If you’re looking for Comeback Player of the Year candidates not named Tiger Woods, here’s one to consider. After all, brain surgery can be quite a career hurdle. J.B. Holmes, nearing a full recovery after season-ending surgery last fall, considers himself fortunate to have “a second chance” at the game.
Holmes intends to begin that quest at the Jan. 26-29 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. He concedes he is slightly heavier and his swing a bit slower than before surgery for Chiari malformations, a structural defect in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance.
Regaining his strength and speed are the priorities before his PGA Tour debut. He had played a handful of rounds at his home course, Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Fla., by early January, but had yet to break 70.
“My swing looks good; it’s just slower,” Holmes said. “I need to build those muscles again and get my speed back.”
His swing was about 8 mph slower than before surgery. He was hitting his tee shots about 290 yards, nearly 30 yards shorter than his Tour-leading 318.4 yards per tee shot in 2011, and his irons about 11⁄2 clubs shorter.
“My yardages are all messed up. The more I play, the stronger I get,” he said.
Holmes withdrew from his scheduled return to competition, the Dec. 9-11 Franklin Templeton Shootout, saying it was “too early.”
He said he would like to lose another 10 pounds, the weight gain caused by the inactivity that follows surgery, before his PGA Tour debut.
Holmes hopes to play about 25 events in 2012, including his regular West Coast schedule of Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Riviera and TPC Scottsdale.
Holmes’ operation was considered a minor procedure, if there can be such a thing regarding the brain. Doctors removed a quarter-dollar-size piece of skull.
“He’s excited, really, really excited about how he feels versus how he felt prior to the surgery,” Holmes’ agent, Terry Reilly, said. “Everything is moving in the right direction.
“He has all the same goals,” Reilly said. Those include a return to the Ryder Cup – Holmes went 2-0-1 in the 2008 U.S. victory at Valhalla in his native Kentucky – and adding to his two PGA Tour victories.
Holmes keeps the piece of bone in his closet as a daily reminder.
“It reminds me how lucky I am to be where I am and have a second chance,” Holmes said.
Holmes, who has earned $9.5 million in six PGA Tour seasons, hasn’t won since claiming his second Tour title, the 2008 FBR Open. Unlike many long bombers, though, he has developed into a consistent contender. He was 31st in earnings in 2010, then finished in the top 15 in seven of his first 10 starts of 2011 before experiencing vertigo-like symptoms in May.
It appears he’ll have the chance to return to that form in ’12.