PORTLAND, Ore. -- Golfing royalty surrounds Casey Martin at the Fred Meyer Challenge. There are two legends, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. There are others who have won majors, like Fred Couples and Craig Stadler.
|On May 29th, the Supreme Court ruled that Martin be allowed to use a golf cart during tournament play.|
Martin, on the other hand, has one win -- against the PGA Tour. When I spoke to him, Martin said he knew he was invited because he rides in a cart and won a court ruling. The tour has to pay for his legal fees. So if that money were factored in, Martin joked, he would be one of Buy.com's leading money winners.
His galleries are just as big and receptive as those for Nicklaus and Palmer. Unlike other golfers, Martin doesn't need to do anything well on the golf course, or to win a PGA Tour event, to get a positive reaction.
Watching Martin play, one is drawn to his leg. It's not difficult to differentiate between his good leg and his bad leg because the limp seems a little more pronounced. He went directly home after Monday's first round and admitted his leg is more painful than ever before.
After he waited three years for a court decision, Martin is now awaiting another decision. He said he needs to decide whether or not to have his leg amputated. He can either make the decision on his own, or -- if he continues to play golf -- the decision could be made for him. Either way, he is beginning to discuss amputation more seriously and what it may mean for his golf game and the rest of his life.
People with prostheses make a point of coming up to Martin and saying they are still able to play golf. The way he swings, Martin said, he doesn't use his legs, keeping them as quiet as possible. But he still appreciates the people who show him their artificial limbs and say, "I'm with you. I understand it. If you do this, you will have a lot of company."
At the same time, Martin said he doesn't want to be a sympathetic figure or a sideshow. It seems Martin would rather have no one show up to cheer for him when he isn't playing well than to have a lot of people show up to cheer for him because he rides a cart.
He wants to be viewed as a golfer. Don't be fixated on his leg, his plight or his future, he said. Martin wants to applauded if he hits the ball within birdie range, not just on the green. But people applaud no matter what he does. They think it's incredible he can even play. Just playing isn't enough for Martin -- he wants to play great golf.
He has never had an interview focused solely on golf. Martin knows the questions about his leg will come. To his credit, Martin doesn't hit automatic pilot answering the same questions. He gives an honest response and tells you what he feels at the moment. He will say if his leg is bothering him more or less.
Besides, Martin said, his golf game isn't good enough to talk about on its own. He longs for the day when the discussion will center on his golf, but he knows he needs to play better. Even though the leg will always hinder him, Martin is still one of the longer hitters. But that's not enough.
For years Martin said he thought he could play better if he could concentrate on golf and no longer worry about the court case. But once the court decision was rendered, he realized how tough the game is. His legal fees are being paid, and he is getting invited to great events like the Fred Meyer Challenge. But as Martin knows, golf is a humbling game.
People might forget about his leg if he wins a PGA Tour event. But if he won, they may also say, "Wow, what an incredible story of the handicapped golfer winning an event." Unfortunately, no matter what he does, Martin may never be a great enough golfer to outrun the attention on his leg.