BERMUDA DUNES, Calif. -- The cart carries Casey Martin only so far.
A milestone on the PGA Tour takes place today in the Bob Hope Classic when the guy in the cart -- a label Martin assigned himself when he tied for 23rd in the 1998 U.S. Open -- makes his debut as a card-carrying, cart-riding member.
The emphasis will be on the cart -- not the Rolls-Royce variety that Martin saw when he pulled into Bermuda Dunes Country Club to register, but a standard issue that he earned only after taking the PGA Tour to court two years ago.
Where the emphasis should be is on the card.
One has to look beyond the tire tracks, beyond the limp brought on by a circulatory disease in his right leg, to understand this: While Martin has a cart, he also has a game.
It was good enough to win on the Nike Tour in 1998, right before a federal court in Oregon ruled in his favor. It was good enough to qualify for the U.S. Open, and then perform better that week than Ernie Els and Justin Leonard.
It was good enough to finish 14th on the Nike Tour money list and earn full playing privileges on the PGA Tour, perhaps the toughest roster to make in sports.
"I'm out here playing. I'm chasing my dream," Martin said Tuesday.
No other PGA rookie has received so much attention since Tiger Woods, only Woods' fame came from winning three straight U.S. Amateur titles and from that prediction by Jack Nicklaus that he was good enough to win 10 green jackets.
Martin is prepared for the media blitz at every tournament, and figures it will stay with him for the better part of the year. His cart was big news at the U.S. Open, and also when he took sponsors' exemptions to play the Greater Hartford Open and the Quad City Classic.
"That doesn't bother me," he said. "I'm sure it might if I've been at it for 10 years and won a lot of tournaments."
That may be asking too much.
No one should question whether Martin is capable of winning. The relative skill level on the Nike Tour is much higher than it is in the CBA or Arena Football League, and he has shown that special knack for raising his game when the world is watching.
Martin has not played a competitive round since the Nike Tour Championship, and cold weather at home in Eugene, Ore., has kept him from practicing as much as he would like. He is rusty and is not sure what to expect this week. But he is no different than any other player in that he wants to win.
"I don't know if I will, or when or how, but I do think I have the ability to do it," he said. "I've seen people who have won that I can play with. If they can do, so can I."
It is doubtful, however, his career will last 10 years.
Martin suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, which restricts circulation in the lower portion of his right leg and makes it virtually impossible for him to walk 18 holes a day over four rounds. More than one doctor has warned that amputation is likely.
"The clock is ticking," said Brian McDonagh, a vein specialist in Chicago who treated Martin three times last year. "You might say it's a bit of a time bomb."
The pain has been around as long as Martin can remember. King Martin, his father, recalls the days when Casey would have to stop playing for a month at a time while he wore a splint or had his right leg packed in ice to help reduce the swelling.
Woods, a teammate at Stanford, used to room with Martin on the road.
"I saw how much pain he played with," Woods said. "When he'd come home ... he would never say it, but you could just see him walking around. Just getting up to go to the bathroom, sometimes he didn't want go because it hurt so bad. That's tough to swallow, just watching that."
And that's what makes the gold money clip Martin wore on his belt Tuesday -- his identification as a PGA Tour member -- that much more amazing.
Martin has never been able to grind on the driving range like most other players who dream of making it to the big leagues. He has had to spend months away from competitive golf to build enough strength in his leg to continue.
The cart has made it possible for him to chase his dream, but the talent is what enabled him to reach it.
Ben Hogan used to say that for every day not spent practicing, it took that much longer to become a good player.
Martin, as he has done his entire life, has proved to be an exception.
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