Casey's Last Stand
As he fights for a place in the game, Casey Martin voices fears about his future
Casey Martin is running out of time. Popping balls at the morning sun on the practice range at the Nike Carolina Classic last Saturday, Martin has only half an hour before his tee time. "That's O.K.," he says. "I used to practice more when my leg felt better, but these days a round of golf is about all I can handle. The leg's getting worse. I don't think it's going to last much longer."
Almost three months have passed since federal magistrate Tom Coffin ruled that Martin could ride a cart during tournaments, and Caseymania has died down. In relative seclusion he finished 12 strokes behind winner Brian Bateman at the Carolina Classic and stands seventh on the money list with $53,643. Martin is in position to win his PGA Tour card by ending the season among the top 15 Nike players, but his game's vital signs are fading fast. He has not had a top 10 finish since winning the season-opening Lakeland Classic in January.
"Maybe I'm trying too hard," he says. "I really want to deal with the pressure and do well, but it's hard when you feel the whole world watching." Media scrutiny may have diminished, but the Tour watches Martin's every move. Its Casey Martin rules, issued in April, specify almost everything but which hand he should steer with. Thou shalt not use the cart to carry equipment. Thou shalt not give thy caddie a lift. Thou shalt not have a windshield on thy cart. At Raleigh Country Club it appeared that his eponymous rules applied to Martin alone. During Wednesday's pro-am, several players and caddies rode carts between the 18th green and the 1st tee. But when Martin asked a rules official if he could give his caddie, Steve Bur-dick, a ride, the answer was no.
On Saturday, Martin stood on his cart in the 8th fairway to see if the group ahead had left the green. Legal? Tournament director Jim Duncan said yes. Still, Martin often wonders whether his next step will break a commandment or two. He's also irked by the lack of support other players have for his cause. It hurt when Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer testified against him at the trial. It stung when PGA Tour players blasted Coffin's ruling. On the Nike tour, his supporters are in the minority. "Casey's a great guy but they shouldn't make a rule for one guy," says a leading Nike player, who asks not to be identified. "Wait until it gets hot and humid and Casey's in the cart keeping cool while we're all out in the fairway. Hell, yes, I think it's an advantage."
Even Eric Johnson, one of Martin's best friends on the tour, criticized a recent appearance he made at 3Com Park in San Francisco, where he drove a cart to the mound and threw out the first pitch before a Giants game. "That looked like putting the three-footed man on display at the carnival," Johnson said last week. "It trivialized what he's done."
Martin, fighting a nagging cough, has not slowed down. Before arriving in Raleigh, he had a Monday outing in Durham, N.C., for Hartford Life. He also has a book deal in the works, plus endorsement obligations to Nike, Ping and Naya water, and he recently agreed to be a contributing editor of WE, a lifestyle magazine for people with disabilities. Martin gets little rest in the best of times. His disease, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, causes him to wake frequently during the night with leg pain, and friends worry that his schedule is adding to the toll. "I've told him to tone it down," says Notah Begay, a Nike tour player who was a Stanford teammate of Martin's. "The people demanding so much of his time don't realize how much pain he endures." Adds Martin's brother, Cam, "Casey's never been one to slow down for his own good."
Martin says his legal bills of "well over $100,000" are part of what keeps him on the run. More pressing is his belief that his playing days are numbered. "My leg actually feels better than it did six months ago because I've been riding so much, but there's definitely a downward trend," he says. "I doubt if I'll have the leg much longer, and I don't know how a prosthesis will affect my game, so I want to take advantage of the opportunities I have now."
Though he has not accepted any sponsors' exemptions offered by PGA Tour event officials, Martin hinted last week that he will, if asked, say yes to the July 2-5 Canon Greater Hartford Open. Meanwhile he will play the Nike tour, striving to be a normal pro like hundreds of others. "His life will never be normal," Begay says. "No matter how many tournaments he wins, he'll always be the guy with the cart."
All Martin wants, of course, is to be the guy with the card.