The 2012 U.S. Open – Preview
Casey Martin is not used to this scene. The ropes on the golf course. Thousands of spectators watching a practice round. Media waiting to talk to him.
But that is what he faced on Monday at the Olympic Club, where the disabled golfer will compete in the 112th U.S. Open — his first major championship since he competed in his only other one, 14 years ago here at the same venue.
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“For me to be here, it’s kind of surreal,” Martin said.
Now the University of Oregon golf coach, Martin successfully sued the PGA Tour for the right to ride a golf cart in competition due to a degenerative birth defect that restricts the blood flow in his lower right leg and makes it painful to walk. Martin was granted an injunction in 1998 and his case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 2001.
Martin never had much success as a professional golfer, but decided to try to qualify this year, making it through a local qualifier last month and then a 36-hole qualifier on June 4 where he was the unlikely medalist.
Unlike 1998, when he tied for 23rd and was the subject of controversy due to his use of a cart, his appearance this year has been more embraced — if not less hectic.
“It has been overwhelming, really,” said Martin, who expects to play a practice round with former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods on Tuesday or Wednesday. “Very challenging for me. I’m totally flattered, but I’m just not built for this. I coach and I don’t have an agent and I just kind of live my life. Then all of a sudden it was just kind of being bombarded.”
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Martin, 40, suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, an affliction that makes walking painful and may one day lead to amputation.
In 1997, Martin sought the use of a cart while trying to qualify for the PGA Tour and two lower courts granted him the right, although both times the PGA Tour appealed, leading to the Supreme Court ruling.
The United States Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, was not part of the suit, but the organization went along with the court ruling, sparing Martin having to sue the USGA as well.
He is allowed to ride a cart, but it cannot be covered and his caddie must carry the bag. A “cart caddie” helps position the cart for him when he tries to navigate the crowds while getting from the cart to the green and back, or from the cart to the tee and back.
When the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, Martin said he hoped that we’d all look back one day and wonder why the PGA Tour ever fought him.
[+] EnlargeCasey Martin
Matt Sullivan/ReutersCasey Martin hits from the second tee during a practice round for the 2012 U.S. Open on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
“I don’t like to be the center of controversy and it kind of followed me for a long time there,” he said. “I am hopeful the way that I conduct myself and the way I play … the controversy fades and that you can just hopefully appreciate it — somebody just trying to pursue their dreams like anybody else and just trying to play this great game that we all love. Hopefully that will be the lasting impression of it.”
Martin played well here 14 years ago, which was the impetus for trying to get back. But he no longer competes. Before the 36-hole qualifier, Martin had not played golf for nine days and not in an official event since the 2006 Nationwide Tour event in Oregon.
“A lot of barbecue circuits, a lot of scrambles,” Martin joked.”Twice before my preparation for this was playing in a Young Life scramble and an Oregon Club scramble.
“So that’s I guess how you prep for a U.S. Open. You play golf courses from about 6,200 yards in a scramble. That’s what I did. But I don’t want to lie. I’m around the game a lot. I’m active in our practices as a team. I’m there, I hit balls. I’ll sometimes do some of our drills with the guys. So I am close to the game.”
As for his aspirations this week, Martin, jokingly responded: “Not to shoot a million and to make contact.
“I would like to make the cut. I would like to get paid,” he continued. “Obviously there’s a lot of money in this tournament and that would be fun. But that aside, I’m just going to go out there and compete. I don’t get to compete much and so I’ve gone from basically nothing to the pinnacle of golf, which is a lot to take in emotionally and mentally.”