Three Open stories you must hear

JON MCCARTHY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

ANCASTER, ONT. - This is a tale about a brain, a heart and courage.

No, it’s not the Wizard of Oz.

It’s taking place at the Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.

Behind the scoreboard on the PGA Tour, there are all sorts of stories. Some good, some bad, some you shouldn’t hear, some you need to hear.

These three would fall into the last category.

* * * * *

J.B. Holmes’ golf career started like it was shot out of a cannon.

After helping the University of Kentucky win the SEC title and playing in the Walker Cup in 2005, the 24-year-old Holmes headed to Q-School to try and get his PGA Tour card. He shot six rounds in the 60s and won by three strokes.

Holmes took his “grip it and rip it” style to the tour in 2006 and finished tied for 10th in his first tournament, the Sony Open. One month later, he won the FBR Open. Four tournaments into his rookie season, he had taken home $1 million in prize money -- the fastest player in history to reach that mark.

Holmes became the poster boy for the new wave of long-hitters and played in the 2008 Ryder Cup.

But something wasn’t right.

At last year’s PGA Championship, Holmes stood up inside a trailer and felt a wave of dizziness.At the time, he shrugged it off as possibly an ear infection. But the dizziness didn’t go away and then the headaches began.

Next, came wonky depth perception.

This was no ear infection.

He was diagnosed with a structural defect in his brain known as a Chiari malformation. It was causing pressure on his cerebellum, and fluid in his brain was being blocked where his spinal cord attaches.

Holmes needed brain surgery.

In fact, when all was said and done, he needed two surgeries. One to remove part of his skull to relieve the pressure and a second after doctors realized he was allergic to the adhesive they had used.

Holmes returned to the PGA Tour in late January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“It’s changed my outlook on golf,” Holmes said Thursday after shooting a 2-under 68 in round one of the Canadian Open. “Just to try to have fun out here a little bit more and realize the important things.” Holmes has learned plenty about life over the past year, perhaps more than a 30-year-old should have to.

“Over the whole experience I just kind of realized that in the past I took golf a little too serious,” he said. “It’s still important, but it’s just not that important.” The Kentucky native says that his new-found perspective on life might even help his golf game.

“It’s better than stressing yourself out or wanting it too much,” he said.

“You just add pressure yourself.”

Holmes, who says his game is between 95 and 100% back, has two top-10s and has made more than $800,000 this season.

* * * * *

It doesn’t seem possible there is something wrong with Erik Compton’s heart.

After all, he puts it on display every time he tees it up.

Compton, who shot a 3-under par 67 Thursday at the Canadian Open, has had two heart transplants.

The 32-year-old was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy at nine years old.

His heart muscle was inflamed and unable to properly pump blood.

He had his first heart transplant in 1993. A decade later, Compton found himself on the Canadian Tour. In three years there, he won twice, taking home the order of merit in 2004.

In 2008, Compton received his second transplant.

After years on developmental tours and playing in the odd PGA Tour event through sponsor’s exemptions, Compton finished 13th on the Nationwide Tour money list in 2011 and secured his PGA Tour card for this year.

Compton has had plenty of scary moments in his life and spoke about one of them this year at the Sony Open, his first tournament as a card-carrying PGA Tour member.

“I think having a heart attack and driving myself to the hospital and knowing that that was pretty much the end, that was pretty scary and sad at the same time, because life’s not like the movies where you tell everybody goodbye,” he said.

But it wasn’t the end.

Life might not be like the movies, but Compton, who is now on his third heart, is looking forward and pushing himself toward new goals.

“I want to be out here to win at this level, and I don’t think my story is quite done yet.”

* * * * *

Billy Hurley III is 30 years old and more than up to the task of life on the PGA.

How does he handle the grind and pressure of life on tour?

Actually, it’s easy.

The former U.S. Navy lieutenant has been in much tougher situations.

Hurley spent four years at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2010, after graduation, Hurley was a lieutenant aboard a U.S. destroyer as part of his five-year military commitment.

Along the way, Hurley also managed to win seven NCAA golf tournaments and play on the 2005 Walker Cup team.

“I have a bunch of life experience that your average 30-year-old doesn’t have,” Hurley said Thursday, after shooting a 1-over par 71. “I was in the Persian Gulf for two months, I was in the Red Sea for two months, I drove a ship through the Suez Canal.”

Going into the Navy for five years might seem like an odd move for a young golfer, but Hurley wasn’t a teenage golf phenom. He was good, but not a player anyone would earmark for the PGA Tour.

According to Hurley, the Navy was exactly what he needed.

“The military is unique,” he said. “There’s nowhere else where you are 23 years old and you are actually in charge of something and have people who report to you. You grow up fast.”

Hurley played the 2011 season on the Nationwide Tour, where he finished in the top 25 on the money list, securing his PGA Tour card for this season.

Heading into this week, the PGA Tour rookie is 126th on the money list, just one spot outside the top-125 needed at year’s end to secure his card for next season.

We’re guessing Hurley has enough life experience to handle the pressure.

“I definitely believe I am where I am because of where I came from, not in spite of where I came from.”

* * * * *

Holmes, Compton and Hurley continue to pursue their PGA Tour dreams.

All three wise beyond their years.

All three understand that life isn’t just about trophies.

Succeeding in the real world takes brains, heart and courage. And as this story shows, it’s never easy.

 

 


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