Casey Martin is praying. Hands clasped, head bowed, his lips
move, but he says nothing. Finally Martin looks up and puts his
thoughts into words. "I'm obviously very concerned about my
health," he says. Who can blame him? His famously withered right
leg is worse than it has ever been. Three times this summer
Martin quietly flew to Chicago to try a radical new procedure,
sclerotherapy, which he describes as a "last-ditch effort" to
slow the assault of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a
congenital circulatory disorder, on his limb. In total Martin
squirmed through 75 excruciating needle injections into his leg,
each delivering a chemical cocktail designed to shut down
certain malfunctioning veins and stem the damaging tide of blood
that floods his leg.
The therapy didn't take, and now Martin is left with little more
than his prayers. But sitting in the lunchroom of Hillcrest
Country Club, site of last week's Nike Boise (Idaho) Open,
Martin's fretting about his health was delivered with a wink and
a smile. That was because moments after saying grace, he began
stuffing his face with a sloppy barbecued beef sandwich, an
oversized bag of potato chips and two tall glasses of soda.
Martin's leg may be the source of unending pain, but clearly it
is his diet that's going to kill him.
Anyway, it's typical of Martin to crack wise in the face of
adversity. He is well acquainted with the ironies of his
situation, and here's a whopper: Even as his leg is
deteriorating, his golf game is thriving. Martin arrived in
Boise having finished in the top 10 in three of his previous
four tournaments, including a strong second last month in Omaha,
a hot streak that pushed him to 13th on the Nike tour money list
(with $100,130). The Boise tournament was the third straight in
a manic stretch drive that will see Martin play the final six
events on the schedule in an effort to safeguard his position in
the top 15 on the money list, a finish that will earn him an
exemption onto the PGA Tour in 2000. This brings us to irony
number two. Even if Martin does earn his Tour card, he may wind
up spinning his wheels on the sideline. His landmark court case,
Casey Martin v. the PGA Tour, is now being reviewed by the Court
of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
No one knows when the court will hand down its ruling, with
guesses ranging from November to April. "If the circuit court
rules against us," says William Wiswall, Martin's attorney,
"that would extinguish the injunctive relief that we have
earned." Now for the English-language version: If Martin loses
the case, he also loses the injunction that has allowed him to
ride in a cart for the last two years (although he can file for
an extension of the injunction). Since walking an entire
tournament is no longer an option for Martin, that might mean
goodbye PGA Tour (and Nike tour, too, because it is, in effect,
a codefendant in the suit).
As always, there are options. If the circuit court rules against
Martin, he can appeal to the Supreme Court (and almost certainly
will, just as the Tour is sure to do if it loses), but the
Supreme Court can choose not to hear the case, rendering the
decision of the circuit court final. Even if the Supreme Court
did grant Martin's petition, a decision would not come until the
spring of 2001 at the earliest. That could leave Martin in a
cruel limbo next season. "I'm in such a weird position," he
says. "So little of what happens is within my control. I can't
control what the courts say, and I can't control what's going to
happen to my leg."
At least he can control what happens on the golf course. "Not
this week," he says.
Martin struggled in Boise, finishing 37th and earning $1,398,
yet he moved to 12th on the money list. That he cashed a check
at all was testament to his improved play around the greens and
the power game that has long sustained him. Battling a slice,
Martin hit only 10 greens in regulation in each of the first two
rounds, opening with a one-under-par 70, then putting together a
scrappy 69 last Friday that included two chip-ins. Martin drove
the doglegged 293-yard 15th hole, which led to a crucial birdie,
and had a clutch up-and-down for birdie at 16. Because he had
obsessively monitored the scoreboards on the way in, Martin knew
exactly where he stood as he surveyed a 10-footer for par on the
final hole. He drilled it to make the cut on the button.
His weekend was nearly as eventful. During Saturday's 69 he
drove to the collar of the 359-yard 10th hole (his eagle chip
stopped two inches short), and on the par-3 17th his tee ball
actually dented the cup before bouncing out of the hole to three
feet. On Sunday he shot a 71 to finish five under, 13 shots
behind winner Carl Paulson.
In the slippery calculus of the ever-changing money list, Martin
figures that he needs about $30,000 more to lock up his spot in
the top 15. This sets up an intriguing scenario at this week's
Nike Oregon Classic, which happens to be played on the outskirts
of Eugene, the town in which Martin grew up and where he
recently purchased a two-story home. If he finishes first or
second, he'll lock up his Tour card, and his hometown will drown
in bubbly. "I try not to let myself think about it," says
Martin. "There is an awful lot of golf left. It would be sweet,
though, wouldn't it?"
Sweet, yes, but it won't be easy. Before the tournament Martin
is scheduled to give a clinic for local juniors and play in a
skins game. He will also host two Nike tour buddies who plan to
crash at his house. The week is going to be so intense for
Martin and the demands on his time so severe that his close-knit
family is actually going to do its best to avoid him. (Save for
an excursion to Saturday night's Southern Cal-Oregon football
game. Casey is such a quack for the Ducks that while
recuperating from the effects of the sclerotherapy in
mid-August, he watched Oregon's practices nearly every day for
two weeks. "Pathetic, I know," he says.) "We're doing everything
in our power not to add to the pressure of it all," says Casey's
father, King. "I will say this: We're hopeful. Real hopeful."
So, too, are many of Martin's colleagues. "It's cutthroat out
here, that's no secret," says Jeff Gove, who's in his fifth year
on the Nike tour. "Everyone wants to be in the top 15, but the
players are pulling for Casey, no doubt. How can you not root
for the guy?" Gove grew up in Seattle and has competed against
Martin since they were junior golfers. He counts Martin among
his best friends. You can imagine his horror, then, when a
weekly golf magazine recently ran a quote from Gove that implied
that Martin's strong finish at the weather-plagued Omaha Classic
was due to the fatigue-reducing advantage conferred by his cart,
as the rest of the field was forced to march through a soggy 36
holes on Sunday. "The guy who interviewed me definitely had an
agenda, and he twisted my words," says Gove. "I was making the
point that it's a shame a couple of Casey's best tournaments
have come on 36-hole finishes [Martin's lone Nike tour victory,
last year's Lakeland (Fla.) Classic, had a 21-hole finish],
because that allows people to speculate. Fact is, he's a hell of
a player. He's going to be on the PGA Tour next season, and the
cart has absolutely nothing to do with it."
Gove and Martin had a peace summit, and Martin remains only a
tad defensive, saying, "I know in my heart that I don't have an
advantage, whether it's 18 holes or 36, whether it's hot, cold,
flat or hilly. There's no rhyme or reason to how well I play.
It's completely random, which is just golf."
Still, the incident was a flashback to Martin's former life as a
lightning rod for controversy. "It's been nice and quiet this
year," says Martin, who has played in 42 of 58 Nike events since
joining the tour. "I've gotten to concentrate on the golf,
concentrate on improving. The attention is picking up again, but
I don't really mind. It's just a sign of how close I am to
achieving my goal. It beats being 190th on the money list and
not having anybody care."
Plenty of people care about Martin, and many of them will be in
Eugene this week trying to cheer him all the way to the PGA
Tour. Martin could use the support, because, irrespective of the
dollars and cents, he still has a long way to go.
for Casey, no doubt. How can you not root for the guy?"