One of the underappreciated elements of golf is the way that such a buttoned-down, exclusive sport has left a small back door unguarded, a way for anyone with enough talent and determination to make it onto the sport's grandest stages. This is nowhere more apparent than at the U.S. Open, where, in theory, you or I could tee it up. But it also holds true later in the year, where players whose names you've never heard can come from nowhere (or college, whichever) and play themselves right onto the PGA Tour.
Earlier this year, Bud Cauley was a junior at the University of Alabama. And earlier this month, he was an undistinguished pro who appeared headed straight for Q School. Funny what one tournament can do, huh?
Cauley, age 21, finished solo third at this past weekend's Frys.com, snagging a $340,000 paycheck and vaulting up to 114th on the money list. The top 125 get their Tour card for next year without having to mess with the horrors of Q School. (And you thought a hot dog was the best story.) And all of a sudden, the Fall Series has its annual hero-to-be.
Last year's No. 125 was Troy Merritt with total earnings of $786,977. In 2009, Jimmy Walker held that spot with $662,683. Right now, Cauley is at $671,150, which would equate to the 114th spot on the money list.
What's the significance of reaching the top 125? Simple: he gets passage onto the Tour next year without having to go through the rigors of qualifying school. And even if he drops out of the top 125 and stays in the top 150, he can skip right to Q School Finals.
If he's able to get his card on sponsor's exemptions and qualifiers, he'd be only the sixth player to do so without hitting Q School, the AP notes, after Ryan Moore, Justin Leonard, Gary Hallberg and a couple guys named Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. (Charles Howell III also parlayed two years' worth of special exemptions into his card.) And he'll have done it in fewer chances than anyone but Tiger and Phil. After debuting at the U.S. Open (nice bow), he's only missed one cut in seven total tournaments.
Cauley's play in the Frys got him into the McGladrey this week, and he ought to get into the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney on a sponsor's exemption. And so far, everything's rolling his way; on Tuesday, he tweeted that he got a hole-in-one during practice. "Now I need one thurs!" he added.
Cauley ought to make it, but even if he doesn't, he's put a charge into this year's Fall Series. It's proof that a guy doesn't need to be The Next Tiger, or even Tiger himself, to be a great story to watch.