DUBLIN, OHIO | There is a scar on the tree where it happened, where the car left the road, hit a culvert, spun into a tree and landed upside down in a ditch one year ago.
It’s not far from Muirfield Village Golf Club, where the Memorial Tournament is being played, but Bud Cauley has no interest in visiting the site where he nearly lost his life.
Even if Cauley weren’t busy chasing the best finish in his comeback season, he lives with the reminders of what happened that Friday night as he was riding with friends around 11 p.m. when the accident happened. He has four metal plates that allowed his six broken ribs to heal as reminders, and Cauley knows he’s fortunate to be playing golf again.
He was riding in the back seat, behind the driver, when the car went out of control. Cauley remembers nothing about the accident, only the aftermath. There have been moments when he is reluctant to get in a car or get behind the wheel but he’s worked through those.
Not everyone would have returned to the Memorial Tournament, preferring to stay away from the moment and the memories, but not Cauley.
“I never considered not coming back because of what happened,” said Cauley, who is 9-under par through 54 holes, in a share of sixth place. “It was something terrible to go through but it wasn’t going to keep me from coming back and playing here.”
Cauley’s 2017-18 season ended with his missed cut at the Memorial and it was five months before he teed it up again, finishing T7 at the Safeway Open to start the 2018-19 season. It was reaffirming, and Cauley ranked 101st in FedEx Cup points entering the Memorial, putting him in position to make the playoffs this season, a monumental step considering what faced him.
Bud Cauley didn’t hit a golf ball for more than three months after the accident, and when he went to the range for the first time, Jack Nicklaus was there.
It’s funny what happens sometimes, the way Cauley comes back one year later and suddenly becomes a main character in the Memorial Tournament story, for his golf as much as for what happened a year ago.
He’s been asked to retell his experience and he’s done so willingly, understanding where he’s been and what he’s doing.
Cauley spent six days in a Columbus hospital after the accident. He had surgery two days after the wreck when the rib plates were put in place. Cauley was also dealing with a punctured lung, which left him struggling to breathe when rescue workers arrived on the scene.
“Golf-wise, I knew my lung would heal. It was more the plates in my ribs, how that would affect me swinging,” Cauley said.
“For the first month or so the swelling was so bad on my side I couldn’t even grip a club, let alone swing one. But luckily the surgery went well and I was able to start hitting balls not too long after that. And so far I’ve been able to play with no pain at all.”
There are mornings Cauley wakes up with sore ribs and there are exercises he modifies in his workouts because of his ribs. No one was killed in the accident but Cauley said one of the passengers continues to do therapy twice a week as part of his recovery.
Cauley was staying with his buddy Justin Thomas that weekend and Thomas encouraged him to go out that Friday night. Cauley had missed the cut while Thomas stayed in, having the third round to play on Saturday.
Thomas has said he felt guilty for encouraging Cauley to go out that evening but his friend has reassured Thomas it was not his fault.
“Him feeling guilty is a hundred percent wrong,” Cauley said.
Cauley didn’t hit a golf ball for more than three months after the accident, and when he went to the range for the first time, Jack Nicklaus was there. As it turned out, one of Cauley’s doctors in South Florida works with Nicklaus and they wound up in the same place when Cauley started his comeback.
It’s been a year now and Cauley is back to focusing on golf, especially at the Memorial with all that comes with his return.
“It was the scariest time of my life. I think I learned a lot from it. I’ve always appreciated playing golf. When you’re laying there and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to do it again, it puts everything in a different perspective,” Cauley said.
“It definitely changed me. I think it changed me for the better.”
Bud Cauley says that even with four metal plates attached to his ribs, he plays with no pain after his auto accident a year ago. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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