The FBR Open billsitself as the Greatest Show on Turf, a bold claim backed up by staggeringnumbers (a PGA Tour--record 168,337 spectators roamed the TPC of Scottsdalelast Saturday; 536,767 turned up for the week), stunning decibel levels (thepar-3 16th, enclosed by luxury boxes and grandstands, is the rowdiest hole onTour) 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 hewas the Greatest Show on Turf.
Outside of the golfcognoscenti, most people had never heard of Holmes, although he was a four-timeAll-America at Kentucky, played a starring role during a U.S. victory in lastsummer'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-oldHolmes, in only his fourth start as a Tour member, won the tournament by awhopping seven shots with a game that combined jaw-dropping length and a defttouch on the greens. This was the second coming of John Daly, except thatHolmes has a brain, a killer instinct and grace under pressure.
Holmes showed whatplaying 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 launched25 drives of at least 330 yards, eight of them in excess of 350. Yes, thefairways were rolling--it hadn't rained in the Phoenix area for 110 consecutivedays--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 yardspast me," says veteran Tour pro Steve Flesch, a fellow Kentuckian whostopped by the scoring tent to congratulate Holmes after the rookie capped his21-under-par performance with a birdie on the finishing hole (following a354-yard drive). "I purposely didn't play with him again because it's toodepressing."
Flesch was kiddingabout purposely not playing with Holmes, but he wasn't joking when he said the100-yard gap between them was bad for his mental health. He's not kidding aboutHolmes's talent, either. "J.B. is the real deal," Flesch says. "I'mtelling you, he's going to make the Ryder Cup team--this year."
Everything you needto know about Holmes, who changed his first name from John to J.B. after makingit through Q school to avoid confusion with the notorious porn star, could befound on two holes in the final round. Aggressively attacking a back pin at thepar-5 13th hole while holding a one-shot lead over Ryan Palmer, Holmes bouncedhis second shot over the green and into an awkward position in a swale. AfterPalmer 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 15thPalmer 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 atriple bogey. Holmes, still one up, pumped a three-wood 300 yards. "Thatwas probably one of the bigger swings of the day, simply getting it in thefairway," Holmes said. He had 257 yards, over water, to the pin, with alittle breeze in his face. He ripped a four-iron (this is not a typographicalerror) to 14 feet, holed the eagle putt and suddenly was ahead by six.
Welcome to golf atHolmes Depot, folks. You've got 257 yards, 230 over water? Whip out thefour-iron (Big Play, page G11). "I smoked it," Holmes said. "Thefour-iron was definitely huge, with Ryan being in the water. The putt wasprobably the second-best shot of the day."
Last year's Mastersrunner-up, Chris DiMarco, played a practice round with Holmes at the 2003 U.S.Open. "He hit the ball forever," DiMarco says. "He absolutely hassuperstar potential. He won the Q school by three shots, and let me tell you, Qschool is brutal."
After regularschool, Q school probably seemed like a snap for Holmes. He grew up inCampbellsville, a town of about 10,000 located less than 90 minutes southwestof Lexington. Schoolwork was always a challenge. He learned why during hisfreshman year at Kentucky: He was diagnosed as having dyslexia. "It was arelief," he says. "It was nice to know I wasn't dumb." With acounselor's help he overcame his reading issues and made the dean's list in hissenior year with a 3.25 grade point average, although he left school a semestershort of graduating.
As a golfer Holmeshas always been a natural. On Sunday his father, Maurice, flew in just in timeto join J.B.'s gallery on the 3rd hole. "I gave him his first club when hewas 14 or 15 months old. He took it and went like this," Maurice says,making a short, fluid swing. "He hasn't changed much since. God gave himthis ability." When he was in third grade, J.B. started playing with thekids on the Taylor County High team and started beating them two years later.By the time he graduated from County High, Holmes had lettered in golf 10times.
At age 14 J.B.could hit the ball more than 300 yards. While growing up, he never took alesson. (He did allow a club pro to adjust his setup so that he couldconsistently hit a fade instead of a draw.) On the greens Holmes has been usinga variation of the claw putting grip since he was 18. At the FBR he led inputts per round (27.0) and was eighth in putts per green hit in regulation(1.67).
Holmes didn't getmuch interest from college coaches, even though his father sent out letters andvideotapes. Several other Southeastern Conference coaches flat turned him down,so Holmes ended up at his state university. "It worked out the way it wassupposed to work out," says Maurice.
As the new King ofthe Long Knockers, Holmes has stepped up to stardom. He is just what's beenmissing on Tour, where young stars have been slow to develop since Woodsarrived a decade ago. For starters, Holmes is humble. He was excited earlierlast week when he was listed in the World Ranking for the first time. "Iwas 464th or something," he says. "That was pretty cool." (Holmesis now 77th.) And he remains mindful of his father's advice. Says Maurice,"I've told him, 'Always make sure your hat fits,' and he has."
Plus, everybodydigs the long ball, so a Holmes-Woods pairing will be eagerly anticipated, aswill a showdown with another heavy-hitting rookie, Bubba Watson, who stillleads the Tour in driving distance with a 324.9-yard average. Holmes rankssecond, at 313.4, while Woods is averaging 306.3.
Any pairing thatincludes Holmes or Watson will be made in public-relations heaven. Hmm ...Holmes and Watson. We're not sure who's longer, but one thing is elementary, mydear man--they are the new Greatest Show on Turf.
Shame on John Daly For Quitting
If I Ran The Tour ...
Holmes "hit it a hundred yards past me," saysFlesch. "I purposely didn't play with him again BECAUSE IT'S TOODEPRESSING."
"I gave him his first club when he was 14 or 15months old. He took it and went like this," says Holmes's father, Maurice,making a short, fluid swing. "HE HASN'T CHANGED MUCH SINCE."
Photographs by Darren Carroll
Holmes, who won by seven shots, averaged 320 yards off the tee.
Photographs by Darren Carroll
About 25,000 of Saturday's record crowd of 168,000-plus surrounded the riotous16th hole to see Holmes (below).
Photographs by Darren Carroll
Defending champ and Phoenix fave Phil Mickelson never threatened, tying forseventh, eight shots behind Holmes.