Friday, May 20, 2011

Casey Martin, 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, one of the most popular names in golf wasn't Tiger Woods or Ernie Els. It wasn't David Duval, Phil Mickelson or Justin Leonard. The name was Casey Martin, and the reason was a point or argument.

Casey Martin was a stud at Stanford, and would eventually become a PGA Tour member, but he will forever be remembered for suffering from Klippel-Trénaunay-Weber syndrome, a birth defect in his right leg. Martin sued the PGA Tour because he wanted to use a golf cart, and it really turned the golf world upside down. A lot of big names in golf opposed the idea, speaking up against Martin and his golf cart.

At the time, I was in 11th grade, and was hoping to play college golf myself. A east Texas kid, I didn't know much, but I quickly realized how ridiculous it was that names like Arnold Palmer were speaking up against Martin, saying it was unfair that he might be using a golf cart instead of walking like the rest of the tour.

Ten years later, it still makes me shake my head. You know what's a lot tougher than using a golf cart instead of walking 18 holes? Having a leg and a half instead of two. Martin used to talk about how his career could end if he stepped in a hole with his right leg, because it was that fragile and weak. But he kept on pursuing his dream because he loved the game and was damn good at it. And the whole time, there weren't guys cheering on the sidelines for him because he was doing something exceptional. For the most part, fellow pros were upset he was out there riding in a golf cart because he was suffering from a disability.

In my opinion, the whole Casey Martin saga was one of the darkest moments in golf history. People can sit and debate how much of a "sport" golf is day in and day out until the sun sets, but the fact is, a guy with an extremely brutal disability was able to compete if given the chance, and it never seemed that his peers wanted to give him that chance. If Casey Martin would have been given the option of having a fully functional leg, but the rest of the PGA Tour would be using golf carts instead of him, he would have signed off as quick as his hand would move. But that wasn't an option. Sometimes we dance with who brought us, and unfortunately, his right leg was his ugly date he had to tango alongside.

Over his career, Martin made 20 of 42 cuts on the PGA Tour, highlighted by his 2000 season that included 14 of 29 cuts made. Now the coach at Oregon, the good news is Martin will be able to give advice to players that might not have been implanted in some of the players growing up alongside Casey. He can teach about equality and understanding and playing your game, not worrying about how everyone else is getting around.

It sure wasn't easy for Casey, but he did it. And still to this day his actions impress me more than any major of Tiger's, or any PGA Tour win of Phil's. He did all of that on one leg, with everyone else screaming at him in a sport you're supposed to be quiet at. That's guts.


diane said...

As a Pac-10 guy, you should know it's Stanford University, not University of Stanford. Was the error an intentional dig for some reason?

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