NORTON — Of the 100 players eligible to compete in last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship, only one did not. J.B. Holmes had a valid excuse, though. He underwent successful brain surgery for Chiari malformations, which affected his balance.
Holmes missed the last five months of last season, but has come back strong this year, with two top-10 finishes in a full schedule of 21 tournaments. He’s 55th on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list.
Holmes has become Scott Underhill’s favorite player. The 21-year-old from Bedford underwent the same surgery last December, and also has recovered nicely. He’ll play on the golf team at Southern New Hampshire University in the fall.
Underhill and Holmes met on Thursday, with Holmes giving his new friend an inside-the-ropes tour, which included a visit to the players’ clubhouse, a putting lesson, and some autographed keepsakes.
It was hard to tell who enjoyed the meeting more.
“It was really nice to have a conversation with someone close in age who has been through the same thing I’ve been through,” Holmes said. “Scott and I have this in common. It’s a bond of sorts. Neither of us wanted it, but we both got it and are recovering from it. It’s nice to be here to talk about it with him.”
Said Underhill, “It was so awesome of J.B. to take some time out of his day to talk with me. He didn’t have to do it and has a million other things to do. He really related to me, and it made me feel really good. It was amazing to be able to meet someone that I follow, look up to, and respect.”
Rory McIlroy has played in just one previous Deutsche Bank Championship, and remembers shooting a first-round 64 in 2010 (selective memory; he followed with 76-69-71 and tied for 37th). The more he talked, though — before his pro-am round Thursday afternoon, his only look at the course — the more that came rushing back.
“I remember every hole. I think you’ve got to take advantage of the par 5s around here. The scoring is usually pretty good, so make your scores there,” said McIlroy. “It’s a course where, I don’t know, maybe 15 to 18 under is a good total to try and win. I feel like I’m playing well enough, I’m driving the ball well and giving myself enough chances, so if I can get the putter to cooperate a little bit better than it did last week, then hopefully I’ll have a good chance.”
McIlroy tied for 24th at The Barclays in his first tour start since winning the PGA Championship, and is fourth in the points race. He’s paired with Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner the first two rounds, and will go off No. 1 Friday at 1:10 p.m.
He didn’t come right out and say it, but Keegan Bradley probably felt the weight of the world on his shoulders a year ago at TPC Boston. The Hopkinton High School graduate was playing in front of scores of friends and family in his native New England, had just won the PGA Championship in his major debut, and spent the pretournament days like a new celebrity frequently does: He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Red Sox game, and handled the pregame coin flip at a Patriots game.
Looking back, it might have been too much. Bradley missed the cut, shooting 68-76.
“This week I made sure to keep it very light. I promised myself I would stay real low-key no matter what,” Bradley said. “It’s hard to say no to some of these things that are childhood dreams. I didn’t overdo it last year, but this year it’s nice not to be pulled in a million different directions.”
Bradley acknowledged that he checked the schedules and saw that neither the Sox nor Patriots were playing at home this week. Was he relieved?
“A little bit, yeah,” he said.
The team of Louis Oosthuizen, Ed Schrier, Steve Beck, Mike Reger, and Ogden Phipps won Thursday’s pro-am with a better-ball score of 16-under-par 55 . . . As always, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund supplied more than 150 caddies for the amateurs . . . Military members took over the caddie responsibilities for all players on the 17th hole as part of the Wounded Warrior Project . . . Bruin Shawn Thornton, who played in Thursday’s pro-am with Padraig Harrington, will be inside the ropes on Friday, following the threesome of Bradley, Matt Kuchar, and Hunter Mahan, and sharing his observations on the tour’s official Twitter account (@PGATOUR) . . . Players will be paired for the first two rounds based on their FedEx Cup points standing. A 36-hole cut will be made, low 70 and ties.