Holmes gives treat to family that shares his condition

Photo courtesy Mack Horton
J.B. Holmes signs golf balls for the Wendorff family following Wednesday's practice round.
May 09, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Brayden was diagnosed first. The 8-year-old has had six brain surgeries in the last three years, the cross-shaped incision from the most recent, performed two weeks ago, visible on the left side of his head.


"He came home from school with a really bad headache," Brayden's mother, Amanda Wendorff, remembered. "I called the pediatrician, and she's like, 'well, sometimes kids have headaches,' and I'm like, 'this is something different, it's not just a headache. It seems almost where he's screaming.'"

A CAT scan and an MRI confirmed the diagnosis. Brayden had a Chiari malformation of his brain. Doctors suggested the Wendorff's other sons be tested, as well, and it turns out both Skyler, who is 9, and 5-year-old Zachary, also had the condition.

When someone has a Chiari malformation the skull is either too small or misshapen and it starts to press on the brain tissue, pushing it down on the spinal canal and interfering with the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. That in turn can cause dizziness, headaches and problems with balance and coordination.

J.B. Holmes has it, too. On Sept. 1 of last year a surgeon took out a piece of the PGA TOUR veteran's skull about three-quarters the size of of a golf ball to relieve the pressure on his cerebellum. The covering of the brain was then opened and a titanium plate and a mesh patch sewn in to provide more room for the brain.

So he knows what Brayden and Zachary and Skyler, who is so far asymptomatic, have experienced. And on Wednesday, the three boys, along with their little sister, Cami, who is 4, walked the final two holes on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass with Holmes and got an impromptu putting lesson on the 18th green.

"It was awesome (to meet them)," Holmes said. "It's amazing that three kids in one family have gone through the whole process and everything and what they had to go through. I can't imagine the parents and what they had to deal with. And then at such a young age for the kids to have to go on in life and be going in the hospital and how scary a situation that must have been.

"I'm just really thankful that everything came out good for them and they're just normal kids hanging on the stairs and having fun and talking about riding their bikes and playing video games. It's really great to see the surgeries and stuff that they got the problems fixed, and hopefully it won't dim their life too much. They can have normal kid lives."

The tickets to THE PLAYERS arrived at the family's home in Middleburg, Fla., last week. But Amanda Wendorff has been trying to make the meeting happen since she first learned about Holmes' surgery last fall while networking with other Chiari moms.

"When I knew he was coming to THE PLAYERS, I kind of jumped on emailing everybody that I could possibly think of to get his attention so the kids could meet him," she said. "... I tweeted and I wrote his manager and I wrote (local sportscaster) Dan Hicken and I called the hospital and I wrote 'Dreams come true.'

"I literally was stalking, trying to find a way for the kids to meet him because they've lost all their sports, and they can't do any contact sports, so I've kind of wanted to push them towards golf. When he was diagnosed, it was like, hey, look at this, he does big things. So maybe you can do that, too."

Holmes, who actually had a second brain surgery when he had a reaction to the glue used to seal his incision, returned to the TOUR at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year. The two-time PGA TOUR champ missed the cut that week but shot a solid 69 in the second round at Torrey Pines. He has two ties for eighth in his last eight events and ranks fourth on TOUR in driving distance with an average of 306 yards.

Amanda's husband, Dan, said he wanted his kids to see an adult who is "doing well and doing what he loves and still have had the unfortunate thing of having the Chiari malformation." The Wendorff boys, particularly Brayden, have been through a medical roller coaster. Skyler is the only one who hasn't had to have surgery.

"(Brayden) has maintained and not let anything get him down and bounce back and had a positive attitude,' Dan Wendorff said. "And we can't thank Mr. Holmes enough for letting us come out and meet and greet with my kids and give them a chance to associate with him and say, I met him and he has the same brain condition that I do and you can go on and do great things."

Holmes, who signed golf balls for the four children and had photos taken with them, said he hopes that boys will get interested in golf. He talked with Dan about starting them with putt-putt and seeing how they liked the game.

"Hopefully maybe this is an avenue that they'll choose to take if they want to and have fun with it," Holmes said. "It's something that just because of that doesn't mean you can't play sports. So it's one of the great things about golf, you can play your whole life. It's not just a teenager thing, or growing up and you stop in your 20s."

If his surgery taught him anything, Holmes says he has learned the value of perspective. He keeps the piece of skull the doctors removed on the window sill in a closet in his Orlando home as a reminder of what he went through. Somehow bogeys don't seem quite as big a deal as they did before -- particularly when he meets a family like the Wendorffs.

"At the time you think (bogeys are) the end of the world, but they really just don't mean anything," Holmes said. "But it's great to get to meet them, and hopefully they continue to do well, and I don't ever have to go back and do that again."