Originally created 01/08/98

Martin reluctantly takes wheel in debut on Nike Tour



PORTLAND, Ore. -- Casey Martin says he would rather begin his competitive pro golf career without all the attention.

But as the Nike Tour begins this week with the Lakeland Classic in Lakeland, Fla., the former Stanford player will be the center of attention as the lone competitor using a riding cart.

"This is not what I envisioned or wanted for my career," the Eugene pro said. "But I'm out of choices."

Martin is being allowed to use a cart because of an injunction issued in Eugene in November by U.S. Magistrate Tom Coffin.

"The only way I can play tournament golf anymore is if I can ride," said Martin, who is hobbled by a worsening muscle and bone condition in his right leg. "Believe me, I'd much rather be walking."

Martin, 25, will play the Nike Tour's first two events -- in Lakeland, then next week in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- before turning his attention to his lawsuit seeking to force the PGA Tour to allow him to use a cart.

Tour rules prohibit players from riding in sanctioned tournaments on the PGA Tour and Nike Tour. The PGA Tour operates the Nike Tour.

Martin's lawsuit was filed and the injunction issued before last fall's PGA Tour qualifying tournament, a 108-hole marathon in Haines City, Fla.

Martin, a former teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford, tied for 46th place, missing a regular tour card by two shots, but earning a full exemption on the Nike Tour. Also playing on a full Nike Tour exemption is former Augustan Stiles Mitchell, now of Baton Rouge, La.

Bill Wiswall of Eugene, one of Martin's attorneys, maintains that the tour's rule is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and that it denies Martin an opportunity to pursue his career.

The PGA responds that, as a private and non-profit organization, it is not subject to the American Americans With Disabilities Act.

"Walking always has been an integral aspect of the competition on the PGA Tour and the Nike Tour," said a statement issued by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "Mr. Martin has challenged the PGA Tour's right to determine the conditions of our competition, including requiring all players to walk. The PGA Tour believes that, when a hearing is held ... before the federal court in Oregon, our position will be supported."