Casey Martin Is Along For Ride At U.S. Open
By Tim Richardson
Casey Martin will again compete in the U.S. Open as it takes place later this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. Currently the men's golf coach at the University of Oregon, he shot a 4-under-par 138 during two rounds at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Oregon to earn a berth in the tournament. According to the PGA, nearly 800 players competed for 58 spots during qualifier events played at 11 sectional sites throughout the country.
"I don't quite know what my mindset should be," Martin told the Associated Press. "I played well in the qualifier by really not really caring too much. So I kind of want to have that idea of being pretty laid back while I'm there and enjoying it, rather than being overly intense about it."
Making the qualifying feat even more impressive is that Martin has played golf sparingly during the last five years.
Martin's appearance in the 2012 tournament will be much different than his first experience in the Open at The Olympic Club in 1998.
Fourteen years ago, a 26-year-old Martin challenged the PGA. He was born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder that obstructs the flow of blood from his right leg to his heart. The rare illness makes it impossible for him to endure the physical strain of walking long distances, such as the 18 holes of a golf course. The onetime golfer at Stanford University made history in 1997 by filing a lawsuit against the PGA in federal court in Oregon for the right to use a golf cart during competition.
During the trial, golf legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus testified on behalf of the sport, while former U.S. Open winners Tom Watson and Scott Simpson were vocal in their belief that walking was an essential piece to the competition.
The following year, U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin ruled in Martin's favor, saying the tour "failed to show how waiving its walking-only rule would fundamentally alter competition."
Months later, Martin sank a 25-foot putt for birdie to win a five-way playoff in a sectional qualifying tournament and earn a spot in the U.S. Open. For the tournament, he shot a 291, finishing in 23rd place … trailing former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods by only one stroke.
Although he was allowed to compete with a cart in the 1998 U.S. Open, the PGA fought the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. Once again, the organization lost, as the Court decided in May 2001, 7-2, that the Americans With Disabilities Act required the PGA Tour to exempt Martin from its walking rule. The tour's argument was that allowing one golfer to use a cart would fundamentally alter the competition.
Serge Hogg has been playing competitive golf for 30 years. He won two conference titles as part of the Towson University golf team, competed in several elite tournaments -- including the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship -- and served professionally as caddie at some of the top golf clubs on the East Coast since 1996. In Hogg's opinion, Martin did what he had to do to play.
"The cart does not give him an advantage," Hogg said. "Players are in great shape, and this is not about using a cart to perform effectively and conserve energy. It's about a guy who struggles with discomfort from an illness. I'm sure Martin still experiences pain even with the cart. So I think it's an unjust statement to say that he has any type of advantage."
Martin used a cart during qualifying and will use a single-rider vehicle when the U.S Open begins June 14 in San Francisco. When asked whether he thought there would be controversy this week, given his situation, Martin said he didn't think there would be any issues.
"I don't think so," Martin said. "That's already kind of been there, done that. If there is, there is. I think there's going to be lot of attention, but not controversy."
John Hawkins has covered professional golf since 1991, first as a general assignment writer and columnist with the Washington Times, then for 14 years at GolfWorld magazine. He joined the Golf Channel in 2007 and said he hoped Martin's accomplishment was recognized beyond sports.
"Casey was supposed to have lost his bad leg by now," Hawkins said. "I remember in 1988 doing stories, radio interviews, etc. on Casey. For him to be making a U.S. Open two days after his 40 birthday is astounding. It's an awesome story, one that I hope stretches far beyond our parameters and can go mainstream, because he's a great guy, tough man and an awesome story."
Once news of Martin's qualifying spread, the well-wishers began to send their congratulations.
Via his Twitter account, Woods wrote: "Simply incredible. Ability, attitude and guts. See you at Olympic Casey."
Even those that once criticized Martin showed a reversal in their position.
During an ESPN teleconference, former PGA Tour player Paul Azinger provided a different perspective than he had held in 1998, when he opposed Martin's efforts to use a cart.
"Casey Martin is the great overcomer, a terrific person, unbelievable achiever and winner in life," Azinger said. "I think it's incredible that Casey Martin's qualified. I was mistaken in that regard (the court case). Casey Martin needed a break in that regard. He won his case, and I was happy for him."
Brian Meyer, the head golf professional at Mount Pleasant Golf Course, said he had no problem with Martin’s using a cart.
"I think it is a good thing," Meyer said. "He has a genuine disability and will lose use of his legs someday. If using a cart prolongs his golf career, I am all for it.
Golf is a game built around tradition, etiquette and rules, so Martin's decision to sue was not popular. Based on his experience in the game, Hogg said he doubted the USGA was happy when the decision was taken from their control and put into the court's hands.
"From a PGA perspective, I'm sure they were thinking, 'Where do we draw the line?' " Hogg said. "The guys who run the game of golf are willing to take the risk to protect the purity of the game, in their eyes. I'm sure they (USGA) chose to deny Martin because they felt making a concession meant they would lose their control. But this wasn't about a guy who hurt his ankle asking for a cart. It was a much greater issue, and they had a chance to show compassion."
In 1999, Martin finished 14th on the Nike Tour money list and secured himself a spot on the PGA Tour for 2000. But he failed to keep his card, and returned to the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour), where he played for several years before retiring in 2006. Martin just completed his sixth season coaching at Oregon.
Fittingly, Martin joined Woods in the first group of the day for the start of U.S. Open practice rounds.
Posted June 11, 2012