AUGUSTA, Ga. – J.B. Holmes ranked first in driving distance (312.4 yards) at last week’s Shell Houston Open, where he won on the second playoff hole. No surprise there. But he also ranked last in fairways hit at 44.6 percent. Here’s where it gets interesting: Holmes ranked fourth in strokes gained-tee to green.
“Statistically you say he didn’t drive it good,” said Holmes’ instructor, Matt Killen. “But in reality, he knew where his ball was going to go.”
It’s all about patterns. And with Holmes, a four-time PGA Tour winner, the recent pattern looks strong: T-2, T-10, T-22, 2, MC, 1st.
Holmes, 32, makes his second Masters appearance this week, just days after posting a final-round 64 in Houston and then ousting Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner in a three-way playoff.
In a way, Killen said, it was nice to come to Augusta after that victory, where media access isn’t as relaxed as a regular Tour event. Holmes almost can go under the radar here, even though Phil Mickelson called him out in a news conference as one of the bombers with a distinct advantage this week.
“I feel like bombers have an advantage on pretty much any golf course, if you’re hitting it straight,” Holmes said, “but it’s one of those things a lot of people don’t talk about. It’s hard to hit it straight when you’re hitting it that far.
“I think the biggest advantage this week is holing putts and putting it in the right spot.”
After his 2011 brain surgery, Holmes lost swing speed after a six-month break and recovery period. Now, Killen said, he’s back to hitting it as far as ever, 185-186 mph ball speed when he goes after it.
Last week Holmes put a TaylorMade AeroBurner Mini driver (12 degrees) in play, a small-headed driver that has less loft than a 3-wood. Holmes, whose natural ball flight is left to right, will use what Killen calls a 2-wood on No. 13.
Holmes said he carries the mini-driver 285 to 300 yards and “hits it pretty straight.”
For the past month, Killen and Holmes have worked on hitting draws with his 3-wood. They’ve also worked on hitting the ball to certain sides of the hole location, whether that’s leaving the ball a couple of feet right or left of the flag. Hitting to the correct quadrant at Augusta National is critical.
“I think people forget how good his short game actually is, how good his wedge play is,” Killen said. “He’s holed out five times this year already.”
In Houston, Holmes holed out once and hit the pin two other times.
Killen, a 30-year-old teaching prodigy who began working with another Kentucky legend, Kenny Perry, when Killen was 18, has been the go-to guy for Holmes since 2005.
Killen mapped out the greens extensively for Perry before the 2009 Masters. That year two of Killen’s pupils, Perry and Chad Campbell, lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera.
This year Killen sat down with Holmes’ caddie and went over every hole and every hole location, identifying the best place to leave each shot and find the straightest putt.
Holmes came to Augusta last Monday and Tuesday, before winning in Houston, and played nine holes each day. He wanted to get some work done early so that he could ease into the week, playing nine holes on Tuesday and nine on Wednesday.
Holmes’ only other appearance at Augusta came in 2008, when he tied for 25th. He called the experience intimidating and said that he played a bit too cautiously. Now he has a better idea of when to be aggressive and retain a more comfortable feel.
The first time Holmes came to the Masters was in 1998 as a 17-year-old spectator.
“I just remember telling my dad the next time I come back here I’m going to be playing in it,” said Holmes, “and that ended up happening.”
Now he’s after an even bigger dream.