Wildcat World Champion: J.B. Holmes
Part three of a six-part series.
Over the next six weeks, UKathletics.com will be showcasing six former Kentucky student-athletes who have gone on to win major championships in their respective professional sports throughout the past year. Each Thursday, a new player will be profiled.
Never before has Kentucky athletes reined as world champions in football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer and Olympics concurrently until now. Being a Kentucky Wildcat has become synonymous with being a champion more so now than perhaps ever. The list of former Wildcats who have won a championship this year is simply staggering; gold medal winner in the Summer 2008 Olympics Tayshaun Prince, game-four starter for the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies Joe Blanton, U.S. member of the 2008 winning Ryder Cup team J.B. Holmes, starting point-guard for the world-champion Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo, goalie for the Major League Soccer champion Columbus Crew’s Andy Gruenebaum and quarterback for the 2008 NFL world-champion New York Giants Jared Lorenzen.
“J.B. Holmes has had a dramatic impact on the Kentucky men’s golf program,” head coach Brian Craig said. “He is the best golfer we have ever had in our program and what he has done is simply amazing. For years to come, from what J.B. did while he played here and from what he has done as a professional, he forever has put the University of Kentucky on the international map as a marquee location for aspiring collegiate golfers.”
Hailing from Campbellsville, Ky., J.B. Holmes hometown is a place that few would consider as a traditional birthplace for a future renowned world golfer. With a population of 25,000 Holmes has been able to forge his way into the golf elite by sheer force with an adamant dedication to hard work.
Holmes story reads almost like one of folklore, but possessing jaw-dropping talent combined with the lean amount of available players in his rural Kentucky hometown, he began his competitive career as a third-grader for the Taylor County High School. He was a quick learner and by fifth grade he was the No. 1 or No. 2 man on his high school team. By his sophomore season, Holmes was so dialed in, he won the Kentucky High School State Tournament, beating his nearest competitor by three strokes, earning Mr. Kentucky Golf the same year.
Developing an unmatched ability to hit gargantuan tee shots in high school, many schools throughout the nation had a deep desire to see Holmes on their roster. But being a huge Kentucky Wildcat fan the choice for Holmes was clear, he be signed with Kentucky April 18th, 2001.
“ I am proud to sign J.B. Holmes,” former head coach Steve Smitha said after signing Holmes. “Holmes has competed on the regional and the national level and he is a very intelligent kid and will be an asset to the golf program as well as the University of Kentucky.”
From the moment he stepped onto the University of Kentucky campus in the fall of 2001, under the direction of current head coach Brian Craig, Holmes made an instant impact in the collegiate golfing world. His career at Kentucky was filled with many accomplishments highlighted by his senior season. In that year, Holmes left little doubt that he had arrived as one of the best collegiate players in the country leading the Wildcats to a first-ever Southeastern Conference championship in 2005. As well as being a banner year for the Wildcats, it was a breakout year for Holmes. He was an Academic All-American for the second time in his college career and the SEC announced Holmes as the SEC Golfer of the Year while placing him on the All-SEC first team for the third straight year. The awards kept coming for Holmes after he was selected on the second-team PING All-American team, as well as being named the Most Valuable Player on the team for the fourth time of his college career.
Soon after taking the college golf world by storm in the premier golf conference in the nation, and graduating from the University of Kentucky as an Academic All-American his final two years of college, Holmes set his sights on the professional slate. Holmes won his 2005 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, then tied for 10th in his first PGA Tour start at the 2006 Sony Open in Hawaii. In February of the same year he won his first of two FBR Opens, making him the fastest golfer to reach one million dollars in career earnings on the PGA Tour. It was his fifth tournament as a professional and his fourth on the PGA Tour. Again in 2008, Holmes took the FBR Open crown in front of a PGA Tour record-breaking crowd that totaled 538,356 fans over the four-day weekend.
"I'm not surprised at all J.B. has done so well in the PGA Tour,” Craig said. “I always thought he was going to be a better professional player than college player,” Craig said. “The guy that hits it as far as he hits it and can hit it in the air like he can hit it and with his shots around the green will do well. The bigger the stage the better he plays.”
In September of 2008, Holmes received one of the biggest phone calls in his life. Paul Azinger, captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup, asked Holmes to join the 2008 Ryder Cup team. Without hesitation, Holmes accepted the challenge to represent America in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club, just 85 miles from his hometown Campbellsville, Ky.
Holmes wasted no time going to work at the Ryder Cup. His signature long drives and his soft touch around the greens paid huge dividends as he accumulated two and half points in the United States’ first victory since 1999, beating the Europeans by five points. It was a new era for the Ryder Cup. Never before had the tournament seen such lively fans that were hungry to see an American victory. Holmes, along with his American teammates, were poised for the challenge to dig out a win for the anxious fans.
It wasn’t until the final round of the Ryder Cup on Sunday in singles play that Holmes was matched up against Soren Hansen. The eyes of entire world were on the U.S. team giving Holmes the opportunity to show what the UK graduate was able to do. On the 17th tee box, with an opportunity to win the match, Holmes reached into his bag and pulled out a 7.5-degree driver and pummeled the ball down the pristine Valhalla fairway. Holmes marched down the fairway alongside, his childhood best friend and caddie, Brandon Parsons, locked in with an eagle’s eye before squaring up to his ball for his approach shot. He stopped for a moment, took a deep breath and ripped his second shot while the thousands of fans lined up along the fairway and around the green collectively held their breath. Holmes ball took two short bounces, spun back towards the cup and came to rest within two feet of the hole underneath a thunder of applause. The Kentucky native and Ryder Cup rookie had delivered as promised. The shot all but sealed the U.S. victory. With the deafening chants of, “JB, JB, JB,” he sank his putt on the Bent-grass green and as Holmes had both arms raised with an unadulterated smile on his face the raucous American celebration began.
"It was unbelievable to watch him on the 17th hole.” Craig said. “I was right there beside the flag when he made that putt on hole 17. To watch all those guys celebrate and see the camaraderie they had was really special. It reminded me a lot of Holmes college days at UK. The emotion was pretty incredible."
It was a dramatic moment for the entire world as they watched Holmes that day. Holmes has now gone from the humble rural town Campbellsville, Ky., to sitting with the president of the United States because of his impressive abilities on the golf course. In only his third year of being a professional golfer, Holmes can now add one of the most highly-touted titles in golf to his trophy case, Ryder Cup Champion.