Martin was golf’s victim in case of mistaken humanity

Los Angeles Times

So Casey Martin won. So where does he pick up his prize? Not at this week’s PGA Tour stop in Dublin, Ohio. Martin has lost his tour card. Not while dancing to the top of the steps of the Supreme Court building, either. The next giant stride Martin takes with his withered right leg will be toward amputation. So Casey Martin won, with the Supreme Court ruling 7-2 Tuesday that the PGA Tour must allow him to ride in a golf cart. On a path littered with bits of his reputation, his dignity, and his swing. So forgive him if he’s late for the party. “A winner?” Martin said. “I don’t know.” It’s not enough the PGA Tour has just been ruled out of bounds. It should also now be penalized for slow play. For taking nearly four years to do what it could have done in four minutes. For turning Casey Martin’s last four years into a ride through hell. It’s all well and good for the PGA to open its arms to Casey Martin Tuesday, using such words as “respect” and “admiration,” charging up the cart for his next appearance on his minor league tour. But we should not forget where the tour stood in 1997, when Martin didn’t have seven black robes on his side, when he came to them with nothing more than a dying leg and newfound hope that they would do the right thing. We should not forget that they treated him like mud on a Titleist. Commissioner Tim Finchem claimed golf was not for wimps and dared Martin to get his cart in court. We should not forget that standing firmly behind Finchem were the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. And we should not forget that Tiger Woods was not standing at all. He and Martin were once teammates on Stanford’s golf team. They were roommates on the road. If anyone could testify to Martin’s disability, if anyone could have ended this mess long before it reached Washington, it would have been the most gifted and influential athlete on the planet. Yet Woods shamefully let Martin play through. Quick to challenge golf’s hierarchy on matters of money, Woods kept his mouth shut on this matter of humanity. Even if you don’t remember that, Casey Martin will. “It would have been great for Tiger, for him to take even a greater stand,” Martin said. “But it’s great to win this without having to pull all kinds of strings.” Besides, Martin said, as difficult as it is to imagine, he felt he was backed by an even greater force. “God is a lot bigger than Tiger,” he said.”(God) didn’t need Tiger Woods.” Martin nonetheless appeared to begin the battle as a single golfer, teeing off into a gale, straight uphill, enduring nearly four years of court battles that robbed him of his ability to just play. Various injunctions ordered the tour to give Martin a cart during that time, but nothing could stop the sniping tour members or heckling fans. Last season at the Kemper Open, after he missed a 20-foot putt, a fan called him a cheater. He nearly hobbled over and slugged him. “The hard part has been being scrutinized,” Martin said Tuesday. “The hard part is thinking … there’s always that tension that people don’t agree with you.” He claims it did not affect his golf — “I take full responsibility for my struggles” — but others close to him do not agree. He is clearly not the same golfer today as he was when this started. While he says his leg doesn’t hurt as much at night, it is clearly weaker. He has essentially lost a part of his career that he will never regain. And for what? Nothing so noble as ethics or morals. This was, instead, about only ego and ignorance. The tour claimed that Martin could not have a cart because walking was integral part of its sport, which would have been just dandy, except for two small things. The tour qualifying school allows carts. The Senior PGA Tour, featuring the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus, allows carts. The tour sliced this hypocrisy into a legal forest from which it never emerged. And, of course, any hacker who has ever watched a tour event should understand that their walking is far different from our walking. The pros — with the possible exception of Jean Van de Velde — usually walk down the middle of close-cut fairways. They rest before each shot. And if physical endurance is really part of pro golf, let’s see them carry their own bags. In the end, the PGA Tour’s stance was not about walking. It was about exclusion of anything, or anybody, who looks or acts different. And shame on those — particularly dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia — who claim that this ruling will allow parents of a Little Leaguer with attention deficit disorder to claim that their son “ought to be given a fourth strike.” Not only is Scalia sadly ignorant about ADD, but also about golf, where riding a cart clearly doesn’t alter the rules the way an additional strike would. The same goes for those extremists who will claim that the NFL must now admit blind quarterbacks and give them extra time in the pocket, while the NBA must allow wheelchair forwards to travel. Justice John Paul Stevens, in writing the majority opinion, wrote that Martin’s cart “would not fundamentally alter the nature” of a golf tournament. The words “fundamentally alter” would seem to eliminate any bogus claims from anyone in other sports. If only someone could fundamentally alter the last four years of Casey Martin’s life. The soft-spoken 28-year-old, however, said he will not capitalize on the victory. He said he will not push for sponsor’s exemptions for this year’s remaining events. He said if he does not regain his tour card by playing well in the tour this year, he will return to qualifying school. He said even if he does regain his card, he will not enter events on particularly hilly or high-altitude courses where his cart would raise further questions. “I don’t want any more controversy, I’ve had enough of that,” he said. But he will take one thing from the tour, hundreds of thousands of dollars in his attorney’s fees that Finchem’s group will now be forced to reimburse. “A wonderful thought for me,” Martin said. And appropriate only if paid while hanging from their Sansabelts.