed like a snap for Holmes. He grew up in Campbellsville, a town of about 10,000 located less than 90 minutes southwest of Lexington. Schoolwork was always a challenge. He learned why during his freshman year at Kentucky: He was diagnosed as having dyslexia. "It was a relief," he says. "It was nice to know I wasn't dumb." With a counselor's help he overcame his reading issues and made the dean's list in his senior year with a 3.25 grade point average, although he left school a semester short of graduating.

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