SCOTTSDALE – Of all the events on the PGA Tour, the WM Phoenix Open stands out for several reasons. For many fans, it’s the party atmosphere, which typically hits a crescendo on the iconic 16th hole.
But for those competing on the links, especially this year, this tournament means more than numbers on the scorecard.
After an extended medical absence due to complications resulting from a 2018 car accident, PGA Tour golfer Bud Cauley makes his return to the tour Thursday in the WM Phoenix Open’s first round.
And for Arizona State alum Kevin Yu, Thursday will mark his debut at the WM Phoenix Open, a tournament he attended as a spectator when he was in Tempe.
“I think during the five years (at ASU) I came (here) every year, so I was looking forward to playing one year, and now here, so really looking forward to this year,” Yu said.
This is a particularly poignant moment for Cauley.
During the 2018 Memorial Tournament, he was involved in a car accident that resulted in six broken ribs, a collapsed right lung and fractured left leg.
Cauley was a passenger in a car that included former NHL defenseman James Wisniewski. The car ran off the road in a residential area in Dublin, Ohio, hit a tree and a driveway culvert and went airborne, landing across the street from the home of former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, according to the Florida Times-Union.
Although Cauley returned that fall and played two full seasons, a series of complications forced him to step away again for over three years in the fall of 2020.
“I went and saw a couple doctors,” he said. “They thought it was maybe one of the plates I have in my chest. So I went to go have the plates removed, and they couldn’t get them out because the bone had grown on top of the plates. So (they) stitched me back up, said, ‘I think we’ll be OK, we took a little scar tissue out, you’ll be fine,’ and then like 12 days later, my incision popped open.
“(I) had a couple more surgeries that didn’t heal very well, and it was just a whole mess…. Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong.”
There were moments, Cauley, 33, wondered if he would ever return to golf.
“In the beginning, my optimism was pretty high, hoping that I could recover and get back. Then after a year goes by and two years goes by, your optimism starts to fade a little bit. I definitely had those (moments) – even just conversations with my wife … it’s not looking too good. If this doesn’t work out, what are some other things that I can do.”
With patience, he found his way back.
For Yu, Thursday’s debut comes six years after his first PGA appearance.
Yu follows in the footsteps of several legendary ASU players, including Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, who played in the tournament. Rahm participated for eight years, most recently finishing third in 2023, before his departure for the LIV Tour in December. Meanwhile, Mickelson is a three-time champion at the Phoenix Open and played for 29 consecutive years from 1991-2019.
Yu still keeps a close relationship with ASU men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond.
“We still talk quite a bit and just kind of mentally, he always tells me to keep it going, and I’m doing a good job, and every time if I need any help, he definitely will be there for me,” Yu said.
This time a year ago, Yu was undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He returned to the tour in late-June and finished in the top six twice over the past three weeks. In his view, the key to success at TPC Scottsdale is a strong finish on the back-nine.
“Coming out to every tournament (while at ASU), coming into the last couple holes, we always talk about Sun Devils finish, which is the last couple holes is very important. If you can finish like two birdies in the last three holes, which can help even making cuts or having a good result,” Yu said.
“Just knowing that you’ve got to play good the last couple holes gives you a very good chance to have a good result. That kind of gives me an advantage.”
Not to be ignored from the 2024 tournament field is two-time defending champ and World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who won his first of six PGA career wins in Scottsdale in 2022. He is looking for a three-peat, having won here in 2022 and 2023.
“It’s fun coming out here,” he said. “This morning, you come to warm up on the driving range and the music is so loud I can barely even hear myself think out on the driving range. I’m like, what is this place? It’s crazy. It’s a lot different than the stuff we play throughout the year, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Other notable golfers set to compete through the weekend include Saturday’s Pebble Beach champion Wyndham Clark, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Nick Taylor and Justin Thomas. First tee time is set for 7:20 a.m.