PGA Tour pro returns to Phoenix Open after 3-year layoff thanks to complicated injuries

Almost six years ago, PGA Tour professional Bud Cauley suffered severe injuries in a car crash in Dublin, Ohio, the home of Muirfield Village Golf Club.

He immediately underwent surgery to repair six broken ribs, a fractured leg, and a collapsed lung, all of which were sustained just hours after he missed the cut at the 2018 Memorial Tournament.

Cauley went on to miss four months, making his return at the Safeway Open that fall. He would go on to play for a couple more years, but then a pain in his side began to bother him in the fall of 2020.

That discomfort stemmed from the accident in June 2018.

“I went and saw a couple of doctors. They thought it was maybe one of the plates I had in my chest. So I went to have the plates removed [in April 2021], and they couldn’t get them out because the bone had grown on top of them,” Cauley explained Tuesday at the WM Phoenix Open.

Bud Cauley, PGA Tour, Waste Management Phoenix Open

Bud Cauley plays a tee shot during the 2020 WM Phoenix Open.
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

“So they stitched me back up, said, ‘I think we’ll be okay, we took a little scar tissue out, you’ll be fine.’ Then, 12 days later, my incision popped open. I’m just standing in the house, [my wife] Christy goes, ‘Your shirt is kind of wet.’ I take my shirt off; there’s just a hole in the side of my chest.”

Cauley immediately went to the emergency room, where another surgery awaited him.

Unfortunately for him, his incisions did not heal well, which consequently led to more operations.

“It was just a whole mess,” Cauley added. “I had a seroma and got C-diff from all the antibiotics. Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong. That set me back just over three years.”

The former Alabama Crimson Tide star barely touched a club between April 2021 and September 2023, thanks to these complications. He could chip, putt, and hit pitch shots, but he could not make a full swing.

“It’s hard to put into words how much you miss something when you grow up doing it every day,” Cauley said.

“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.”

Luckily for Cauley, his beautiful golf swing did not change one bit despite the long layoff. He has not lost any speed either, which is impressive considering all the operations.

“I do truly think if he can continue to keep getting better and better, he’s just so good and so talented that he just has had an unfortunate go with injuries in the past and not really getting in a rhythm,” said Justin Thomas, one of Cauley’s best friends.

“But I’m excited that he’s back. He’s one of my best friends in the world, so it’s fun to have him here.”

Like any professional golfer, Cauley’s sole focus is working to get better.

Bud Cauley, Korn Ferry Tour, The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic

Bud Cauley hits an approach shot during the first round of the 2024 Bahamas Great Abaco Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

“First, it was to get my body to where I could start playing more, and now that I’m back out here… I feel very prepared,” Cauley explained.

“I’ve had enough time to practice and get ready. I’m just going to go out there and really just compete, and I think the newness of it will wear off, and I’ll be able to just focus on the golf.”

Cauley began his 2024 season in the Bahamas, playing two events on the Korn Ferry Tour to work his way back into the competitive realm.

He played decently well for someone who has missed close to four years of action, finishing in a tie for 21st and a tie for 35th.

“I can practice and play at home, but until you get in a tournament and have the scorecard and have to finish out, it’s hard to replicate that at home,” Cauley said of his experience in the Bahamas.

“It was a great warmup for me. After a couple of days, I felt like I got the swing of it and fell back into a nice rhythm. That was great.”

This week, Cauley is back on the PGA Tour, making his first start since the 2020 Safeway Open. He has played in the WM Phoenix Open five times before, with his best finish coming in 2013, when he tied for 24th.

Everyone in Phoenix this week is delighted to see Cauley, especially the friends he is staying with near TPC Scottsdale.

But perhaps nobody in Arizona will be happier than Cauley himself, regardless of what happens with his score.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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