Players wonder: Does this open flood gates?


DUBLIN, Ohio -- Now that Casey Martin has won the right to use a cart, some in the sport are worried golfers without disabilities might try to take advantage of the ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a federal disability-bias law permits Martin, who has difficulty walking because of a congenital leg problem, to ride in a golf cart in PGA Tour events.

In the decision, the majority opinion stated that walking was not a fundamental part of the sport.

"I think we ought to take them all out and play golf," Jack Nicklaus said of the justices. "I think they'd change their minds. I promise you, it's fundamental."

Hal Sutton, also a member of the tour's policy board, said many pros have bad backs and might now apply to use a cart. Sutton himself has had back problems.

"In Casey's particular case, there's no doubt about his disability," Sutton said before a practice round for this week's Memorial Tournament. "This is not about Casey Martin. It's about the possibilities it opens up. The next person's disabilities -- it might not be as clear.

"I'm happy for Casey Martin," Sutton said. "I'm disappointed that they didn't see that a golf cart is an added advantage. I think it's going to create a big problem. We're in a real gray area now. Who's the governing body of the door that they opened?"

The decision came on a 7-2 Supreme Court vote. The majority agreed that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses and entertainment sites.

Tour player Notah Begay III, one of Martin's teammates at Stanford, said he was delighted with the decision.

"What he (Martin) has had to deal with -- not knowing which direction the punches are coming from and who's pulling the strings, who has final say in what's going to happen -- having to sleep at night has probably been a real difficult thing, not to mention he's in writhing pain every time he goes to bed," Begay
said. "It really complicates his life. I'm happy that he can get back to dealing with his work."

Others weren't pleased.

"Walking six miles a day six days a week is part of the deal," said another tour veteran, Steve Pate. "If you don't think we're a sport, then a part of my premise is gone. But I think we are.

"In sports, everybody brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the game and whoever can overcome their weaknesses and maximize their strengths is going to do well. It's maybe not fair, but I just think it's the way it should be," Pate said.

Jim Furyk, like Pate, said he sympathized with Martin's plight.

"I'm happy he gets to go ahead and fulfill his dream," Furyk said. "I understood both sides of the story. I understood where the Tour was coming from and I understood Casey. If I was Casey, I would have done the exact same thing. I'm happy for him as a person."

Frank Nobilo said there was no doubt that the game is harder when a player has to walk.

"Anytime you get to ride, you gain an advantage, don't you? I think you do," Nobilo said. "It's the same reason they try to ban drugs in sports -- because it gives an advantage."

Annika Sorenstam, the top money winner on the LPGA Tour, said players on the her tour haven't talked much about the Martin case.

"I'm happy for Casey," Sorenstam said before a practice round of the U.S. Women's Open at Southern Pines, N.C. "He wants to play golf, he wants to compete and this gives him a chance to do it."

Tour officials said they would "fully review and evaluate" the court's decision, and that Martin would continue to be provided with a cart at any event he entered, as he has been in the last three years.

"The issues involved go well beyond considerations involving an individual player," the tour said. "Through the lawsuit ... the courts were asked to examine the issue of whether the tour should be forced to abandon its long-standing requirement that the rules of competition be applied equally to all competitors."

Martha Walters, one of Martin's lawyers, said the decision shows that golf tournaments will be governed by the same rules as all other businesses. She called the ruling important "to all people in sports, high school kids, kids at all levels," because their disabilities would have to be considered.

The United States Golf Association does not have to confront the Martin decision immediately, since Martin is not playing at the U.S. Open in Tulsa in two weeks.

"It's a concern as to who is going to make the rules and set them, and then how much leeway there is," said Marty Parkes, USGA senior director of communication.

"If somebody had entered sectional qualifying and then had sprained an ankle and then wanted to use a cart, I don't know what the answer is," Parkes said.

"Those are the things that we need to read the opinion. Is that considered an injury or is that considered a temporary disability and they're given a golf cart?"