Casey Martin is praying. Hands clasped, head bowed, his lips move, but he says nothing. Finally Martin looks up and puts his thoughts into words. "I'm obviously very concerned about my health," he says. Who can blame him? His famously withered right leg is worse than it has ever been. Three times this summer Martin quietly flew to Chicago to try a radical new procedure, sclerotherapy, which he describes as a "last-ditch effort" to slow the assault of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a congenital circulatory disorder, on his limb. In total Martin squirmed through 75 excruciating needle injections into his leg, each delivering a chemical cocktail designed to shut down certain malfunctioning veins and stem the damaging tide of blood that floods his leg.
The therapy didn't take, and now Martin is left with little more than his prayers. But sitting in the lunchroom of Hillcrest Country Club, site of last week's Nike Boise ( Idaho) Open, Martin's fretting about his health was delivered with a wink and a smile. That was because moments after saying grace, he began stuffing his face with a sloppy barbecued beef sandwich, an oversized bag of potato chips and two tall glasses of soda. Martin's leg may be the source of unending pain, but clearly it is his diet that's going to kill him.
Anyway, it's typical of Martin to crack wise in the face of adversity. He is well acquainted with the ironies of his situation, and here's a whopper: Even as his leg is deteriorating, his golf game is thriving. Martin arrived in Boise having finished in the top 10 in three of his previous four tournaments, including a strong second last month in Omaha, a hot streak that pushed him to 13th on the Nike tour money list (with $100,130). The Boise tournament was the third straight in a manic stretch drive that will see Martin play the final six events on the schedule in an effort to safeguard his position in the top 15 on the money list, a finish that will earn him an exemption onto the PGA Tour in 2000. This brings us to irony number two. Even if Martin does earn his Tour card, he may wind up spinning his wheels on the sideline. His landmark court case, Casey Martin v. the PGA Tour, is now being reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
No one knows when the court will hand down its ruling, with guesses ranging from November to April. "If the circuit court rules against us," says William Wiswall, Martin's attorney, "that would extinguish the injunctive relief that we have earned." Now for the English-language version: If Martin loses the case, he also loses the injunction that has allowed him to ride in a cart for the last two years (although he can file for an extension of the injunction). Since walking an entire tournament is no longer an option for Martin, that might mean goodbye PGA Tour (and Nike tour, too, because it is, in effect, a codefendant in the suit).
As always, there are options. If the circuit court rules against Martin, he can appeal to the Supreme Court (and almost certainly will, just as the Tour is sure to do if it loses), but the Supreme Court can choose not to hear the case, rendering the decision of the circuit court final. Even if the Supreme Court did grant Martin's petition, a decision would not come until the spring of 2001 at the earliest. That could leave Martin in a cruel limbo next season. "I'm in such a weird position," he says. "So little of what happens is within my control. I can't control what the courts say, and I can't control what's going to happen to my leg."
At least he can control what happens on the golf course. "Not this week," he says.
Martin struggled in Boise, finishing 37th and earning $1,398, yet he moved to 12th on the money list. That he cashed a check at all was testament to his improved play around the greens and the power game that has long sustained him. Battling a slice, Martin hit only 10 greens in regulation in each of the first two rounds, opening with a one-under-par 70, then putting together a scrappy 69 last Friday that included two chip-ins. Martin drove the doglegged 293-yard 15th hole, which led to a crucial birdie, and had a clutch up-and-down for birdie at 16. Because he had obsessively monitored the scoreboards on the way in, Martin knew exactly where he stood as he surveyed a 10-footer for par on the final hole. He drilled it to make the cut on the button.
His weekend was nearly as eventful. During Saturday's 69 he drove to the collar of the 359-yard 10th hole (his eagle chip stopped two inches short), and on the par-3 17th his tee ball actually dented the cup before bouncing out of the hole to three feet. On Sunday he shot a 71 to finish five under, 13 shots behind winner Carl Paulson.
In the slippery calculus of the ever-changing money list, Martin figures that he needs about $30,000 more to lock up his spot in the top 15. This sets up an intriguing scenario at this week's Nike Oregon Classic, which happens to be played on the outskirts of Eugene, the town in which Martin grew up and where he recently purchased a two-story home. If he finishes first or second, he'll lock up his Tour card, and his hometown will drown in bubbly. "I try not to let myself think about it," says Martin. "There is an awful lot of golf left. It would be sweet, though, wouldn't it?"
Sweet, yes, but it won't be easy. Before the tournament Martin is scheduled to give a clinic for local juniors and play in a skins game. He will also host two Nike tour buddies who plan to crash at his house. The week is going to be so intense for Martin and the demands on his time so severe that his close-knit family is actually going to do its best to avoid him. (Save for an excursion to Saturday night's Southern Cal- Oregon football game. Casey is such a quack for the Ducks that while recuperating from the effects of the sclerotherapy in mid-August, he watched Oregon's practices nearly every day for two weeks. "Pathetic, I know," he says.) "We're doing everything in our power not to add to the pressure of it all," says Casey's father, King. "I will say this: We're hopeful. Real hopeful."