Following years of preparation, a ground-breaking legal decision and two seasons of play on the Nike Tour, Casey Martin will make his debut as a member of the PGA Tour Wednesday in the Bob Hope Classic.
"I really haven't felt anything different yet," Martin said during a news conference at Bermuda Dunes Country Club, the tournament's host course. "It feels like a golf tournament."
Shortly after Martin tees off at Indian Wells Country Club at 10:04 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time), there will be a noticeable difference. Instead of walking toward his second shot, he will ride in a golf cart.
The 27-year-old Oregon native has Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, which restricts circulation in the lower part of his right leg. The condition, which Martin has had since birth, puts him in constant pain and makes it virtually impossible for him to walk 18 holes four consecutive days.
Filing suit under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Martin won a federal lawsuit in February 1998 allowing him to be exempt from the PGA Tour's ban on using carts in competition. The PGA Tour's appeal is before the Ninth Circuit Court and a decision is expected soon. If the tour's appeal is successful, it has said Martin would not be allowed to use a cart.
"Golf is about hitting the shots," Martin said. "I know deep down if I had the chance to walk the golf course, I would without question. I have walked before in my career. Walking five miles in five hours on a golf course is not a task to pat yourself on the back for."
Martin's condition is such that doctors have told him that the leg will probably have to be amputated some day.
While Martin's lawsuit against the PGA Tour has been criticized by other pros in the past, David Duval, the tournament's defending champion, said it is not a "big deal" that Martin is in the field.
"He earned his way out here," Duval said. "As far as the other stuff with the cart and the court, I have no say in the matter. I haven't thought about it. He's out here and it's no different seeing him out here than anybody else."
No player has criticized him directly, but Martin said there have been discrepancies between how some players deal with him personally and their public comments.
"The only thing that's frustrating to me is that I watch television and read their quotes and some of them aren't great. Then I see those players and they say, 'Hey, what's up? How are you doing? I'm so glad you're out here.'
"I'm kind of scratching my head. Not that's it wrong for them to say what they did, but I get a feeling of insincerity."
The Bob Hope will be Martin's third appearance on the PGA Tour. He used sponsor exemptions to enter two tournaments in 1998, missing the cut in the Greater Hartford Open and tying for 66th in the Quad City Classic. Martin also qualified for the 1998 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he tied for 23rd.
Martin had a solid rookie season in 1998 on the Nike Tour--which has since been renamed the Buy.Com Tour--winning the Lakeland Classic. He earned the right to play on the PGA Tour with a 14th-place finish on last year's Nike Tour money list (the top 15 finishers gain spots on the PGA Tour).
While purists will argue that walking is part of the game, Martin counters that taking a golf cart doesn't necessarily make things easier.
"You have to get under the ropes and you're slaloming in between people in the gallery darting out," Martin said. "Before you get to the ball, you're worn out sometimes having to get there. There were numerous times on the Nike Tour, I'd get to my ball, drop my head [and feel relieved] I didn't run over anybody. It's a stress, there's no doubt about it. I don't think people realize that or care to pay attention to that. I'm not complaining about it. It's something I have to deal with."