Golf is tradition. Take away the centuries of history and honor, and the game is nothing more than a bunch of bandits with sticks hitting little white balls around some rich guy's lawn. Golfers respect tradition, which is why we found the news last week from Lakeland, Fla., so disturbing. I'm talking about the unprecedented proposal to force touring professionals to walk instead of playing the game the way it was meant to be played, the way we've always played it: in carts.
Call me a purist. I don't care. It's not that I'm opposed to change. Change is inevitable, even necessary. Technological changes such as metal woods, graphite shafts, titanium drivers—heck, even long-shafted putters—have been good for the game. But walking? Tournaments without golf carts? That's sacrilege. What's next, picking Miss America based on her looks? Not letting the pitcher bat for himself? Long shots counting for three points instead of two? This sort of tampering can only lead to chaos.
That's why we need more stand-up guys like Casey Martin, the former Stanford All-America now playing the Nike tour. He's one of us, a traditionalist. He demands a cart. He's helping preserve the sacred history of a game in which the cart has played a vital role.
Think back to the oppressive heat of the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional. Who can forget the sight of an exhausted Ken Venturi driving slowly up the 72nd fairway—head bobbing like a dashboard doll, hands clinging to the steering wheel—then climbing out of his cart, staggering onto the green and holing out to win. Venturi suffered under the sizzling, relentless sun during the 36-hole final because the U.S. Golf Association stuck to its strict rule barring carts with roofs, which would have provided some merciful shade. As it was, during the course of the day the ashen Venturi became so dehydrated that at times he couldn't keep his cart from swerving off the paved paths. Between rounds he took salt tablets, and he was warned by a doctor that he might die if he went back out for the final 18. But he was leading the Open. He had to go back out.
When Venturi finished, Joe Dey, the head of the USGA, helped load him back into the cart. "You've done it, Ken. You've won the Open," Dey said. "Now slide over, I'll drive."
If Venturi had been required to walk 36 holes in that heat, he undoubtedly would've dropped dead. That would've cast an everlasting pall on our national championship and robbed us of one of the most stirring moments in the sport's history.
Remember the courage shown by Ben Hogan when he came back from that horrific car crash to play so heroically in the 1950 Los Angeles Open, tying Sam Snead before losing in an 18-hole playoff? After the accident doctors said Hogan would never walk again. Old-timers at Riviera still remember Hogan painfully getting in and out of his cart that week, wrapping his white-knuckled fingers around the wheel and, obviously still suffering postcrash trauma, driving cautiously, his eyes wide as saucers.
There've been so many other memorable moments: Jerry Pate forcing Deane Beman and Pete Dye to sit with him as he drove his cart into the lake to celebrate his win in the '82 Players Championship; Jack Nicklaus putting his arm around Tom Watson in a gesture of sportsmanship as they rode to the final green to conclude their thrilling duel at Turnberry in 1977; Hale Irwin, after sinking an unlikely putt on the 72nd green of the 1990 Open at Medinah, wheeling his cart along the ropes so that he could high-five spectators; Arnold Palmer twice driving the par-4 1st hole at Cherry Hills during the final round of the '60 U.S. Open—first with his tee shot and then, in the excitement of the moment, accidentally with his cart.
There is no surer sign of spring than catching the scent of magnolias and pine at Augusta National in April and watching a convoy of carts motor majestically across the Hogan Bridge over Rae's Creek and screech to a halt by the dogwood-framed 12th green. One's eyes mist at the thought.
When the great Bobby Jones, his body racked by disease, returned to Scotland in 1958 to be made a Freeman of the Burgh of St. Andrews, he chose to receive the tribute while sitting in a cart—a fitting tribute to buggies everywhere. If Jones were alive today and in a cart with Martin, he would surely say, "Don't give up, young man, but why don't you drive? My feet are killing me."