By Dan Reardon
On the PGA Tour, there are various numbers which act like passcodes to unlock doors into potential fame and riches. There is 30, which is the ranking needed at the end of the FedExCup playoffs to play in the Tour Championship, with its $10 million jackpot. There is 50, which is the World Golf Ranking needed to be guaranteed entry into the Masters field. There is 125, which not only assures a spot in FedExCup but also secures a place on Tour for the coming year.
The PGA Tour also has various asterisk numbers. Eight is the number of sponsor exemptions a non-Tour member can receive into most PGA Tour events. Perhaps the least known of these numbers is 17, the number of Tour starts a player gets if they miss extensive time because of injury.
The 26-year-old Bud Cauley has that injury number tattooed on his brain and circled on his calendars. Cauley missed 15 months playing time after major shoulder surgery in September of 2014 to repair a torn labrum. The three-time All-American from Alabama started the countdown clock ticking last November at Sanderson Farms and has spent nine Tour starts trying to reach the 458 FedExCup points needed to maintain his playing status. He is exactly halfway there.
As an amateur, the Florida native seemed to have all the predictors in place for a successful professional career. While a junior golfer, he racked up national wins, and by the time he moved up to the amateur ranks, he was the highest ranked junior in the world.
After qualifying for the U.S. Open in 2011, and making the cut at Congressional, he decided to turn professional. Cauley promptly made the cut in his first four PGA Tour starts as well. That included a T4 at the Viking Classic. After his eight tournaments that year, he had earned enough to become only the seventh player to move directly to the PGA Tour without going through qualifying.
His first full rookie season reinforced the notion of a rising talent with a secure future. That rookie campaign saw him post six top 10s and only seven missed cuts. His nearly $1.8 million dollars in earnings placed him 38th on the final FedEx tote board. But there are no guaranteed contracts in golf, and in 2013 and 2014 he finished outside the top 125, Injury was a factor that second year.
“I tore my labrum. It happened for the first time on the 9th hole at John Deere. It came out and came back in. It had a little tear. Did a couple months of physical therapy, trying to avoid surgery. Came back, played a couple weeks and it happened again,” he explained when he returned to action last November. “When it happened again, the muscles were so stretched out I had to have surgery to repair my labrum and put some anchors in there to make sure it doesn’t slip out again.”
Following the surgery, he went a full seven moths without a ball at his feet. “It was absolutely miserable. For the first three months, probably three and a half months, I went to physical therapy twice a day. It’s the most mindless thing. You go in there and [they] tell you to do this and you do that. I was bored. I watched a lot of TV and just kind of hung out and drove everybody crazy.”
Not too surprisingly, on his return last November in Mississippi, his body may have been healthy, but his competitive game needed some therapy as well. Cauley missed the cut at Sanderson Farms and again at the RSM Classic two weeks later. He shut it down until late January of 2016. Two top 25s and a missed cut at Pebble Beach should have provided momentum, but his status didn’t insure places in fields. His next Tour start came three months later at Wells Fargo. “I played well at the start of the year, and I was first alternate, second alternate in a few events. That kind of hurt my momentum or rhythm a little bit.”
Two weeks later he crashed his first top 10 in more than two years, finishing T4 at the Byron Nelson. “It is tough, especially coming off an injury where I haven’t played. I played a lot, tried to play a lot more golf last week at home just to get myself into better rhythm coming in and here knowing I’m going to play a few — play quite a bit.”
With the Greenbrier cancellation, it’s possible Cauley’s chase will carry over into the start of the 2017 schedule in October. Only five dates remain for him in the 2016 season. Of course another top 10 along that stretch would erase all doubts and complete the professional rehabilitation.
Cauley knows the calendar is not his friend, but also realizes the only place he can control his future is between the ropes. “I don’t think about it too much. Once you get out there and you’re playing, that keeps enough of my attention so I know I haven’t been able to play that many events this year. I’m playing well. If I have a chance to play some tournaments this summer, that’s all I’m worried about, just playing when I’m playing.”
Eight and 228, not something you want on a scorecard, but a score being kept nonetheless.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.