LOUISVILLE, Ky.: J.B. Holmes is a Ryder Cup rookie, but he's practically a Ph.D. at handling pressure.
Even though the 26-year-old from nearby Campbellsville won't make his debut on golf's biggest stage until later this week, something about it will seem familiar. As a precocious 8-year-old, Holmes played on the golf team at his high school — nervous as a kid can be, but never scared. He proved that by boldly calling a penalty on an opposing player who was double his age and three times his size.
David Parsons, Holmes' coach at Taylor County High, recalled pulling the youngster aside at the time. "I told John, if you let them get away with something, they'll try to get away with everything," Parsons said. "I told him 'You've got to stand up for yourself.'"
Holmes hasn't had much trouble holding his own ever since.
He admits to being nervous at the thought of teeing it up in front of home-state fans with sky-high expectations when the Ryder Cup begins on Friday. But scared? Not a chance. Holmes just doesn't do fear.
"It doesn't really matter who you're playing," he said. "If you play well and do the best of your ability, you can win."
He was a high school star on full scholarship at the University of Kentucky, but had always been more comfortable on the golf course than in the classroom. It wasn't until Holmes was diagnosed with the learning disability dyslexia that he understood why.
With tutoring and extra time to complete his exams, Holmes was zeroing in on a degree when he decided to turn pro in 2005.
He validated that decision by taking medalist honors at Q School to earn his U.S. PGA Tour card, then needed just five starts to earn his first victory, capturing the FBR Open in 2006. An up-and-down 2007 followed, but with the Ryder Cup in his sights, Holmes won the FBR again this February, then matched Tiger Woods nearly shot for shot before losing 1-up at the Match Play championship.
U.S. captain Paul Azinger selected Holmes with one of his wild-card picks, and if fellow Kentuckian Kenny Perry's lobbying effort is successful, he and Holmes could wind up going off together in the first round of foursomes.
Azinger refused to tip his hand, but he did say this: "I want everybody to get comfortable on the golf course, and Kenny and J.B. know it better than anybody."