If Casey Martin doesn't qualify for the PGA Tour this fall, he may not get another chance, like other players who labor year after year to claim a PGA Tour card. Martin's right leg is growing weaker from a circulatory disorder, and amputation is a possibility. He doesn't have to say it, but he will play with an intense sense of urgency here this week at the Nike Tour Championship.
"Realistically," he said, "I don't have a lot of time."
Martin, 27, won a landmark court decision against the PGA Tour in February 1998 that allows him to ride in cart during Nike and PGA tour events while other competitors walk the course. He is 12th on this season's Nike Tour money list, and if he is 15th or better on the list when the tour championship concludes, he will shake hands Sunday with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who will hand Martin his PGA Tour card.
How ironic would that be? Finchem is leading the PGA Tour's fight to keep Martin out of a cart during tournaments. The PGA Tour has appealed the court decision that favored Martin, and a ruling is due before the end of the year. If the PGA Tour wins its appeal, Martin's career could be put on hold or, for him, worse.
"It would be disappointing thing to make it and then to find out later it would be taken away," said Martin, whose car license plate reads 1DAYPGA. "I'm trying not to worry about that. It's out of my hands. I can't control any of that, but at the same time it's in the back of my mind."
Martin said if the PGA Tour wins its appeal, he will continue the court fight. He expects the PGA Tour to keep battling him if it loses this appeal.
The PGA Tour maintains its fight is not against Martin, but it's right to enforce its rules. That stance has caused the PGA Tour to suffer a public relations nightmare because it is being portrayed as an organization that is unsympathetic to people with disabilities.
"We're at the same posture we've always been," Finchem told the Associated Press this week. "At this point, the policy board has been very clear that we will try and maintain our rules, subject only to what the courts say. If we were to prevail in court, we would implement the rule."
The pressure on the PGA Tour might have subsided had Martin simply faded away on the Nike Tour this season. But the tall, slender golfer, who has played in 23 of that tour's 29 events this season, has survived despite missing the cut in nine of the season's first 15 events.
Martin, whose highest finish was second at the Omaha Classic in August, finished third in the New Mexico Classic Oct. 10 and won $18,563--enough to bump him to No. 12 on the money list.
A Nike Tour official said Martin could finish fifth or higher in this week's four-day, no-cut tournament and claim his PGA Tour card, regardless of how any player finishes. Martin also could finish in the top 30 in this tournament and still remain in the top 15 on the money list. If he doesn't earn his card via the Nike Tour, he could try at the PGA Tour Qualifying School later this fall.
It will be a challenge for Martin to play well on the Highland Oaks course here. The course has some steep lies around the greens and has some slight hills on the fairways. If Martin doesn't hit greens, he could be swinging from a hill, and that means putting pressure on his weak right leg.
"Courses like these are the most difficult for me," he said. "If the tee boxes are at an upslope, or if I'm hitting at an upslope, that's when my leg starts to hurt because there is more stress there."
Martin, a native of Eugene, Ore., said today his right leg is "not getting better. It's probably deteriorating a little bit." He was born with a disorder called Klippel-Trenauney-Weber, which affects the circulation of blood in his right leg. He wears protective stockings that keep his leg from swelling. Martin said he has fought to ride a cart on the tour because it helps the circulation in the tibia. He said when the blood doesn't circulate, the bone deteriorates, and he is at increased risk of suffering a broken leg, which could lead to amputation.
Martin said if his leg were amputated below the knee, he might be able to play with a prosthesis. He said if the leg were amputated above the knee, his career certainly would be over.
Last June, he went to Chicago for new treatment and missed five Nike Tour events. He said the treatment involved at least 100 shots of "chemical solutions" into his leg. The treatment helped him play "some of my best golf," but his condition has not improved overall. He said he may return to Chicago for more of the same treatment this winter.
Martin said he removes the stockings from his leg only when he showers, and within a minute it starts to swell. He then has to lie on the floor and elevate his leg to relieve the pressure. He said he could not continue to play professional golf if he had to walk courses.
Martin, who played golf collegiately with Tiger Woods at Stanford, just shakes his head when asked about his expectations regarding a continued court fight with the PGA Tour.
"I don't know what to expect," he said. "You know, we won the first time, so I guess it's advantage Martin, but I know it could be overturned in a heartbeat. I don't have enough grasp of the situation, and even my lawyers don't know what to think."
It's difficult to know what all of Martin's competitors think about Martin riding in a cart while they walk. Curt Byrum, who played on the PGA Tour for 15 years and now plays on the Nike Tour, said it's "50-50" among the Nike Tour players whether Martin should be allowed to use a cart.
"I've heard arguments both ways, but I'm going to be happy for him if he gets his card," Byrum said. "The guy is well-liked out here, he's a really good guy, and he's got game. It isn't like he can't play. He can hit it a mile. If he gets the card on Sunday he deserves it."