Painful headaches. Vertigo. Sensitivity to light. Three-time PGA Tour winner J.B. Holmes had a nasty trifecta of symptoms during the summer of 2011, and he went through numerous physicians and as many diagnoses that ranged from migraines to an inner-ear infection.


“Finally, at about the sixth doctor, we figured out what it was and what was causing it,” Holmes said on Tuesday during a news conference at The Players Championship media center.

It turned out to be a structural defect in his cerebellum called Chiari malformations. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the brain and the upper brain stem should rest on an indented space in the lower rear of the skull, above an opening to the spinal canal.

In Holmes’ case, his brain was “sitting” on his skull, which prevented the flow of spinal fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord. It usually is genetic.

On Sept. 1, 2011, Holmes had brain surgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The defect was repaired, and a titanium plate was put into his head.

It wasn’t over yet. He developed an allergic reaction to the titanium and had to undergo further surgery.

Holmes said there was pain.

“There’s quite a bit,” Holmes said. “They had to go through muscles, and I had a real stiff neck. It took over a year, and I’m still working on my neck and a lot of rehab. It was a lot of work.”

Although Holmes was able to play the entire 2012 season and had five starts in 2013 before breaking his ankle in a roller-blading accident, he completed his comeback last week by winning the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., holding off major champions such as Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.

The victory got Holmes into this week’s Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course, where he hasn’t played since tying for sixth in 2011. Despite being perceived as a long-hitting, one-trick pony, Holmes has a commendable record at The Players, with four finishes of 16th or better in seven starts.

“There’s a lot of good feelings coming from last week, and I’m looking forward to playing this golf course,” he said. “I really enjoy it. I’ve had some good finishes here.”

Holmes was able to return to golf relatively quickly, just over four months after his surgery. He played well enough to qualify for the FedEx Playoffs in 2012, but he said golf was more like work to him than fun.

“Getting healthy was the most frustrating thing, just taking the time to get back to 100 percent,” he said. “Certain things in my golf swing that I struggled with that I hadn’t struggled with before. It was part of a process.”

After losing almost all of the 2013 season, Holmes approached this season with a new attitude.

He tied for 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his seventh start, igniting his current hot streak.

He’s been 18th or higher in five of six starts.

“It’s a different outlook on life,” he said. “I’ve gotten closer to God and really worked on being a better Christian, just trying to learn to let stuff go and let God have it.”

Bubba Watson, the only player on Tour consistently longer than Holmes, marveled at Holmes’ road to victory.

“Just him getting back to the Tour was a big accomplishment,” Watson said. “Getting back to a level where he could keep his card and then having a chance to win was a big deal. Then to actually capture the victory was huge. I’ll bet the doctor was smiling, saying, ‘Hey, I guess I did all right.’ ”


Garry Smits: (904) 359-4362


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