The first indication that J.B. Holmes was destined to be a heavy hitter on the PGA Tour was in the third grade, when he drove the ball far enough to play competitively with high school kids.
“They made fun of me for a while,” Holmes said on Friday. “It stopped in the fifth grade, when I started beating them.”
Holmes continued his assault on fairways during an All-America career at the University of Kentucky and the 2005 PGA Tour qualifying tournament, where he finished first.
As usual, Holmes was focused on distance during the second round of the FBR Open, and the dry, fast conditions at the TPC of Scottsdale were perfect for his strengths. As a result, the 23-year-old fired a 63 to sit at 10 under after two rounds and in second place, four shots off the lead.
“The weather and the way the course is helps me because I carry the ball a little bit, so there’s bunkers out there at 310, 320 yards, and I can hit over them,” Holmes said. “It messes a little with your iron play, too, so you have to adjust. Everyone is hitting it a little farther.”
Not a big guy, Holmes said “God-given ability” is the reason for his ability to hit a golf ball a long way.
“I first picked up a club when I was about 14 months old, and my dad said that my swing hasn’t changed that much since then,” Holmes said.
Holmes came into the FBR Open third on the Tour with an average driving distance of 316 yards. He is whipping them even farther off the tee box in the first two rounds, ranking first among the field with an average length of 323.7 yards.
“Things have been perfect for me here,” Holmes said. “If I make putts, I’ll have low scores.”
Perhaps his best shot on Friday was an approach at the par-5 15th hole. Using a 4-iron from 250 yards away, Holmes lifted the ball to the left of the hole, where it hit the green, got a kick and rolled to about 3 feet from the cup. He tapped in for an eagle. The 15th ended a seven-hole stretch in which Holmes went birdie, par, birdie, par, birdie, birdie, eagle.
“It’s been a blast so far,” Holmes said. “It’s completely different than what I’ve played in before, just because of all of the people. I’ve never been to a pro-am that drew 54,000 people. That was ridiculous.”
Holmes tied for 10th at the Sony Open in Hawaii and tied for 28th at the Buick Invitational last week. He earned his first professional prize checks, totaling $160,686.43.
Now, he has his best chance to date to hoist a trophy.
“I’ve had a lot of fun so far, making putts, playing pretty good,” Holmes said. “I’m sitting in good position and have given myself a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for.”