Bud Cauley Wins Hotel Fitness Championship

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Throughout his standout amateur and junior golf career, Bud Cauley always had the good fortune of managing to avoid injury. Growing up in Florida, a healthy Cauley played in the 2006 Junior World Cup and the 2008 Junior World Golf Championships.

He moved on to a successful career at Alabama, where he was a two-time first team Golfweek All-American. He posted a 3-0-1 record in the 2009 Walker Cup, helping lead the United States to victory over Great Britain and Ireland. All the while, he was healthy.

The string of clean health was broken at the John Deere Classic on the PGA TOUR in July, when Cauley dislocated his shoulder while teeing off on the ninth hole in the third round. He played through the pain, but realized at weeks’ end (he finished T52) that he needed to take some time off.

So for the first time in his career, Cauley was sidelined. He didn’t touch a club for three weeks, and he made a rushed return at the TOUR’s Wyndham Championship in mid-August in hopes of moving into the top 25 in the FedExCup standings and securing TOUR status for 2014-15. He missed the cut by a shot, finishing No. 143 in the FedExCup standings and necessitating a return to the Web.com Tour Finals.

Still, Cauley managed to draw positives from the unfortunate experience. It made him realize how much he loved what he does.

“Even at Greensboro [the Wyndham Championship], when I wasn’t quite ready to play, I was just so anxious and happy to be out there,” Cauley said. “Just being at a tournament, playing and competing. When it’s out of your control, and you’re just at home for a month and a half watching guys play and obviously wishing you were out there, it showed how much I love playing golf and love what I do.”

That perspective was on display at last week’s Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the first leg of the Web.com Tour Finals. Cauley shot 20-under 268 at Sycamore Hills GC to defeat Colt Knost by a shot, rallying from two behind with a seven-under 65 in the final round.

The win assures Cauley (and Knost) of TOUR status for 2014-15.

Cauley struggled at the start of 2013-14, missing five cuts in his first six starts and then failing to record a top-25 finish in late April. Once his game started to come around mid-season, though, the results quickly started to improve. He finished T11 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Travelers Championship in June, and he recorded a T4 at The Greenbrier Classic the week before he got hurt at the John Deere Classic.

Knowing he was starting to play better made the injury’s timing all the more frustrating. It halted his run toward the FedExCup’s top 125 – he was as low as No. 193 in February, and he fought his way to No. 130 before he was forced to take time off.

“It was just a huge pain in the ass, and I dealt with it the best I could,” Cauley said. “I was probably a miserable person the first couple of days. Having to go home and knowing I was playing well, and it kind of being out of my control, it was frustrating. But I just tried to do everything I could at home with the rehab, and tried to get out here as quickly as possible.”

After missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship, Cauley turned his attention to the Web.com Tour Finals, which he successfully conquered last year to earn his PGA TOUR card for 2013-14.

Cauley prepared the week prior to the Hotel Fitness Championship by playing practice rounds at home in Florida with friends and fellow professionals Aron Price, Tyler McCumber and Vince Covello. It was the first time since his injury that he felt able to play consistently, and the time on the course helped him shake off the rust.

It showed at Sycamore Hills GC. Cauley’s Finals efforts last year were highlighted by a T5 at the Hotel Fitness Championship, and it’s no surprise that the course has suited his eye from the get-go.

Cauley avoided the double and triple bogeys that plagued a large part of the field, and his 20-under total equaled Trevor Immelman’s winning score from 2013 – despite course renovations that narrowed landing areas off the tee and brought more trouble into play.

Cauley credited his success largely to keeping the ball in play off the tee, as well as playing the par 3s solidly. He played Sycamore Hills’ four demanding par-3 holes in one under for the week, with his only bogey coming in the opening round.

“A lot of that [avoiding big numbers] goes into driving,” Cauley said. “A lot of the trouble is on the tee shots, and the par 3s too. I played the par 3s well this week, hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks at birdies, and I didn’t hit any in the water or anything like that. So that was the key to playing those holes well.”

Cauley earned his ticket to TOUR quickly after college, making enough money on sponsor’s exemptions in 2011 to avoid a trip to Q school. In accomplishing this feat, he joined an elite club that includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Moore.

Cauley played well on TOUR in 2012, recording 10 top-25 finishes and keeping his card easily. He struggled in 2013, earned his card back through the Web.com Tour Finals, and was well positioned to keep his card in 2013-14 before the shoulder injury.

No worries, though. Cauley outshined a strong field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and his ticket back to TOUR has been punched. “I don’t think I ever took it for granted, playing well,” Cauley said. “But after struggling a little bit and seeing how difficult it can be out here – especially with things like the shoulder – and you’re sitting at home wishing you were out playing, you definitely appreciate the good times more.”

Sounds like a good attitude to have for 2014-15.

For complete results visit: http://www.pgatour.com/content/pgatour/webcom/tournaments/hotel-fitness-championship/leaderboard.html

For an updated Web.com Tour priority ranking list visit: http://www.pgatour.com/webcom/stats/stat.02670.html

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