About 1,000 aspiring PGA Tour players have been grinding through Q school in recent weeks, hoping to secure a coveted Tour card for 2012, but Bud Cauley isn't among them.
After a stellar three years of college and amateur golf, the 21-year-old Cauley dropped out of Alabama last spring and turned pro. He planned on entering as many Tour events as he could through sponsor's exemptions. His best-case scenario was to earn the equivalent amount of money or more than the player finishing 125th on the 2011 money list, because doing that would secure a 2012 card and let Cauley avoid Q school.
This summer and fall, Cauley played the best golf of his life. He got into eight events, including the U.S. Open, and made seven cuts with a third, a tie for fourth and two other top 15s . His $735 ,150 in earnings would've placed him 116th on the final money list, so he secured his card. Doing that put Cauley in an elite group; only five other players-Gary Hallberg, Justin Leonard , Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore-have gotten a card as a non-member, finishing the equivalent of 125th or better in earnings.
I spoke with Cauley by telephone from his hometown of Jacksonville, where he'd just left an auto shop after getting the windows tinted on his white 2011 Chevy Tahoe.
So you used your winnings to treat yourself to a new car?
Not really. I bought the Tahoe when I turned pro. But I've been busy playing so much golf that I never had time to get the windows done, and I need tinted windows because it's so hot in Florida during the summer.
Did you pay cash for the Tahoe?
No, I took a loan. This was by far the biggest purchase of my life. It was weird to spend that much money. But I haven't missed a payment.
Have you rewarded yourself with other presents?
No. I mean, I still live with my parents in the same bedroom where I grew up.
Any plans to get your own place?
Definitely. I'm going to stretch out and do that soon, maybe in the next week or two.
It seems like your life has quickly changed. A short time ago, you were a college student. Now, you've made hundreds of thousands of dollars and you're a PGA Tour player.
I'm still just me. I don't really think about who I am. I am always looking at things that need to improve. Things have happened so fast, so now it's nice to look back and feel a little proud of what I accomplished. It was always a dream to play on the PGA Tour. I was fortunate to get some exemptions and play well. I had a lot of fun every week.
This year, you earned more money than Tiger Woods. Does that feel good?
My goal was just to get inside that top 125 and get my card.
Where did you grow up?
My dad is a Navy diver. We've lived mostly in Jacksonville, which I've always considered home, but we also lived in Cuba and in Guam.
Do you have memories of living abroad?
I was too young to remember Cuba. But I remember Guam fairly well. It's a small island and there were three golf courses. The one I played was 30 minutes from our house. I also remember a couple of earthquakes in Guam. One of them caused school to be cancelled for a week or two.
Did moving around affect you?
It's cool to say that I've lived in places like Cuba and Guam. But my dad never wanted to go on ships. Instead, he always found Navy work on land. I think he did that so he could be close to his family. Living other places makes you get really close as a family, which is why I'm so close with my parents and younger sister.
How would you describe your family's closeness?
We all talk about a lot of stuff together. I was home-schooled, so I spent lots of time at home and with my family and that created a great bond. I'm really close with my sister, Jessica, and I'm very grateful for that. She's my best friend. We talk every day. Now, she's a big college student, a freshman, at University of Florida.
Will you ever return to Alabama to finish your degree?
We'll have to see. Now, golf is my main focus.
At what point in your life did golf become the primary focus?
It's been that way pretty much my whole life, since I started playing golf when I was 5 or 6. I've just always loved playing and the challenge of trying to get better. My goal has always been to try and see improvement every day. There's nothing else, besides golf, that I've ever really wanted to do.
In 15 years of golf, what's the longest layoff you've had from the game?
My dad and I were just talking about this yesterday. He told me that he couldn't remember me taking off more than a couple of days. We laughed. Then I told him that now I'm taking a little break. Today is the third day without touching a club, and I'm already itching to get back.
What do you do with the little time that you have away from golf?
I just catch up on sleep. Maybe watch some movies. At Alabama, I loved playing ping pong. Freshman year, I lived with some guys on the golf team, and we took all the furniture out of our living room and put a ping pong table there.
What's the worst time you ever had on a course?
My junior year at Alabama, it was the SEC Championship and I played the first round with food poisoning. That's as miserable as I've ever been on a course. After the round, I went to the hospital for three hours to get IV treatment.
When you turned pro, was it your goal to avoid Q school by getting your card through the top 125 in earnings equivalent?
