Golfer J.B. Holmes among British Open leaders, thankful to God for surviving two brain surgeries

Through two rounds of golf’s British Open in Portrush, Northern Ireland, J.B. Holmes was tied atop the leaderboard with Shane Lowry. Holmes shot a blistering career-low 66 to lead the pack after Thursday’s action and followed that up with a 68 on Friday.

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There is a lot of golf still to be played this weekend, yet if Holmes were to pull out the victory, it would be the 37-year-old’s first ever major championship win. He’s won five times on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2005, but never at a level of competition like he’ll see this weekend.

Holmes is currently ranked 55th in the world and wasn’t expected to contend for the title in Portrush. Then again, many didn’t even expect Holmes to continue playing golf after what he endured eight years ago.

During the 2011 PGA Championship, Holmes was forced to withdraw due to bouts of vertigo. When he sought an explanation, he was eventually diagnosed with Chiari malformations, which are structural defects in his brain’s cerebellum. No one wants to hear the words “brain surgery,” but that’s just what Holmes heard in 2011.

“It’s scary at first,” he told the Golf Channel in 2012. “Talking to the surgeon and stuff, he said for brain surgery, difficulty-wise for him it was only about a 1 out of 10. It’s still brain surgery, but that at least made me feel better. Then I got to the hospital and started putting on the gown and everything else and it was like, ‘Wow! I’m about to have brain surgery.’ So it really hits you then.

“But you’ve just got to put your faith in God and just hope everything comes out good.”

And everything has ended up well, although not at first. Roughly a month after the initial surgery, severe vomiting, headaches and fluid buildup around the scar led to Holmes being airlifted from his home in Kentucky to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where it was discovered that he was allergic to the adhesive on the webbed titanium plate in his head. He needed another surgery.

Recovery was slow for Holmes. Gone was his trademark ability to hit the ball farther than almost anyone on tour. His neck didn’t rotate like it used to and his arms didn’t swing like they should have. To make matters worse, the following year he broke his ankle and had surgery to heal an ailing elbow.

Holmes’s promising start to his career, which included a 2008 Ryder Cup championship, seemed like a lifetime away. He continued to trust in the Lord, improve what he could, and in 2014, he had his breakthrough: a win at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“(I’m) just enjoying the moment,” Holmes said at the time. “You don’t get that very often, so I was thanking God for letting me have the opportunity to do it, whether I made it or not, just enjoying being there.”

Before he sank his final putt, he thought about all God had brought him through. He even said he kept a small piece of his skull in his room, to remind him how valuable his life is, in victory or defeat.

“The Lord was with me all week,” Holmes said. “I leaned on Him and definitely know that I can’t do it by myself. I tried that for a few years, so now I’m asking Him for help, and it worked out this week for me, and it was a lot of fun.”

In the years since, Holmes has given his truly incredible testimony at various public events.

And he’s continued to demonstrate God’s healing power with his play on the course. He won the Shell Houston Open in 2015, and won again this February at the Genesis Open. Whether he can do it at a major tournament is yet to be seen, but he knows that every time he steps foot onto the course is a gift.

Holmes and the rest of the British Open contenders can be seen throughout the weekend on the Golf Channel and on NBC.

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