Updated: June 12, 2012, 9:46 PM ET

For Casey Martin, it's been quite a ride

Harig By Bob Harig
Defying The Odds
Casey Martin has defied all the doubters by qualifying for the US Open, all while dealing with a circulatory defect in his lower right leg.
SAN FRANCISCO -- As the reports trickled in from the sectional qualifier last week that Casey Martin was on the verge of qualifying for the U.S. Open, you'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone rooting against the University of Oregon golf coach.

Those who have followed his story back to its beginning in 1997 are fully aware that a birth defect makes it very painful for him to walk and realize that a golf cart was hardly going to even the playing field for Martin. And they realize that his fight to use the cart in competition has not come close to altering the game in any meaningful way.

[+] EnlargeCasey Martin
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesCasey Martin got in a practice round Monday at the Olympic Club, site of the 2012 U.S. Open. Martin will likely play a practice round with Tiger Woods before the tournament begins Thursday.

But a good part of that is due to Martin himself. He's a good guy, a fighter, and an excellent golfer. He handled the attention and backlash that came with his lawsuit against the PGA Tour with grace. People watched him play -- and some saw his swollen, shriveled lower leg and pronounced limp -- and realized that this guy deserved what he was asking for.

Of course, it was impossible to know all of that when Martin first emerged and attempted to go through the PGA Tour's Qualifying Tournament. Golf purists were outraged. Walking is an integral part of the game, they argued quite reasonably. Martin was granted an injunction to ride in competition, but the PGA Tour fought two lower-court victories for Martin, with the case going to the Supreme Court.

In retrospect, the tour had obvious concerns about the game being altered if the ruling went a certain way. And in retrospect, the tour doesn't look too good. It took a major public relations hit because it solicited golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to testify against Martin.

"Someone else along the line will use this, I promise you," Nicklaus said at the time. "It will happen. There will be another mess someplace.''

To be fair, Nicklaus became a fan of Martin's, just like to many others in the game who were fighting for an ideal but not realizing the person they were going up against specifically was never going to gain an advantage by riding a cart.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange was among those who sided with the tour back then. He came around after getting to know Martin.

"He didn't break his leg in football,'' Strange said of Martin, who suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a rare circulatory disorder that restricts the flow of blood. "He didn't sprain his leg during a tournament and ask for a cart. He was born with this disability.''

And that is what Martin believed all along, that he would be a rare case. He wasn't asking for a cart because his back hurt or he tired easily. He wanted one because he knew he could play golf at a high level, but walking was too debilitating. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Martin's favor in 2001.

"Given the way the opinion was written, I must say that I'm pleased," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the time. "Casey's [part] is finished, and yet we still have a reasonably good chance to maintain the sport as we know it. … Hopefully, the way this opinion is written, we can have our cake and eat it, too.''

Martin's attorney, Roy Reardon, agreed with Finchem that the ruling would not favor golfers with ailments who simply want to ride a cart in competition. But, Reardon said, there will be individual instances, especially in golf.

"For everyone who applies for an exemption, that person will have to prove disability and what that person wants to use, in Casey's case a cart, will be a reasonable accommodation. And that it won't fundamentally alter the game," Reardon said.

That appears to be the case. Erik Compton, who has had two heart transplants, is the only player of note who has asked for and been granted use of a cart, and he did so for just six months in 2008 -- not long after his heart transplant procedure.

According to PGA Tour vice president Ty Votaw, not more than a handful of people have applied to use a cart, all at various qualifying levels.

The last time Martin played in the U.S. Open at Olympic, he was just trying to find his way as a golfer. Things have changed a good bit since then. He never did stick on the PGA Tour, and played his last tournament on the Nationwide Tour in 2006 before becoming a golf coach.

Now, basically on a whim, he decided to try to qualify and get back to the place where he played his only U.S. Open 14 years ago. And he made it, with the golf world cheering for him.

And his words from after the trial victory have meaning today.

"I hope five to 10 years from now, if I'm still able to play golf, the PGA will lean back and scratch their heads and say, 'Why did we fight this guy?'" Martin said.

West Coast weather

When you enjoy the kind of weather on display at the Olympic Club -- and look at the tournament forecast and see no rain is predicted -- it makes you wonder why the two governing bodies of major championships in the United States do not come this way more often.

The United Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, is in California for the third time in five years starting with Torrey Pines in San Diego in 2008 and Pebble Beach in 2010. But the U.S. Open will not return west until 2015 when it is played at Chambers Bay, near Tacoma, Wash. And it goes back to Pebble Beach in 2019.

The PGA of America is a bit more mystifying. It seems willing to put up with 100-degree heat in Tulsa, Okla., a steam bath this summer at Kiawah Island and numerous East and Midwest venues that bring humidity and thunderstorms into play.

The PGA of America does not have a West Coast venue scheduled. After this year, it goes to Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., followed by Valhalla (Louisville), Whistling Straits (Wisconsin), Baltusrol (New Jersey), Quail Hollow (Charlotte) and Bellerive (St. Louis). The last time the PGA went west was to the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee in Washington.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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