Originally created 01/18/98

Riding only way Martin can play



POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- Understand this about Casey Martin: He doesn't want to approach a golf ball on the seat of his pants.

He hates it. Despises it. He says his thoughts are not that riding a cart during a tournament is making his life easier. He's wondering and worrying about his fellow competitors.

Do they call him a wimp behind his back? Do they grumble about this California kid cruising up and down the fairways while they hoof it? Do they think he has fresh legs on the final hole, while they've been taking every step of a 7,000-yard course, a distance that translates into almost four miles?

No matter how painful his lower right leg gets if he tries to walk, is this fair to them?

Martin, a 25-year-old native of Eugene, Ore., and an All-American golfer at Stanford in 1994, has asked himself those questions thousands of times since he decided to take the PGA Tour to federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeking the use of a golf cart during competition.

His lawsuit will be heard Feb. 2 in his home town. Martin was allowed to use a cart in last week's Nike Tour Lakeland Classic (which he won, at 19-under-par) and this weekend's South Florida Classic, under a temporary injunction.

The Nike Tour is the PGA Tour's equivalent to Major League Baseball's farm system. Twenty-four of its graduates have won PGA Tour events.

The PGA Tour has never allowed carts during its events, or on the Nike Tour. Carts are used on the Senior PGA Tour on an optional basis, but many Senior players still elect to walk.

It's an option Martin said is necessary for him to compete. But that doesn't mean he likes it.

"Emotionally," he said, "it hurts when you see the other guys walking."

He knows this, however: This is the only way he can play golf. And, with his disability (a congenital disease called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome), golf is the only sport he can play.

"Without a cart, I'm at a real disadvantage," he said. "I can't play without this kind of pain. I can't do it."

Martin has a running joke about his rare disease: Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome.

"Sounds like an accounting firm," he says.

But in reality, it's no joke. Pain is his constant companion. Martin said it isn't like a backache, arthritis or muscle aches, something people can play with and through.

It comes in varying degrees, from bad days to worse days. There are never good days.

When it's a particularly bad day, the pain is a cross between a slow burn and jaw-tightening ache. The lower part of Martin's right leg swells to twice its normal size, unless he wears a constrictive stocking.

There is also inflammation and hemorrhaging of blood vessels in the leg, which eats away at his tibia like a corrosive acid, making him more and more susceptible to fractures as he gets older.

One broken leg, doctors tell him, and playing with a cart, let alone walking, may be out of the question.

Without his stocking, Martin said he can't stand for more than a few minutes at a time. The last time he was able to walk 18 holes was at a Hooters Tour event last summer.

The disease is incurable. There is no other treatment than the stocking and handfuls of Advil. Eventually, doctors tell Martin, his lower leg will have to be amputated.

He said they are surprised they haven't had to cut off his leg yet.

"I've always had to play with pain," he said. "I can't remember a round where there hasn't been some kind of pain, whether I was riding or walking. Sometimes it makes you focus.

"Sometimes it makes you want to crawl into a hole."

Casey Martin has become a celebrity. He has been grilled by John Sununu on CNN's Crossfire and been the subject of debate on Rush Limbaugh's national radio show. Bryant Gumbel wants to do a segment about Martin on his CBS magazine show and People magazine will feature him next week.

Martin's victory at Lakeland, Fla., last week received mention on national network news and the story went from the sports pages to A-1 in most newspapers.

"It's blown me away, that everyone wants to hear my story," Martin said. "I never thought it would be this big."

But Martin is not sure how far he wants that to go.

"I wasn't prepared for this kind of media and pressure," he said. "I'll try to do my best with it."

Here's what Casey Martin does best: play golf. He's not some 3-handicapper trying to litigate his way onto the Tour.

Martin drives the ball nearly 300 yards and has a good short game. When he won last week, the tournament field included former PGA Tour winners Keith Fergus, Woody Austin, Curt Byrum and Gary Koch, plus a batch of unknown but talented young guns.

Martin played with Tiger Woods on Stanford's 1994 national championship team. Woods said last week that Martin is as good as anyone on the Nike Tour and better than a lot on the PGA Tour. Right now.

"He's obviously a very talented player," said Phil Mickelson, the winner of last week's PGA Tour Mercedes Championship. "And he's a good person. A lot of people are rooting for him."

That gives PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem even more of a public relations nightmare. He takes the risk of being viewed as less than compassionate about Martin's condition because he strongly believes that golf is still an athletic activity, and that walking a course is fundamental to golf.

