Fairway or No Way?

THE FIRST TIME STANFORD UNI-versity coach Wally Goodwin saw Casey Martin play golf in high school, he noticed that the teenager kept his right leg bent just the way a good golfer should. Only later did he realize that Martin kept his right leg bent all the time—the result of a birth defect that affected its blood flow. Undaunted, Goodwin recruited the kid anyway. “The heart is the premier thing with me, not golf ability,” says Goodwin. “What kind of kids are they internally—are they relentless? And Casey is relentless.”

So relentless that Martin, now 25, with a successful college career behind him, is engaged in a make-or-break struggle with the PGA Tour simply to be allowed to play on the tour. Well, maybe not simply—Martin wants to play using a golf cart, as most golfers do but tour players don’t. Can’t, in fact, since tour rules don’t allow it. This week, Martin will take his fight before a federal judge in Eugene, Ore., after winning a temporary court order last fall allowing him to compete in two lower-level tournaments while using a cart. Not one to waste an opportunity, he won the first of those events, shooting 19-under-par. Could he have won without the cart? “If you put a gun to my head, I could walk,” says Martin. “But it certainly takes a toll on me.”

Martin has lived from birth with an uncommon condition called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome. “He has a grossly abnormal vascular system of the lower extremity and, with that, erosion of bone and chronic pain,” explains his orthopedist, Dr. Don Jones of Eugene. The deterioration is progressive, and there is no clear course of treatment. “He’s looking at the possibility of amputation eventually,” says Jones. “But we have many consultations out at the present time, and we’re hopeful we can find something that will, No. 1, make him more comfortable and, No. 2, prolong the life of the leg.”

Martin doesn’t like to talk about the pain but will if pressed. “Some days are worse than others,” he admitted in the middle of January. “This was a good week. But, yeah, I definitely do have a lot of pain—sharp pains, aches, throbs, you’ve got it.” As for the possibility of amputation, he says, “I’m sure if I dwelled on it, it could really weigh on me. But I just don’t. I just trust in God that he’s going to work it out, and I’m resigned not to worry about it.”

Backed by a lifetime of medical records and the fact that carts are used on the Senior Tour—as well as, until this year, at all three of the PGA Tour qualifying stages—Martin is suing the Tour under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is not a choice he or his family made lightly. “It’s kind of tough,” says his father, King Martin, 52, a senior vice president at Smith Barney in Eugene. “We’ve never been sued or sued anyone in our lifetime and never dreamt that we would. But we’re not sure that we’re outside the law, so that’s why we’re doing it. It was a last resort.”

For its part, the United States Golf Association, which sets rules for the game, said in a statement that it “regrets Mr. Martin’s condition but maintains its stance that walking remains part of championship golf.” Though Martin has begun to attract fan support, fellow players, while sympathetic, have not been unequivocal. Tiger Woods, a former Stanford teammate, told the Washington Post, “As a friend I’d love to see him have a cart. But from a playing standpoint, is it an advantage? It could be.” Arnold Palmer has given a deposition on behalf of the PGA saying that using a cart could, under some circumstances, provide a competitive advantage. Jack Nicklaus has told the PGA he would do the same if they request. Martin says the prevailing sentiment among pros is, “You’re a courageous young man, but forget riding a cart in our tour.”

Other critics cite the experiences of two great golfers who played—and walked—under the most trying circumstances: the late Ben Hogan, who won the U.S. Open in 1950, 16 months after a near-fatal auto accident; and Ken Venturi, who, exhausted after playing 27 holes in sweltering heat, staggered through the last nine en route to winning the 1964 U.S. Open. “This is not a case of personality,” says Venturi, now 66 and a commentator for CBS. “This is a case of an athletic event, which you have to do.” Martin says he understands the argument but counters, “Ken Venturi had a rough go at the U.S. Open, but he never had to deal with [pain] on a daily basis. I deal with it daily. This is permanent.”

As judgment day approaches for Martin, who still lives with his parents and is an accomplished pianist, he realizes the decision could go against him and is prepared to deal with that—though not so prepared that he has made other plans for his future. “I really have no idea,” he says. “I have a passion for golf, but I don’t have a passion for anything else yet.” And if the court does decide in his favor, he already has his next goal in mind: “I’d love to be known as a great golfer. Not as a guy in a cart or with a disability—just a great golfer.”


DON SIDER in Pompano Beach

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