GOLFER Casey Martin hopes to hit PGA Tour after winning court ruling

Wednesday, May 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) _ The Supreme Court's ruling that Casey Martin has the right to ride a cart in PGA Tour events ends a lengthy legal battle for the disabled golfer, but his ability to earn a spot on the tour still remains a question.

Martin has struggled mightily this season on the Tour _ essentially golf's minor league that allows players to use carts. He ranks 115th, with a 34th-place tie his best showing.

``I've missed four out of eight cuts and made $5,000 this year, so if there's an advantage, I'd like to know where it is,'' he said Tuesday after the ruling.

The court victory ended a 3 1/2-year battle between the PGA and Martin, who was born with a degenerative condition in his right leg that makes it nearly impossible for him to walk an 18-hole course.

Martin has to prove himself on the Tour to become a regular on the PGA Tour, where he played last year but finished 179th on the money list. And he doesn't know how long his decimated leg will allow him to stay competitive.

``It would be my wish, my prayer, that I would start playing great and I could look at this time and see a change in the way my golf game goes, but I don't think there is any guarantee that that is going to happen,'' he said.

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the PGA Tour had to accommodate Martin's condition under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Accommodating Martin with a golf cart will not fundamentally change the game of golf, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.

``What it can be said to do, on the other hand, is to allow Martin the chance to qualify for and compete in the athletic events (the PGA Tour) offers to those members of the public who have the skill and desire to enter,'' Stevens wrote.

While the ruling was a setback for the tour, which had been appealing the case since Martin won at the federal level in Oregon in 1998, commissioner Tim Finchem said he was pleased that the high court indicated Martin's situation was unique, and that the ruling may not apply to other disabled athletes.

``While we are happy for Casey Martin today, we are also happy that we got this straightened out, and it appears to be in a way that will allow us to maintain walking as part of golf at the professional championship level,'' Finchem said.

The PGA Tour had maintained all along that walking was an integral part of the game, and that it had the right to set its own rules. While Martin is liked by virtually everyone on tour, many golfers still think Tuesday's ruling doesn't bode well for the game and its tradition.

Hal Sutton, a golfer who also is a member of the tour's policy board, said many pros have bad backs and might now apply to use a cart. Sutton himself has had back problems.

``In Casey's particular case, there's no doubt about his disability,'' Sutton said before a practice round for this week's Memorial Tournament. ``This is not about Casey Martin. It's about the possibilities it opens up. The next person's disabilities _ it might not be as clear.''

Martin, 28, has Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a disorder that causes his veins to rupture and fill the cavities around his tibia with blood. He may eventually face amputation.

Until 1997, when he sued the PGA Tour, Martin's most notable accomplishment was being a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford. But Martin had talent in his own right, and his 1998 court victory sparked a series of strong performances.

He qualified for the U.S. Open and tied for 23rd, better than defending champion Ernie Els. He earned his PGA Tour card the next season by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, the's predecessor.

But he struggled at golf's highest level, missing the cut in 15 of 29 events last year. In December, on the final day of a qualifying tournament, Martin finished one stroke short of retaining his PGA Tour card.

His agent said Martin will ask for sponsor's exemptions at a handful of PGA Tour events this year.

``Just to have the weight off my shoulders is great,'' Martin said. ``Hopefully, that'll carry over to the golf course and I'll start playing a little better.''