Finchem further believes that the Tour alone should decide its rules, not the courts. After all, Finchem has reasoned, courts historically haven't entered into debate over the length of three-points shots in basketball or a national championship system in college football.

"We continue to assert that everyone who plays on the PGA Tour or Nike Tour should be subject to the same rules and regulations and that further, the PGA Tour should retain the right to determine the conditions of competition," Finchem said in a statement after Martin won in Lakeland.

Other players, such as Woods, Mickelson, Mark O'Meara, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, applaud Martin's courage and praise his talent, but echo the same thought. Where will it end?

If Martin wins, will the player who develops a chronically bad back, gets bad knees or simply gains too much weight sue to use a cart? Mark McCumber of Jacksonville and Rocco Mediate of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., are two players who lost most or all of entire seasons (McCumber last year, Mediate in 1994) because of back problems.

"I really could have really used a cart two years ago," said Mediate. "I guess I didn't have the guts to ask about using a cart -- nor would I have thought of it. This opens up a whole can of worms. Where do you draw the line?"

Martin shrugs off the question about what would constitute a condition debilitating enough to use a cart.

"I can't make that distinction," he said. "All I know is that I really need one. My situation is congenital, a lot different from an injury. Mine won't go away."

Pat Coleman, a labor attorney for the Jacksonville law firm of Coffman, Coleman, Andrews and Grogan, said temporary conditions, such as bad backs or the ingrown toenail surgery Lakeland Classic runner-up Steve Lamontagne had before playing his final two rounds last week, are not covered by the ADA.

"A player could not, for instance, injure his knee or back in the off-season, and sue under the provisions of the ADA," Coleman said.

Coleman said it was difficult for him to comment on the merits of Martin's case because he was not involved and had not read any of the pleadings. But he did have some general observations.

"The ADA, from a purely employment question, only requires handicapped workers to be able to perform the essential function of the job," Coleman said. "If you're a typist and can't type, you can't perform the essential function. When Casey Martin hits a shot, he's performing, in my opinion, the essential function. How he gets to that shot, I don't think, is a critical part of it. It may be a critical part of the tradition of the Tour, but I don't think it detracts a whole lot if one person uses a cart."

Martin couldn't agree more.

"I don't want this to come down to whether I'm a good enough walker," Martin said.

Martin missed the cut Friday at the South Florida Classic, and returned home to Oregon to await his day in court. He said if he loses, he can't afford to appeal. He also said he will attempt to play Nike Tour events while walking and either way, he'll enter the Nike Greater Austin Open March 5-8.

"I can't promise how far I'll be able to get in a round," he said. "All I can do is try."

If Martin loses his case, and finds he can't play while walking, he doesn't have a clue what he'll do after that.

"I have a passion to play golf," he said. "I don't have a passion to do anything else."

By the book

PGA Tour:

Players in co-sponsored and coordinated tournaments shall not use automotive transportation.

-- 1998 PGA Tour player handbook & tournament regulations,

United States Golf Association:

The USGA feels that Mr. Martin is an outstanding young man who is a skilled player. He is no stranger to USGA national championships, having qualified to play in several of our amateur championships in the past. The USGA regrets that his physical situation precludes him from walking during a competitive round of golf.

The USGA wishes to stress, however, that it believes that walking, physical fitness, and stamina are essential to the examination process in determining national champions in its competitions. Moreover, the USGA contends that it, as the national governing body of golf, should determine the parameters that govern its competitions, not the judicial system. It is the view of the USGA that the Americans With Disabilities Act was not intended for implementation within the realm of competitive championship golf.

The USGA clearly recognizes that it has an obligation to promote opportunities for those with disabilities to participate in recreational golf. Since 1992, the Association has distributed more than 50 grants nationwide to promote golf for the disabled. Furthermore, during 1997, the Association formulated "A Modification of the Rules of Golf for Golfers With Disabilities" so disabled golfers may compete more equitably with able-bodied golfers or other golfers with disabilities.

In summary, the USGA regrets Mr. Martin's condition but maintains its stance that walking remains an integral part of championship golf and that all golfers entering its competitions should be treated equally.

Augusta National Golf Club:

We follow USGA rules. Everything we follow is based on that. There might be a word or two different.

-- Glenn Greenspan, director of communications for the Masters Tournament

LPGA:

The rules and regulations governing play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour mirror those of other professional golf organizations. The LPGA Tour's rules-of-play card stipulates that "players shall walk at all times during a round."