The beautiful thing about the United States Golf Association’s U.S. Open is that it is just that, “open” to ANYONE who can qualify.  Fourteen years ago (1998), the last time the U.S. Open was played at the historic Olympic Golf Club in San Francisco, Stanford graduate Casey Martin did qualify but because of a circulatory disorder he was born with in his lower right leg requested the use of a golf cart in order to compete fairly.  By suing the PGA Tour under the Americans with Disabilities Act and appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that walking was NOT a fundamental element of the game, he was granted an injunction to use the cart, finished 23rd, and eventually in 2001 the highest Court in the land ruled in Martin’s favor.  Miraculously on June 4, he was the winning medalist at a U.S. Open sectional qualifier just 12 miles from his native Eugene Oregon, firing 69-69, and will once again be returning to the Olympic Golf Club for next week’s 112th U.S. Open.  Should anyone care that he’ll be riding in a golf cart again? 

 

In 1998, Casey Martin was all alone and it seemed that NOBODY agreed with him.  Even the Titans of Golf, Palmer and Nicklaus, said he should NOT be permitted to compete if he has to ride a cart.  All Martin had going for him was a unique talent and love for the game of golf, yet he could not find a single ally in his quest to compete.  Many concerns arose back then, but one of my favorites came from that Louisiana blowhard and former losing U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Hal Sutton, who felt that even those with bad backs would rush to join his appeal to use a cart too (which of course did NOT happen).  Remember, Sutton was the guy who also thought pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Michelson for best ball Ryder Cup competition would be a good strategy!  Many golfers today on the Champions (Senior, 50+) Tour have chosen to use carts……perhaps as a result of Martin’s ruling.  It will be very interesting to see how the media and his fellow players react to this situation next week.  Most of the attention going in to the U.S. Open week is expected to be on Tiger, defending champ Rory McIlroy, and throw Phil (and his cell phone camera concerns) in there too.   No doubt TV golf analyst Johnny Miller will weigh in on Martin’s comeback story.  Sure would also like to hear what Arnold and Jack have to say this time around too!

 

Casey Martin, now 40, was a two-time All-American golfer at Stanford University winning the NCAA championship in 1994 and turning pro one year later.  He was also briefly a teammate (and roommate) of Tiger Woods while he was at Stanford, and Tiger has already asked him to play a U.S. Open practice round together.  Finishing 23rd at the U.S. Open back in 1998 was by far the highlight of his non-descript professional golf career (although he did win once on the Nike Tour).  Since 2006 when his pro playing career ended, he has been the head golf coach at the University of Oregon, where his team finished in the Final Four this year falling to eventual winner Texas.  Qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open is especially notable since he has not played any competitive golf whatsoever since 2007.  Ironically, he even outplayed two of his collegiate players to earn the Open spot.  Possibly the teacher/coach has more in store for us as he continues this remarkable story? 

 

Martin’s rare leg blood flow disorder, called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber (KTW) syndrome, makes it extremely painful to walk or even to stand too long.  Medical researchers aren’t sure why it happens because it doesn’t appear to be passed down genetically.  It affects both males and females, and it’s frequency of occurrence is not known.  Besides difficulty in walking, this circulation problem (and eventual overgrowth of soft tissue and bone in the affected leg) can lead to bleeding, skin infections, and blood clots.  If you ask Martin, he’s actually embarrassed to have to play with the aid of a golf cart.  He would much rather walk “inside the ropes” like every other competitor where it would be much easier to keep his focus.  Instead, he will have to walk to/from his cart (keeping it on the cart path at all times)…….and through the fan gallery at each and every hole. 

 

Making the cut next weekend and playing on Sunday at Olympic would mean everything to him, and the entire golf world for that matter.  After 14 years, we know a little more about Casey Martin and much more about fairness in competition.  Nobody better have any “concerns” with him playing with a golf cart this time…..the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t!     

 

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