Last Wednesday morning, under a cloudless sky near Palm Springs,
Calif., Casey Martin limped to the 10th tee at Indian Wells
Country Club to begin his career as a PGA Tour pro. After two
melodramatic years of courtroom battles and sound bites, the
moment of truth had finally arrived, and two dozen reporters and
five TV camera crews turned out to document it. On the first
drive of the rest of his life, Martin pounded one down the
middle. He then jumped in his celebrated cart and drove into
history, becoming the first Tour member to ride in a sanctioned
event. Camera shutters clicked, notebooks were scrawled upon,
hyperbolic radio announcers offered live commentary. Only one
thing was missing from this scene: fans. More members of the
media were on hand than spectators. (We counted.)
Over the ensuing 18 holes Martin played creditable golf, shooting
a four-under-par 68, but as the temperature climbed to a muggy 80
degrees, Martin's gallery, such as it was, actually diminished.
Because reporters are trained not to cheer, the round was played
in an eerie silence. It was so quiet, in fact, that you could
hear a nation yawn.
It is impossible not to like Casey Martin--he's the clean-cut,
courteous, articulate, God-fearing young man we all want our
daughters to marry. But just as too much chocolate will give you
a stomachache, this story apparently wore on golf fans. The first
four rounds of the Hope are played across four courses, and the
galleries always seemed to be wherever Martin wasn't, preferring
to traipse after faux golf celebrities such as Glen Campbell,
Rush Limbaugh and Stone Phillips. Martin didn't need fans,
because the overheated media were more than happy to invent them
for him. After the first round, Martin was one of the lead
stories on SportsCenter, which reported that "a large portion of
the gallery at the Bob Hope turned out to see Casey Martin." It
was a 21st-century moment: of the media, by the media, for the
On Wednesday afternoon, following his 68, Martin was escorted
from the scorer's tent to a semicircle of reporters that was five
deep. He seemed taken aback by the horde, and with a rueful
laugh, he said, "Didn't we do this yesterday?" (Indeed we had.
The previous afternoon Martin had conducted a lengthy
pretournament press conference, highly unusual for a Tour
rookie.) Many of the questions that followed were not about
Martin or his round but about the metastory.
January 31, 2000
Casey, are you getting sick of all the attention? "No, but if
this is how it's going to be...."
Casey, would it be easier to play without all the cameras and
reporters? "Possibly. I might be more relaxed, but then again,
maybe I wouldn't be as focused."
Yes, it has come to this: Martin now feels pressure to play well
for the throngs of reporters who turn out to chronicle his every
Certainly the other players have been turned off by the absurdity
of the situation. Davis Love III, an outspoken supporter of the
Tour throughout its litigation with Martin, shot a first-round 66
to put himself among the leaders, yet one of the first questions
put to him afterward was about Martin. Love walked away in a
huff, saying nothing. "My thoughts on Casey Martin?" asked David
Duval, parroting the week's most frequently asked question.
"Haven't thought about it."
Lost in all the hoopla is some of the humanity in Martin's story.
Watching his son play, King Martin recalled wistfully, "When
Casey's diagnosis [of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a
circulatory disorder that has left him with a withered right leg]
came down, I remember wondering, How is he ever going to have a
normal life? To look at him out there and think about how far
he's come, well, it hasn't been a normal life. It's been an
extraordinary one. I'm glad we never put limits on him, and no
else has, either."
Not yet, anyway. Part of what makes Martin's story so seductive
is that his dream can be taken away at any moment. His landmark
lawsuit, Casey Martin v. The PGA Tour, is being reviewed by the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and if Martin loses
his case, he loses his cart. Martin's attorney, William Wiswall,
expects a decision in March, but that's just a guess. It could
come tomorrow, or in six months. The decision will be announced
at www.ca9.uscourts.gov, but don't expect Martin or his family to
be logged on when it is. "When we find out, we find out," says
Martin's brother, Cameron. "I think we've all learned to be
Anyway, the circuit court's decision will not end the intrigue.
Martin has already said that he will appeal to the Supreme Court
if necessary. And the Tour? "It will never, ever give up this
fight," says Wiswall. "The Tour has drawn a line in the sand." So
the headlines will continue for the foreseeable future. Martin is
powerless to stop the momentum of his story.
