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Return of Casey Martin provides time for reflection
Open at the Olympic Club after being granted an injunction to compete while utilizing a golf cart. (Karen Borchers/Staff)Fourteen years ago, the then 26 year old aspiring touring pro pulled into town at the center of a national firestorm. A gifted golfer with a rare circulatory condition that left his right leg unable to withstand the rigors of walking 18 holes, Martin was coming off two resounding and well chronicled triumphs.
Icons Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus both testified on behalf of the PGA Tour in depositions during the trial. Open winners Tom Watson, Scott Simpson and Tiger Woods, a teammate of Martin's at Stanford University, were adamant that walking was as essential to championship golf as white belts.
By the time Martin got to the Olympic Club the Rodney Dangerfield character in "Caddyshack" made a more understated entrance at Bushwood Country Club a line had been drawn in the sand trap. You either were sympathetic to Martin's unique and compelling plight (the specter of amputation hung over him then as it does today), or you were a golf purist with your argyles in a bunch.
"Someone else along the line will use this, I promise you," Nicklaus said at the time. "It will happen. There will be another mess someplace."
So that much hasn't changed. This much has: There has been a rethink in the walk vs. ride debate, at least where it concerns Martin. Count Strange among the converted.
"He didn't break his leg in football," Strange said of Martin, who suffers from Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome. "He didn't sprain his leg Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit Blue Black during a tournament and ask for a cart. He was born with this disability."
Nicklaus' prophecy from those hot button days 14 years ago did not come to pass. It remains unclear whether Martin's wishful vision greater understanding has taken hold with those he fought.
"I was mistaken," Azinger said. "He won his case, and I'm happy for him. I love the quote, 'It's not always what you accomplish in life that matters. Sometimes it's what you overcome.' Casey Martin is the great overcomer, a terrific person, unbelievable achiever and winner in life."
He hadn't played competitive golf in five years, and had just turned 40, when he shot two rounds of 69 Monday to qualify for this year's Open.
Despite the distractions, Martin finished in a tie for 23rd in the 158 player field. He played just one full season, 2002, on the PGA Tour. Shortly after competing in his final professional tournament, in September 2006, the Eugene, Ore., native was hired as the University of Oregon's golf coach. The heat and spotlight dissipated. He became a footnote to history.
There hasn't been. Meanwhile, there seems to be a clearer understanding of the distinction between disability and injury.
Ditto for Paul Azinger, who shot the lowest round in the 1998 event a final round 65.
There should be no contention this time when Martin arrives unless it's between well wishers jockeying for position to pat him on the back. He's no longer a threat to anything other than conventional wisdom.
Both Strange and Azinger have since changed their stance. But 14 years ago, you were hard pressed to find anyone willing to consider a philosophical mulligan.
One, he had successfully sued the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart during tournament play. Open with a dramatic 25 foot birdie putt in a qualifying tournament playoff.
"I had lunch with Casey prior to the (1998) Open," Strange said. "When I finished that lunch, I was a fan of Casey Martin and I was on his side in the cart situation. When you talk to him, you couldn't help but like him."
"I was on the side of the PGA Tour," Azinger said.
appear to be trending in favor of Martin and his fans. For one thing, there hasn't been the mad rush for cart exceptions that Nicklaus envisioned 14 years ago.
out about the situation now, but it would be naive to believe they don't exist. As for the PGA Tour, it posted a story to its website detailing Martin's inspiring triumph at Monday's qualifier, then later revised it to omit references to the legal victory that allows him to ride a cart.
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Until Monday, when he arrives in San Francisco and begins playing practice rounds. He Nike Free Rn Flyknit Id
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"This was about the game of golf and the things you had to do to play the game of golf," said Strange, now an ESPN analyst. "One of them was walk."
For a one time winner on the minor league Nike Tour, Martin was suddenly on quite the hot seat. Stanford coach Conrad Ray, a college teammate of Martin's, recalls what his friend went through beginning with a practice round in which two of the special one seat carts provided Martin broke down. (Martin ultimately rode a two seater during the tournament.)
will be riding again the injunction he won in 1998 has since been upheld by the Supreme Court.
"It'll be different because there will be no expectations, no pressure," he said. "I don't play anymore. Open experience might as well have happened in another century. Opens, recalls that fundamental conflict only too well.
Even Greg Jones, founder of the Association of Disabled American Golfers, played it down the middle. "Casey deserves to have the opportunity to try to make a living," he said. "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."
"I know how crushed he was that his idols were testifying against him," Ray said. "I have this vivid memory of him being frustrated (with the carts). The first one broke down 30 yards off the first tee. It was a bit of a disaster, really. To his credit, he played great."
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