Dream comes true for weary Martin

Updated: May 30, 2001, 4:44 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

Casey Martin was sound asleep in his Eugene, Ore. home Tuesday morning when the fate of his professional golf career was announced some 3,000 miles away.

Martin, who for three years had fought the PGA Tour for the right to use a golf cart in its tournaments, had prepared for the worst, figuring the Supreme Court was going to rule that the PGA Tour had the right to not allow Martin to use a cart.

Casey Martin
Casey Martin says the ruling gives him more freedom with his game and his treatment.
At 7:30 a.m., when his cell phone began ringing in another room, Martin groggily ignored the ringing, unaware of the call's implications.

Seconds later, when his house phone rang, he realized this was the time of day the Court would announce a decision. So he rolled over and picked up the handset. It was PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, the man he had been butting heads with all along.

"He said to me, 'Have you heard the decision?' " Martin said. "I told him that I hadn't. Then he went, 'Congratulations.' "

With that one word, Martin's professional golf career was instantly resurrected. The 3½ years of dreaded litigations, endless appeals and public scrutiny had finally come to an end. And Martin had won.

"My instant reaction was relief," Martin said. "Relief that it was over and I can put all this behind me. There is no guarantee that golf will be in my future forever, but I will always be able to look back and realize that I prevailed in this. That means a lot."

Should the Supreme Court have ruled the other way, Martin had said it probably would have brought an immediate end to his career.

That's because Martin was born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a congenital circulatory disorder and degenerative muscle disease. The ailment causes severe swelling and often unbearable pain in Martin's right leg when he walks long distances.

Without a cart, it had become impossible for him to walk the entire length of a golf course.

With it, Martin said he will have the pleasure of knowing that his golf game, not his disability, will determine his fate on the tour.

Martin, who lost his PGA Tour card last season, has made four of eight cuts on this year's Buy.com Tour.

"Hopefully, this will help," Martin said. "Everybody knows I can use all the help I can get. Hopefully now I can start playing how I am capable."

Martin admitted Tuesday the finality of the Supreme Court decision had been weighing on him for the past several weeks. And judging by the tone of the Justices in the January hearing, Martin, along with numerous members of sports and law communities, figured the Court would rule on behalf of the Tour.

But they did just the opposite, citing the American Disabilities Act, which prohibited the Tour from denying Martin equal access to its events based on his disability.

The court did not view the use of a cart as a fundamental attribute to the game of golf, thus opening the door for the ruling. Golfers in Qualifying School, as well as those on the Senior Tour, are allowed to use carts if they so wish.

"If you look at the game of golf, it has nothing to do with walking," said Roy Reardon, Martin's attorney. "It has to do with hitting a ball from the tee to the hole. That's it."

Until now, it hadn't been the greatest of years for Martin. He ranks 115th on the Buy.com money list, with his best finish a tie for 34th place in the Louisiana Open.

In a pair of PGA Tour events, in which he was given sponsor's exemptions, he missed the cut.

If there was any bright spot, it was that he was able to play in 10 tournaments, thus guaranteeing himself endorsement money from Nike and Hartford Life, his two main sponsors.

Then came Tuesday's surprising announcement, which left Martin cautiously optimistic about his future in the profession.

"Even though this is one big hurdle that I've cleared, there are still others," said Martin, who plans to take two weeks off before rejoining the Buy.com Tour in Cleveland on June 14. "The lifestyle is trying at times to say the least. So yes, this is a big win for me, but it's not the end of the line. The end of the story is certainly not written."

Though Martin's leg will continue to deteriorate, he said he is hoping the ability to ride will allow him to strengthen the leg and re-qualify for the PGA Tour. The court's ruling also adds some flexibility to the length of Martin's career, allowing him to try alternative medical treatments without worrying his days on the Tour are numbered.

"This gives me more freedom; there is not so much a sense of urgency," he said. "Even if I was taken out of golf for a couple of years, to come back and know the cart would still be there is a great assurance."

Martin, a college teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford, said he felt no resentment toward the PGA Tour or anyone else for their opinions. Golfers David Duval, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and others were among those who opposed Martin.

"I'm not bitter toward them at all," he said. "I wished it were handled differently, but I could have very well done the same thing if I was in the commissioner's shoes. So I tried not to be overly harsh or bitter. I don't see any tension there."

In addition to the physical and emotional duress his fight caused, Martin said the financial burden was more than he let on. Though he declined to go into specifics, Martin said the PGA Tour, in losing the case, will be required to pick up all of his attorney fees.

"Everyone that worked hard for me will now get paid accordingly," he said. "And some of the money that I spent, which is quite significant, I'll get back. So, hey, it's party time at my house."

Throughout Martin's grueling fight, public sentiment grew in his behalf. A January poll by Harris Interactive revealed that two in three Americans believed Martin should be given the right to use a cart.

As much as he was a sympathetic figure to the general public, Martin was also seen as a hero of sorts to the disabled community. It's a role he embraces.

"That was not the reason I got into this situation, but if my situation can be turned good for people, then I'd love to have that happen," he said.

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com

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