Viewpoint

Casey Martin’s Triumph

The disabled golfer’s legal win was good for the game, too.

by Mary Webb

here’s an old adage that says: Winners never cheat and cheaters never win.

Reality check: Casey Martin – the golfer who filed suit to use a golf cart on the Professional Golfers Association tour – is no cheater. In more ways than one, he could never stoop so low.

Martin, whose suit was based on a rare circulatory disorder and on his withered right leg, was opposed by the PGA hierarchy, but his effort was upheld last week in a federal court.

And who can blame Martin for going full speed ahead, pursuing something that brings him a little joy, something his condition will inevitably bring to an end at some point?

The PGA said it understood Martin’s dilemma but contended that riding in a cart gave Martin an advantage and removed the fundamentals of athleticism and stamina that walking gives the game at its highest levels.

Yeah, right. I say Martin’s determination represented the purest form of athleticism and stamina there is. That’s what coaches ask of players–to give it all you’ve got, sticking it out until the end. Unfortunately, for Martin that meant turning to the law for a judgment.

How did a great American pastime, played among the birds, trees, and plush greens, wind up in a dark, solemn oak chamber in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin? It took that course because PGA officials were supported by golfers like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who at some point must have remembered the Master’s and U.S. Opens they struggled to win despite the scorching heat.

Surely Palmer and Nicklaus could not have forgotten the rush they must have felt the first time they reached above their heads, came down with a perfect stroke, and heard the satisfying whack of the club against the ball.

But can they know what it’s like to have this feeling and then to realize that your passion and participation in this sport will be cut short because of a degenerative disease that makes walking itself painful, even dangerous? No one who hasn’t walked – or limped – a mile in Martin’s shoes should be so eager to condemn him.

There are golfers, of course, who know firsthand the anguish Martin must have felt. Paul Azinger’s golf career was put on hold for more than a year while he underwent chemotherapy for cancer. As he noted during the trial (testifying, ironically enough, for the PGA position), a golf cart might have allowed him to keep on playing during his treatment. And Azinger pointed to other golfers like Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Hogan, and Bill Glasson, all of whom experienced injuries that threatened to hinder or cut short their careers.

Martin should not be blamed, nor should he have to experience jealousy, because he was the first player to fight for his right to play golf under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The law is meant to apply to all of the physically challenged, to all those who are not accommodated by the status quo. But, for it to do so, it is required that someone take up the banner and see things through.

Martin, who has already used a cart for a recent win on the tour, has now, with his legal triumph, accomplished more than a cartful of PGA titles could ever mean. He has scored a major victory for those with more plaguing disabilities than he has, those less fortunate than himself. And, as was said by Curtis Person Jr., the Memphis state senator whose late father was a legendary U.S. senior amateur champion, “This doesn’t take anything away from the game of golf, nor does it change the game of golf.”

It’s possible that the only cheaters in this case were those who fought so hard to keep Casey Martin from playing the game and could not see the honor he brought to the ranks of PGA golfers just by wanting to join them.

He’s a pretty good advertisement for a game that has only recently started to receive its just due. n

(Mary Webb is a graduate student at the University of Memphis.)


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