Champ hails from old stomping grounds

Special to The HeraldMay 14, 2014 

I would never have dreamed it in 1975 when, in the dead of winter, I moved from balmy Columbia to frigid Campbellsville, Ky., and rented an $80-a-month farmhouse. I had taken a job – “way back then” – as the country-and-western song goes, working as a $160-a-week-reporter for the Central Kentucky News Journal in Campbellsville.

But here I was, 39 years later, in late April and early May of 2014 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, working as a volunteer – as I have for the past seven years – for the Wells Fargo Golf Championship. This year, however, proved to be extra special at the fabulously beautiful and lush green golf course that some say rivals even Augusta National and the Masters as the tournament on the PGA tour.

For one thing, the weather was picture perfect – gloriously sunny, warm, with a refreshing breeze. The golf gods seemed to be embracing the genteel old Quail Hollow Club and its esteemed 7,200-yard champion golf course.

A guy from Campbellsville, Ky., won. A man who they say competed on his high school golf team when he was in third grade. His name, as I’m sure many reading this column know, is J.B. Holmes.

Holmes, described in the Charlotte media as having a quirky sense of humor, sank one last, squeamish 38-inch putt, on the 18th hole and clinched his fist in victory. What a story and what a payday ($1.24 million) for the golf prodigy from Campbellsville (population 11,000 in 2012) who has overcome brain surgeries, a broken ankle and tennis elbow.

At Quail Hollow, Holmes defeated the likes (among others) of Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera, Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy and Web Simpson. (Tiger Woods, a crowd favorite who won here a few years ago, wasn’t in the field at Quail Hollow because he’s hurt. The 2014 Masters champion Bubba Watson, who usually competes in the Wells Fargo Championship, decided to sit this one out.)

The downside of it was I actually witnessed very little of Holmes’ magic. That’s because I worked nonstop shuttling members of the Quail Hollow Club from the members’ parking lot to the clubhouse. I drove a six-seat golf cart all week long (hauling members back and forth from their cars to the club), and about the only golf action I saw was when I could steal a glance at the jumbotron. And there, spectacular as life on the big screen throughout the last holes of the championship, was J.D. Holmes.

Occasionally one of my golf cart passengers would tap me on the shoulder and ask me if I knew where Holmes was from. I grinned and told them proudly that he comes from a little town in central Kentucky called Campbellsville. And then I’d share with them that I've been there and know it well and that it’s probably a place they’ve never heard of, but now they’re going to hear about it big time. Everyone I spoke to said it was refreshing to have a "new face” and “new name" win here.

When it was all over – and Holmes had his trophy and amazing payday, as well as big boost in the FedEx Cup standings, I raced from my golf cart to the clubhouse. I wanted desperately to snap a picture of Quail Hollow’s latest victor. I had my iPhone with me. If I could just somehow get past all the security and get access to him and tell him I represented his hometown newspaper I felt confident he’d give me a few quotes.

I went to the clubhouse. No J.B. Holmes. I went to the media center. He had just left there – and had gone to the clubhouse, according to one man in a blue Wells Fargo blazer. I bolted back to the clubhouse – and a police officer told me Holmes would probably come out of the locker room and be shuttled to his hotel in Charlotte or to the airport.

Police officers and smiling southern belles in brightly colored sundresses with huge bouquets of flowers lingered outside the locker room entrance. We waited and we waited and we waited. But no one saw J.B. Holmes. I missed getting his picture and those quotes. (Max Heath, my old demanding editor in Campbellsville – and my good friend for many years who in 1998 established a scholarship in my name at Winthrop University – would have been disappointed in me.)

Maybe J.B. Holmes had had his fill of the media and hangers-on and escaped through an underground tunnel. And surely by now he was back in Taylor County, where I worked as a reporter and news editor, and where two of my children were born.

I like to think he’d have talked to me if I had met him.

Maybe another day.

Larry Timbs retired in May 2012 as an associate professor of mass communication/journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. He recently published a novel,“Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface,” which will be available in bookstores and via Amazon starting June 1.

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