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In newsroom lingo the story of Casey Martin v. the PGA Tour has legs. Martin's mother, while working the phones at home in Eugene, Ore., once did 14 interviews in one day. Martin's father, a stockbroker at Smith Barney, has obliged so many reporters that for him the word quote is taking on new meaning. Lawyers for both the Tour and Martin have been besieged. "We certainly have been put on the map the last couple of weeks," says Phyllis Bishoff, a secretary for William Wiswall, one of Martin's attorneys. Through it all, Martin, 25, continues to commit news at speeds of up to 12 mph.
Driving a golf cart, like wearing short pants or carrying 15 clubs, is a no-no on Tour. Martin, whose right leg is withered from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a congenital circulatory condition, aims to change that. He wants a cart for his rookie season on the Nike tour, and for every season thereafter. The PGA Tour, which governs the Nike, says walking is a fundamental part of its competition. Barring an out-of-court settlement, or a summary judgment for the Tour at a Jan. 26 hearing, the case is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 2 in U.S. district court in Eugene.
Somehow, when he wasn't busy publicly arguing his case, Martin won the Nike tour's first event of 1998, last week's Lakeland (Fla.) Classic at Grasslands Golf and Country Club. He shot 69 on Sunday to beat Steve Lamontagne by a stroke. The tournament was one of two (the other is this week's South Florida Classic) in which Martin can use a cart, a stipulation that was agreed upon by lawyers for Martin and the Tour. To grasp the improbable nature of the victory, consider that when Martin limped to the 1st tee last Thursday, he was acutely aware that as a result of the controversy surrounding his case, he was about to take the most scrutinized swing of his life. "If you could only know what was going through my head," Martin said. "Don't top it. Don't shank it. Don't shoot 90 with all these people watching."
Martin birdied three of his first four holes on his way to a six-under 66, which put him a shot off the lead. He followed with a 69 and a 65 in the second and third rounds, each of which was played over two days because of inclement weather. He made five birdies and two bogeys on Sunday and took home a first-place check worth $40,500, an excellent start toward his legal bills.
While Martin's victory brought even more attention to his case, and might even win him public support, he isn't the first to bring the cart question to the fore. Charlie Owens, who was injured in a parachuting accident while in the Army, petitioned the USGA for permission to use a cart for the 1987 U.S. Senior Open. Permission was denied, and to protest, Owens walked the first nine holes on crutches before he withdrew. A request by Lee Elderhe suffered a mild heart attack in 1987 and has had physical problems on and off since thenfor a cart for the '95 Senior Open was also denied. Martin, however, is taking his fight to court through the Americans with Disabilities Act, giving him something under the hood that neither Owens nor Elder had.
Give the kid a cart and let's play. He's not injured. He's legally disabled.
True, but Owens and his Erector set knees didn't get a cart. Rocco Mediate and his bad back, Jose Maria Olazabal and his gimpy foot, they didn't ride. Heck, even Ben Hogan himself could have used a lift. It's a little late to start handing out keys on the 1st tee.
Martin's condition is rare. When he was born, doctors looked at his abnormal right leg and said it looked different because of a birth mark. His parents soon suspected it was more than that because Casey sometimes woke up in the middle of the night crying in pain. Martin was four when the family got an accurate diagnosis. Blood was pooling in his lower right leg, a painful condition that would forever hamper his mobility. Martin was a good shooter for his school basketball team in the sixth and seventh grades but had to constantly ice his knee, where blood would settle, eroding the cartilage. The pain wasn't worth it, and he didn't follow his brother Cameron onto the varsity at South Eugene High. Instead, Martin played the piano. He became a ferocious learner, developing the study habits that would make him a two-time Academic All-America at Stanford as a golfer.
"This is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid," says Martin of a career on Tour. He started playing at age six, sometimes with a splint on his leg. Walking, although painful, was his transportation of choice. At Stanford, where he played from 1990 to '95, Martin competed on foot as a freshman and a sophomore. As a junior, Martin says, the condition worsened. He developed shinsplints and asked for a cart for the '94 NCAA Championship, in McKinney, Texas. The NCAA consented.
Everyone is speaking out in the case of Casey Martin Plaintiff v. the PGA Tour Inc. of Maryland Corporation. Owens showed up for the first round at Lakeland, only 30 miles from his home in Tampa, and introduced himself after Martin teed off on the 11th hole. "That meant a lot to see him," Martin says. "Wow, he's a big, strong guy. He told me walking away, 'It's not how, it's how many.'" Brian Henninger, Peter Jacobsen and Eric Johnson, all fellow pros from Oregon, have also been supportive.