Last Thursday the blind draw paired Martin with a trio of
amateurs that included none other than Richard Ferris, chairman
of the Tour's policy board, who had testified at Martin's trial
that the use of a cart would, more or less, end professional golf
as we know it. "It's not going to be a big deal," Martin said
when he heard about the pairing. "I'm just not going to read his
In fact, Martin was the one who needed help on the greens.
Playing at Bermuda Dunes Country Club, he took 32 putts to shoot
a 71, which at the birdie-a-thon known as the Hope is like
shooting a 76. Ferris shamelessly rode a cart, and afterward he
ducked all questions. "I think I should let Timmy [Finchem, the
commissioner] speak for the Tour," he said. Martin, ever the
gentleman, maintained that the vibe had been civil, but his
tete-a-tete with Ferris was another reminder that he will always
have to put up with people who object to his presence. "The only
thing that is kind of frustrating is, I watch TV, read some of
the quotes, and some of them aren't great, you know?" Martin
says. "Then I see those players, and they're like, 'Hey, what's
up? I'm so glad you're out here.' I'm left scratching my head.
Not that it's wrong for them to say what they did, but I sense an
insincerity about them."
Last Friday, at the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West,
Martin was left to puzzle over another 71, which included 33 jabs
with his flat stick. There has never been any question that
Martin's long game is of Tour caliber. Over the first three
rounds he hit 43 of 54 greens in regulation and averaged more
than 285 yards a drive. How he fares as a rookie will be
determined largely by his work on and around the greens, which
has always been average at best. At least at the Hope, Martin had
an alibi: rust. He was coming off a 2 1/2-month break from
competition, and the weather at home in Eugene, Ore., had been so
nasty in the preceding two weeks that his practice time was
Tied for 96th after three rounds, with only the low 70 players
making the cut, Martin knew that he had to go deep on Saturday to
earn a Sunday tee time. Though he had drawn La Quinta Country
Club, the most difficult course of the four, Martin played for
the first time all week as if he had nothing to lose. He tore off
four birdies in a row to begin the round, including a pair of
holed 20-footers. On the par-5 6th hole he nearly sank a long
pitch-and-run for eagle, and the ensuing birdie moved him to
minus-10, which matched the number of the lowest cut in Tour
history. On the par-4 8th hole Martin drained another 20-footer,
his sixth birdie in eight holes. If he could hang on, he would
surely make the cut and add one more exclamation point to his
Loose iron shots on 10 and 12 earned him two bogeys, though he
got one shot back with a birdie at the 13th. When Martin reached
18 he was still at 10 under, but with the scores plummeting he
felt he was sitting on the bubble and in need of another birdie.
The 18th at La Quinta is a 412-yard par-4 that doglegs slightly
to the right. A lake runs the length of the left side. Martin
chose an aggressive play but pulled his three-wood. (Most players
were laying up with an iron.) His drive came to rest on the steep
bank of the hazard, just above the water's edge. Martin's only
chance to hit his ball was to stand in the water, and he wasted
no time in stripping off his shoes and socks and the protective
sleeve that covers his right leg. This brought an audible gasp
from the smattering of friends and family in the gallery.
Martin's tibia has deteriorated to the point that it could snap
with the slightest misstep, a tragedy that would not only end his
golf career but might also necessitate amputation. As Martin
waded into the murky water, that fear was palpable. "I honestly
can't believe what I'm seeing," said his agent, Chris Murray.
Martin's mother, Melinda, covered her face with her hands and
said softly, "I could cry. I could. This is too much."
After a couple of minutes, and a series of waggles and gingerly
practice swings, Martin decided that the shot was too risky,
especially given the slippery footing. He climbed back to the
fairway, dried off and laced up, and took a penalty drop. He
followed with a poor approach into the bunker and an indifferent
explosion, then missed a six-footer to make a double bogey. He
had shot a 30-39, finishing at eight under for the tournament.
(The cut wound up at 11 under.) "I'm bummed," Martin said,
flanked, as always, by reporters. "I hit the ball solid all week
but didn't score. This was four days of grinding, and I've got
nothing to show for it."
At least he had the opportunity. Martin played the Hope only
because of a sponsor's exemption. Another free pass has allowed
him to tee it up in this week's Phoenix Open. Fodder for a whole
new crew of reporters, Martin might again be the dominant story.
He sees the irony in his situation. "Only a handful of players
get this kind of attention," he says. "Hopefully, someday I'll do
something to deserve it."
"My thoughts on Casey Martin?" asked Duval, parroting the most
frequently asked question. "Haven't thought about it."