SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s been so long since Bud Cauley has played on the PGA Tour that he joked on Tuesday that he had to look for his ball marker and think about how many tees he likes to carry in his pocket.
Cauley, 33, is set to make his first Tour start this week at the WM Phoenix Open since the 2020 Fortinet Championship. While competing in Ohio at the Memorial in June 2018, he sustained six broken ribs, a broken leg and a collapsed lung in the single-car accident in which he was a passenger. While he recovered and resumed his playing career, the injury to his ribs never fully healed.
“Out of the blue, my (right) side started to hurt again,” he said.
When he visited the doctor in April 2021, they determined he needed surgery to remove the plates in his chest but during the procedure, they couldn’t take them out because the bone had grown on top of the plates.
“So stitched me back up, said, ‘I think we’ll be OK, we took a little scar tissue out, you’ll be fine,’ and then like 12 days later, my incision popped open,” Cauley recalled, noting that his wife, Christy, noticed his shirt was wet. “Take my shirt off, there’s just a hole in the side of my chest.”
More surgeries followed and they didn’t heal well. He suffered from a seroma, the abnormal accumulation of serous fluid in a dead space containing plasma and lymphatic fluid, and C. diff. colitis, an infection of the colon from antibiotics. “Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong,” he said.
He tried to hit balls a couple months after his first surgery once his incision had healed and hit about four shots and stopped. Then he didn’t hit another golf ball until September.
“After a year goes by and two years goes by, your optimism starts to fade a little bit,” he said.
With his optimism for recovery nearly depleted, Cauley, who has made 198 career Tour starts and banked nearly $10 million in career earnings, conceded there were conversations with his wife that if his latest surgery didn’t work out, it might be time to pursue other career opportunities.
“When you grow up doing it every day and you play golf every day, and when it gets taken away, it does change your perspective on just how fortunate we are to be able to play golf and even to get to do the thing that you enjoy doing,” he said.
His latest surgery seems to have given him a new lease on his playing career. He made two rehab starts on the Korn Ferry Tour last month in The Bahamas, finishing T-21 and T-35. He has 27 Tour starts left on a major medical exemption.
“My golf swing is virtually the same. I’m lucky that even though I’ve had so many things happen to my side, I haven’t lost any speed or anything, and my range of motion is the same,” Cauley said.
Justin Thomas, who played with Cauley at the University of Alabama, has been playing with him back home in Florida and said he’s ready.
“He’s been kicking my ass at home, that’s for sure,” Thomas said. “I know how good Bud is and I know his raw talent … He’s just too good of a player to not have won out here at some point.”