- Mark Soltau
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HOLLISTER, Calif. -- This wasn't where Casey Martin figured it would end, his lifelong dream of becoming a top professional golfer. But after failing to advance Friday in Stage One of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament at San Juan Oaks Golf Club, he's ready for a new challenge.
"I've pretty much made it clear that this would be my last Q-School," said the 33-year-old Martin. "I'm not saying I'll never compete again. But I don't anticipate it being my main thing."
Martin is exhausted, mentally and physically. He hasn't taken an extended break from golf since high school and is worn out. His right leg, in particular. Since birth, he has suffered from Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber Syndrome, a rare circulatory disease, and has difficulty walking.
Best-known for suing the PGA Tour for the right to use a golf cart in competition, Martin enjoyed some success, winning the Nike Lakeland Classic in 1998. Later that year, he qualified for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and tied for 23rd, his best finish on the PGA Tour.
Martin earned a battlefield promotion from the Buy.com Tour in 1999 and played the PGA Tour in 2000. But he lost his playing privileges, banking only $143,248 in 29 events.
Since then, Martin has competed mostly on the Nationwide Tour, with limited success. In nine starts this year, he has made one cut, tying for 60th last month at the Albertsons Boise Open. Playing with a sponsor's exemption, Martin did make the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, collecting $10,547.
"If someone would have told me when I was a senior in high school that I'd still be playing and had the experiences I've had, I would have been blown away," said Martin, who still resides in his hometown of Eugene, Ore. "Now, after I got started a little bit, yeah, I'm disappointed because I've played like a clown for four or five years, which is difficult."
Martin hates to use his leg as an excuse, but there is no denying it has hindered his progress. He plays in constant pain and essentially slides his right leg into the ball, producing surprisingly long distance.
"I can't put my finger on it," Martin said. "I've tried everything, I've seen everybody. I really feel like I understand why. Whether it's my leg or whether it's just the talent level, I can't seem to really consistently do it."
Prior to this week's qualifying tournament, Martin managed only two rounds in the last month because of his leg.
"I've been struggling big-time lately," he said. "The last summer and this fall have been very bad. I took basically two weeks off because it was hurting. I don't know what was going on, but I saw the doctors and had X-rays and nothing was fractured or anything. I've been in a lot of pain."
Deep down, Martin has always known he couldn't play golf forever. That said, he hasn't felt the need to develop a contingency plan until now.
"I'm kind of in that stage in life where I really don't have a lot of answers," said Martin. "Obviously, I would have wished that things would have worked out differently in golf. But, by the same token, I never really envisioned myself playing past 35 or 40 anyway, physically. And the way my leg has felt, it's kind of a relief to wind it down right now."
Not that Martin doesn't have options. A 1995 graduate from Stanford, where he earned an economics degree and helped the Cardinal win the 1994 NCAA Championship, he could pursue college coaching and won't mind sticking close to his beloved Oregon Ducks. He has received some feelers from local businessmen and would like to design a golf course some day.
"Some people have talked to me," he said. "But I'm not going to be in a coat and tie next week."
What really appeals to Martin is plopping down on a warm beach for about six months and doing nothing.
"It makes me sad, but at the same time I'm kind of excited to see what's out there," said Martin. "I haven't really pursued anything."
During the tough times, Martin has persevered through his faith in God and strong family support.
"A lot of it hasn't been much fun, to be honest with you," he said. "I don't care if you're in perfect shape, it's tough out there. I knew that and was all for it. I liked the challenge. So that kind of got me up in the morning. Plus, I love golf. I wanted to be great."
Martin said the best part of playing professional golf has been the people he has met, most offering encouragement and support. Admittedly, the game can be cruel.
"There have been times in golf where I have been embarrassed how I've played, having the spotlight and not performing well," said Martin. "It's been tough. But it's not the most important thing in the world, how you do on a golf course. I've come to understand that. If it's the end, it's the end. I've had great experiences and will move on."
What does he want people to remember about Casey Martin?
"Good question," he said. "I really don't think about what people think of me that much, whether they think I'm great or courageous. It means a lot, but I really don't pay that much attention to it. Maybe I should. I'm just living my life. This is the way it is. I'm just going through the open doors that I've had."
Mark Soltau is a contributing editor for Golf Digest magazine.
After failing to advance Friday in Stage One of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Casey Martin, who fought chronic leg pain and the PGA, says he's ready for a new challenges.