SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- An attorney for the USGA said Monday the organization may deny Casey Martin use of a cart in qualifications for the U.S. Open if it wins a lawsuit filed by an Indiana golf professional seeking the same accommodation.
The U.S. Golf Association promised Martin last year he'd be allowed to use a cart as long as his suit against the PGA was on appeal. But USGA attorney Lee Abrams speculated the association could reconsider its decision if a judge denies Ford Olinger's suit seeking a permanent injunction to ride throughout the U.S. Open.
"It's an issue that remain to be decided as this case comes out," Abrams said, stressing the USGA has given no formal consideration to Martin's status pending the outcome of Olinger's suit.
Martin, who has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk long distances, won the right last year to ride on tour under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But his case is on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were heard earlier this month, and a decision isn't expected for months.
Roy Reardon, Martin's attorney handling the appeal, said he'd be surprised if the association changed its mind while the PGA suit is still pending.
"There are 50 million disabled people in America, and I can't believe the U.S. Golf Association would want to offend 50 million people with that decision," he said.
Olinger, a golf pro in Warsaw, Ind., successfully sued the USGA last year to use a cart in a local qualifier for the Open; a degenerative hip disorder makes walking 18 holes nearly impossible. He did not qualify for the sectional last year, shooting a 12-over 83 in the local qualifier.
The USGA argues that allowing any contestant to ride during competition equals an unfair advantage over walking contestants by reducing fatigue. It has filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration that providing a cart is not a public accommodation under the ADA.
Judge Robert Miller said he will issue a ruling by Monday, the date of the local qualifier in South Bend for the U.S. Open.
During testimony in federal court Monday, USGA lawyers tried to paint Olinger's request as an unfair advantage. The golfer's lawyers tried to dismiss the notion that walking is a fundamental aspect to the game and that it has a significant impact on competitors.
At one point, USGA attorney Steve Jackson asked Olinger whether accommodations should be made for golfers who suffer injuries during the course of a tournament, such as a sprained ankle or wrist.
"Does that give you an advantage to ride a cart that lessens your pain?" Jackson asked Olinger.
"No, sir. I start with pain every time," he answered.
USGA attorneys called Dr. James Rippe, who studies the physical impacts of walking, to testify about a study he compiled on the impact walking had on golfers. Rippe said his review of various studies showed that walking a 4«-hour round of golf for the average American male weighing 177 pounds is equivalent to running for two hours at a pace of 11 minutes per mile.
He also said the studies show fatigue greatly impacts motor skills and judgment. Those effects are cumulative over the course of a tournament, a huge factor in tournaments where the winning margin is often just a few strokes.
"One-third of one percent of shots in a golf tournament might be the difference between winning and losing," Rippe said. "The individual riding in a cart is afforded a substantial and unfair advantage."
Under cross-examination, Olinger's attorney, John Hamilton, said Rippe's study did not compare a healthy, average golfer walking a round with Olinger, who has bilateral avascular necrosis. He also suggested the physical disability, coupled with the mental stress of playing in competition, would fatigue Olinger just as much as it would a healthy golfer walking a round.
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