It's hard enough for a golfer to rebound from any serious injury, but elbow surgery is never good in this sport. A broken ankle can be equally debilitating. Of course, if you have both, well, you don't even want to think about that. And if all that followed a brain injury - and we're not talking yips here - playing professional golf just seems unimaginable.
Which is why J.B. Holmes stood over a three-foot putt on the 72nd hole at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday - not to settle nerves, he said, even though he needed to sink it to win the tournament, but simply to think, ever so briefly, about the past three years of his life.
Holmes made that bogey putt for a one-stroke victory over Jim Furyk and his first PGA Tour win since 2008. Now he heads to this week's Players Championship, where his life, or at least his golf life, began to fall apart back in 2011. Holmes impressively tied for sixth that week at the TPC Sawgrass, impressive especially since he had been feeling dizzy.
Tests discovered some structural defects in his cerebellum, and he had surgery to remove part of his skull. Then he had another to correct something that went wrong in the first surgery. Then he started hitting so many golf balls that he hurt his elbow. Then in 2012, remarkably back on tour, he broke his ankle rollerblading. He took that opportunity to have elbow surgery.
Holmes returned to the Tour this year under a major medical extension and, while he was making almost every cut, he wasn't contending, getting close only with a T10 at Arnold Palmer's tournament. It didn't look like he was making much headway - of course other than simply making it back to professional golf. After a miserable showing in the Valero Texas Open the week following Bay Hill, it would not have been out of the question to drop him from your team. And someone (who may have been, um, me) did just that.
Since then: T12 in Houston, T18 at the Heritage, T11 in New Orleans - no top 10s, but obviously a string of strong showings - and finally first at Quail Hollow.
Oops. My bad.
Seriously, it's all gravy from here on for Holmes, who perhaps has come back from more adversity than any golfer since Ben Hogan's near-fatal car crash in 1949. (Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton also comes to mind.) And if Holmes can resurrect his career after all that, suddenly a second act for Tiger Woods doesn't seem so farfetched.
Television cameras showed Furyk sitting in the locker room watching Holmes nearly kick away the tournament by bogeying two of the last three holes (insert Furyk-kicking-away-tournament joke here). Holmes didn't, of course, but Furyk had his best finish since he was runner-up at last year's PGA Championship. Furyk doesn't seem to be able to get over the hump for his first win since 2010, and has had some monumental collapses, but he still contends, and he still gets close. He shot 65 on Sunday for his third top-10 in his last four outings, though that's probably little comfort to him - it's all about the W. But he surely has significant fantasy value, 24th in the point standings, no matter how maddening he is for his owners to watch.
Another week, another backdoor top-10 for McIlroy. Playing on his 25th birthday - consider that Furyk played his first Tour event the year before McIlroy was born - McIlroy closed with a 70 to tie for eighth. But a second-round 76 effectively ended his chances, and on Sunday he talked of the frustration of again finishing in the top 10 without contending. It was his fifth top-10 in seven PGA starts this season.
If Mickelson was going to get his first top-10 of the season, this surely seemed like the week, as he's had seven at Quail Hollow. And following a 9-under 63 on Saturday, Mickelson wasn't thinking about just a top-10. But he followed that up with a 76, fading to T11, and Mickelson's meandering season continues. He's 83rd in the point standings, and it just doesn't seem as if he can put four good rounds together. (Mickelson also played his first Tour event the year before McIlroy was born.)
While second, eighth and 11th don't do it for Furyk, McIlroy and Mickelson, Ogilvy should be thrilled with a T14. He actually has two top-25s in his last five starts, so maybe he's rediscovering his game to a degree. Like Furyk winless since 2010, Ogilvy is still only 37 (and did not play professionally the year before McIlroy was born).
The 2013 champion was back to defend his title and, while Ernst did not contend, his T30 was his best finish in the past year (he also was 30th in the 30-man Tournament of Champions in January). Ernst has made only 13-of-30 cuts since his playoff win. And if golf had one-hit wonders, Ernst would be the sport's Dexys Midnight Runners (Come on, Google them).
Yes, Matsuyama has a top-3 finish, two top 10s, six top 25s, has made 9-of-12 cuts and has won almost $1 million so far, but if you own him, you're not happy. The 22-year-old, beset by injuries in what was supposed to be his breakthrough season, finished T28 in Charlotte, making his first cut in two months. Oh, and his T3 came in the season-opening Frys, long before most leagues had drafted.
Walker hasn't won in three months. Sure, sounds kind of ridiculous - only three months - but when you were off to the start he was, his last win at Pebble Beach seems long ago. Since then, Walker had continued to play well, racking up top-25 after top-25, 12 in 15 events, leaving him still first in the point standings. But this week he missed only his second cut, though perhaps he can chalk it up to idleness; Walker hadn't played in almost a month, since finishing eighth at the Masters.
Don't look now, but Will MacKenzie could be turning back into Will MacKenzie. Still 16th in the FedEx Cup standings and not too far removed from a short stretch of being the hottest golfer on Tour, MacKenzie has missed three straight cuts. That follows a string of seven straight made cuts that included two top-5s and two more top-10s. Deal him, if you still can.
Frank Lickliter II
Lickliter is little known these days, and has even less fantasy value. But he's a two-time winner on Tour, albeit lastly in 2003. He hasn't had a top-10 in eight years, and has virtually no status on Tour. But he trudges on. He shot 63 to be one of four to survive the dreaded Monday qualifying to get into only his third field of the year. He shot 75-78 to miss the cut by a lot. The other three qualifiers all made their PGA Tour debuts. And they missed the cut, too. Lickliter, 45, has made no prize money this year. And he made about $5,000 all last year. He's ranked No. 1,533 in the world.