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CASEY MARTIN leans across the table and rakes in the chips. He's just won a $30 pot, but his self-conscious smile advertises that he's not a hardened gambler. Across the table, an amiable old-timer in a ball cap winks at one of his pals. "Will somebody tell Casey," he says, "that the experienced player puts his big chips in front of his white chips?" � Martin, acknowledging the needle with a grin, rearranges his stacks. � It's Saturday night at Full House Poker, a card room in downtown Eugene, Ore. Condensation clouds the windows. An NFL playoff game flickers silently on two wall-mounted screens. No one is watching the football, but players at adjoining tables keep glancing in Martin's direction. He doesn't seem to notice—and why would he? There was a time when satellite trucks parked outside his town house, a time when U.S. senators, Hall of Fame golfers and Supreme Court justices debated his future.
But the players aren't buzzing about the former PGA Tour pro with the prominent limp. They're buzzing about the young fellow to Martin's immediate left, a cipher in a collared sweater whose elbows seem glued to the table, moving only when he peeks at his hole cards or discards them with a flip of the wrist. Word has spread that Martin's soft-spoken pal is Dusty Schmidt, a.k.a. Leatherass, an online poker pro with a seven-figure income and a reputation for mental gymnastics.
Meanwhile, there's a skinny kid at the other end of the table—tall, fidgety, head bobbing, knees pumping like a drummer. He has on baggy jeans, a white hoodie and a ball cap, and he's drafting on Leatherass like a NASCAR qualifier on Jimmie Johnson's bumper. "Come and get in close," he urges a press photographer. "I want people to know that I played against a famous pro." When he wins a pot from Leatherass, the Kid yelps and fires a fist at the ceiling. "I don't even know what I'm doin'," he chortles, raking in the chips. "I just play this game for fun!" When the Kid wins again, he leaps out of his chair. "I got you! Yeah!" The Kid looks back at the photographer. "You want to get a shot of the pro going to the ATM?"
"That's the thing about the Kid," the old-timer drawls. "He's humble."
So the Kid wins five straight hands and practically wets himself over his castle of chips. Leatherass merely smiles, folding hand after hand until he disappears like the Cheshire Cat. Then, just the way it happens in the movies, the Kid draws the pro into a big pot—"I'm just so excited now!" he squeals, leaping to his feet for the river—and then reels in anguish as Leatherass calmly turns over his hole cards: an ace and a king. The Kid has lost about half his stake, maybe 150 bucks.
"There's the pro," says the old-timer. "He waits and waits and finally springs the trap."
The Kid sags into his chair and pulls the hoodie over his head, silenced for the night. And that's the very predictable end of the story, until you see Dusty Schmidt, the poker millionaire, the online poker guru—Leatherass!—struggle to organize his winnings. "I don't know how to stack chips," he confesses to Martin with a rueful grin. "Most guys know how."
Dusty, you begin to suspect, doesn't get out much.
NOT TO be overdramatic, but there was always another side to Casey Martin, a side the public didn't know. Outwardly he was the cheerful, courageous athlete who played professional golf despite a congenital circulatory defect that forced him to hobble on a withered right leg. In Eugene, however, he was something more prosaic: a landlord. He rented out the guest room in his town house.
Three years ago Schmidt moved in, referred by Martin's next-door neighbor Matt Amen, a University of Oregon golfer. Schmidt, 27, had a tale of frustration to rival Martin's. A former junior golf star who grew up in Whittier, Calif., Schmidt was a five-time mini-tour winner, and in May 2004 he was top dog on the Golden State tour. But that's when fate, in the guise of a heart attack, flipped him onto the discard pile. "I was only 23, and I was playing the best golf of my life," Schmidt recalls. "Suddenly I was in the hospital, and the doctors were telling me I'd need at least a year to rehab."