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Dan Patrick: Ride on, Casey Martin

Bilas: Martin's case won't open floodgates

Supreme Court: Martin has right to use cart on tour

Casey Martin chronology

Wednesday, May 30, 2001
Golf's for athletes – sorry
By Jim Murray
Special to

This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 5, 1998.

OK, if they let Casey Martin play in golf tournaments in a cart, first of all, they have to let every player ride one.

You see, being able to ride is an incalculable advantage. The whole point of golf is being able to concentrate. Your ability to concentrate wanes the more tired you get. Anyone who thinks fatigue doesn't enter into golf doesn't know golf. Period.

Not muscle fatigue, mental fatigue.

The fourth major golf tournament, the PGA Championship, used to be match play. What you had to do was play 18 holes in the morning, then 18 in the afternoon, as many as six 18-hole matches with a 36-hole final.

You had to be an athlete to do that. As the rules-makers intended.

Perhaps you noticed in the recent tournament at Pebble Beach, Tom Lehman shot a 64 and was quick to acknowledge his 64 was in large part due to the fact he fashioned it playing 18 holes over two days, nine holes a day.

In 1953, Ben Hogan, still hobbled from a near-fatal accident four years before, had won three majors -- the U.S. Open, British Open and the Masters. He could have achieved the only Grand Slam (all four majors in one year) in the history of golf had he been able to ride in a PGA. No one even considered allowing it.

I applaud society's tendencies to make life easier for those of us who are handicapped. I cheer for street-corner ramps, special sections for wheelchairs at sporting events, Braille on elevator buttons and so on.

And I agree golf has to obey the laws of the land. Who called more attention to the infamous "Caucasians Only" clause in the PGA charter than I did?

But I draw the line at the court's right to make playing rules for the game. I have long since resented the lawyers' intrusions in the games people play.

Congress didn't invent the game of golf and it has no business dictating how it should be played. The law should rule on the laws of the land, not the infield-fly rule. Or the out-of-bounds rule.

Let's take a ludicrous example. I admit, it's ludicrous but it's illustrative. Suppose I yearn for a big-league baseball career. But I couldn't hit the curveball. Should I go get a lawyer to file suit, get an injunction against the pitchers throwing me a curveball? Say it interferes with my right to make a living.

Preposterous, I know. But don't bet me some lawyer isn't scratching his chin today and thinking, "Hmm?" Let me ask you: As my colleague Mike Downey has pointed out, shouldn't they have changed the rules and outlawed the bunt when the one-legged pitcher Monty Stratton took the mound? The only humane thing to do, right? But how would, say, a Maury Wills get on base?

They had a one-armed outfielder (Pete Gray) once (during World War II). But they didn't get a rule saying runners could not cop another base on him while he was changing the ball from glove to throwing hand. Some shyster with a slow day might have found a way to get his name in all the papers by filing suit on his behalf. No one takes a base because the right fielder is handicapped?

The fields of play, unfortunately, are for the fit. Infirmities block a lot of us from taking part in the games we love. Inferior eyesight, insufficient speed, poor center of gravity, too raw a nervous system.

You level the field socially, not physically. It was Jimmy Connors, the tennis player, who once sneered at golf, "How can it be a sport when nobody runs?" Well, how can it be a sport when nobody even walks?

In 1964, Ken Venturi won the U.S. Open, playing the last 36 holes on a day when the heat was so unbearable he played the last nine holes with a worried doctor trailing behind. He finished near delirium, dehydrated, hallucinatory, exhausted. But he won his Open.

Now, would it have been fair for him to have been overtaken on that last day by a golfer playing in a canvas-covered cart with maybe a fan on the steering column?

The rules require that a man be able to walk the five miles or so on a sometimes hilly course, week after week, round after round and have the stamina and strength to fend off fatigue for at least 18 holes and score. Only a handful of the millions of golfers the world over can do it at the professional level.

Walking is an integral part of the game. Golf is not bridge, poker, fishing. The center of golf is concentrating. Physical effort chips away at your ability to do that. I'll give you one personal example: I used to walk 36 holes a day covering a golf Open, 18 in the morning, 18 in the afternoon. Until one year at Winged Foot, I came back to the press room too exhausted to concentrate properly. I wrote a lousy column and I never walked a course like that again. I rode.

The Americans With Disabilities Act is meant to give the disabled an opportunity. It's not meant to give them an advantage.

If it is, it's unconstitutional.

This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Jim Murray, the longtime sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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