On the other side, the side of tradition, Arnold Palmer was vocal on the cart issue with Owens and is expected to give a video deposition in support of the Tour's position. Some other pros are right behind him. "It's better for the game if we all walk," says Jeff Gallagher, who competed against Martin last month at Q school. It was at that grueling event, Dec. 3-8 at Grenelefe Resort in Haines City, Fla., that Martin first took on the Tour. He rode a cart for all six rounds, thanks to a temporary injunction issued by U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin, who will preside over next month's trial. Scott Verplank agrees with Gallagher, even though Verplank, who won the Q school by six strokes, was one of about 15 other pros to take advantage of the ruling and also ride at Grenelefe. "I'm sure when this thing goes to court, we're going to be walking," Verplank says.
Other pros can see both sides of the case. "If we could make an exception in this one case, I might be for it," Phil Mickelson says. "Casey is a great player and a good guy, but you have to ask yourself, Could Olazábal have played last year if he had a cart? Where does it end?"
After leaving Stanford, Martin walked during his two years on the Hooters mini-tour. Sometimes he would play Tommy Armour mini-tour events because that tour allowed carts. Those were the rules, and Martin abided by them. He curtailed his schedule, staying on tour for a few weeks then going home for a few weeks to rest his leg. In 1996 he almost won the Hooters Classic in Charlotte, N.C., but lost on the first playoff hole to Dicky Thompson. Martin isn't sure how good he can get if he is allowed to ride, but the Lakeland results were certainly encouraging. The issue is expected to be resolved before the third Nike event of the season, the March 5-8 Greater Austin Open.
Aw, let him ride. Who cares if one guy drives a cart? Last I checked, great acceleration and cornering on dogleg par-5s didn't matter much on the scorecard.
Forget it. Give Martin a cart and watch the PGA become the PG-AAA, especially when guys have to play 36 holes in one day. Or they're just tired. Or injured. Or it hails Titleists.
Though any one of the 168 players in the final stage of last month's Q school could have ridden, only Martin was given a cart for the Lakeland and South Florida tournaments. Even his staunchest supporters concede that that might not be fair. "Casey deserves to have the opportunity to try to make a living," says Greg Jones, founder and president of the Association of Disabled American Golfers, an advocacy group based in Denver. "At the same time, if he has a cart and it's 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity, there certainly is the potential to change the competitive nature of the game."
Wiswall has an answer for that. He points out that if two fit men go off the 1st tee, one with a cart, the other without, there's a problem. But if one disabled man goes off in a cart and the other walks, then maybe it's fair. Maybe a cart is an equalizer, not an advantage. "We're talking about Casey's condition here," Wiswall says, "not anybody else's."
This is golf. Last I checked, it wasn't timed, and hole position, not pole position, mattered most. Did I miss something?
No, but in a five-hour round, roughly five minutes are spent hitting the ball. The rest of the time you're chasing it. Stamina counts.
Wiswall says he would like to settle out of court. A settlement, though, seems unlikely. To negate Martin's trump card, the ADA, the Tour will argue that it's a private, not a public, enterprise. "The ADA does apply to golf courses, but only to the extent that they're places people go," says Edward Moorehouse, the Tour's chief legal officer. "Our tournaments do make accommodations to make spectating available to those with handicaps, but when you get inside the ropes, it's not a public place."
Martin's case is bound to affect other players and organizations, among them the USGA. "If I lose this case, then I'm sure [the USGA] won't let me have a cart," Martin says. "But if I were to win this and attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open, I would hope the USGA would go along with the ruling." The same goes for the PGA Championship, the Masters and the British Open, each of which also has the power to set its own rules.
Martin, of course, would rather walk. Doctors tell him his leg is getting worse and may eventually need to be amputated above the knee. "They're afraid if I step in a hole, I'll break it," Martin says. "If I break it, I could lose it." Because Martin's career is most likely limited and because he proved he can play at the Lakeland Classic, his case has taken on greater urgency and importance. Nevertheless, as he withstands incessant press coverage, rebuts statements from Finchem and receives encouragement from well-wishers, Martin has retained not only his concentration but also his sense of humor. During the first round at Lakeland, he was driving down a cart path when he passed a two-man TV crew lugging camera equipment. "You guys need a cart to carry all that stuff around," Martin said.
"We asked," one of them replied, "but the Tour won't let us have one."
"Let me introduce you to my attorney," Martin said. "He'll fix you right up."
Issue date: January 19, 1998
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