It's hard to set a goal like that, because the competition is so strong and I didn't know how many chances I'd get to play this summer. But it was my goal to get my card somehow, whether by the top 125 or Q school.
How many hole-in-ones have you made in your life?
Which was the most memorable?
The last one was really special. It happened during a practice round at the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island. My teacher, Craig Shankland, and my caddie, David Munce , were there with me. It was on the third hole. I had 215 yards to the flag and hit a 4-iron. The ball landed a little short and rolled right in. It was cool because Craig and David were with me, and Craig got the swing on video.
Did you buy them them drinks?
We couldn't celebrate because it was during the tournament week. But I bought Craig dinner that night.
How much did your parents sacrifice for your golf?
A lot, a whole lot, financially. I mean, travelling all around to tournaments, lessons, equipment. I'm sure there were a lot of other things they could've spent their money on. And I was home-schooled by my mom, who's a reading coach in schools, which gave me the chance to travel to golf events and not miss school. I'm sure that my dad's decision to not work at sea and be around the family was made partly to support my golf. I was very lucky to have parents willing to give me every opportunity.
Do you want to repay your family for the big sacrifices they made for your golf?
Definitely. My sister, Mom and Dad all have birthdays in the next few weeks. I'll definitely be doing some shopping for them.
What motivates you to work so hard at golf?
You don't get to play in the final round without preparation. I've always been taught, you get out of something what you put into it. Golf is difficult, and you have to work hard. There's a saying that's always meant a lot to me: "The will to win is important, but that's irrelevant if you don't have the will to prepare." Preparing, getting ready for the competition, is what drives me to never get tired of hard work. Competition also drives me. When you work at something for as long as I have, you take pride in how you perform and stack up. I take pride in the scores I shoot. I understand the sacrifices my family made, so I don't want to sell them short.
What's your practice regimen?
I'm not sure what it'll be as a professional, because I just turned pro. Back in school, I'd practice six days a week and work out in the gym three days a week. I always worked on every part of my game every day. I'd also play nine holes.
Any favorite drills?
I practice hard what I haven't been doing well. Also, I have fun at practice. I always try to shape shots on the range. Hitting it straight all day is boring and doesn't help much. I also like making little contests and games while putting.
What are your plans for the next couple of months?
Right now, I won't do too much. Maybe go to some Alabama football games. And I'll practice and prepare for my first Tour event at Hawaii in January. The only other tournament I have is the Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach in the middle of this month.
What are you doing with the money you earned so far on Tour?
Just letting it sit there and grow.
So you still travel commercial?
Did you make any friends during your first few months playing the Tour?
Everyone I met was really nice. I got to play with Ernie Els and Paul Casey, and they asked me about my story. I played with Vijay Singh, and I see him sometimes now when I practice at Sawgrass.
Being able to practice at Sawgrass is a nice perk.
It's an awesome facility. I feel very fortunate to be able to go there. I live 15 minutes away. That's definitely the best perk of being a Tour member.
What tournament are you most excited to play next year?
The first event. It will be my first tournament as a Tour member, so that will be cool.
Use games to maximize your practice time
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Craig Shankland on Bud Cauley's unorthodox practice routine
"He's been fantastic since I met him. He always liked to play shots. You name it, Bud will try to hit it-flops, wind cheaters, highs and lows, draws and fades. He's always experimenting and figuring out how to do different things. That's what kept him fascinated with the game all these years. Now, there's not any shot he can't play, and play it beautifully. When Bud gets into a situation, he can come up with a shot that most players won't even attempt. Bud might be better off 10 yards away from the flag in a thick, impossible lie that from 100 yards in the fairway.
"One of the shots most players, even tour pros, hate is the half shot, especially from within 100 yards. When you take a little off it, players usually can't stay patient and slow down enough. Bud can play it perfectly. Give him a 75-yard soft wedge and he'll never rush it.
"Bud also loves to play games at practice. At the McGladrey Classic, I created a game for him that I called "Out." There were two tall flags 20 yards apart and 280 yards down the range. We considered them goalposts. Starting with a pitching wedge, I told Bud that he needed to hit a shot with every club in the bag, consecutively, all the way through his driver, and each ball had to land between the posts. If one ball missed, he'd have to start over. Bud went through the bag on his first try."
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Craig Shankland, who teaches at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., has been Bud Cauley's instructor since Cauley was 9 years old.