Casey Martin

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Cart Blanch: Over PGA protests, Martin will be allowed to ride the links

Why we chose him: Because of the two words with which PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem woke Martin at 7:25 A.M. Oregon time: "You prevailed." Because Martin's legal fight to ride a cart in PGA Tour events brought lawyers to the very core of sport — the concept of the "level playing field." And because, having persuaded the highest court in the land to force the PGA to allow him to compete in a motorized cart other pro golfers aren't allowed to use, all under the letter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Martin still managed to deny the existence of any larger issue whatsoever.

Martin, as you probably know by now, is afflicted with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative disorder than causes his veins to rupture and fill the cavities around his tibia with blood. He may eventually face amputation. In the meantime he wants to play on the PGA Tour, his way. And never mind the principle of the thing.

"I don't see disabled athletes overtaking professional sports as we know it," Martin said, helpfully pointing out that cart or no cart, he's not exactly poised to scoot to the top of the average PGA leaderboard as it is. Playing on the minor-league tour, Martin hasn't been up to par. "I've missed four out of eight cuts and made $5,000 this year," he said Tuesday, "so if there's an advantage, I'd like to know where it is."

Golfers who envision a host of "disabled" golfers — bad hip, bad back, asthma — queuing up for their own motorized crutches, not to mention other disabled athletes, see the Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling somewhat more broadly. (Jack Nicklaus is just plain annoyed: Learning that the justices had ruled that walking was not an integral part of the game, the living legend growled, "I think we ought to take them all out and play golf… I think they'd change their minds. I promise you, it's fundamental.")

But for now, the Tour, after reading the very careful majority opinion written by avid golfer Justice John Paul Stevens (presumably, at his age, a riding man), is with the 28-year-old in the cart: This is about Casey Martin, and only Casey Martin.

So what about Casey Martin? Until he first sued the Tour in 1997, Martin's claim to fame was being a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford. But after a federal court in Oregon in 1998 gave him the right to ride pending word from the high court, Martin went on something of a tear, qualifying for the U.S. Open in 1998 and tying for 23rd. He earned his PGA Tour card the next season, but hardly dominated at golf's highest level, finishing the 2000 season 179th on the money list and missing the cut in 15 of 29 events. In December, on the final day of a qualifying tournament, Martin finished one stroke short and lost his Tour card. Now back in the minors, Martin stands 115th.

Woods, not only the greatest golfer in the world but pretty much the sport's designated Moses, may have been more than just politically and diplomatically correct when he handed down his own opinion of his old roommate's off-the-course victory.

"I'm extremely happy for Casey. To see Casey now go out there and play with peace and quiet and not having this over his head will be beneficial for him." On the other hand, said Woods, "you would think we'd be able to govern our own sport…Sometimes it just doesn't work out that way."

Martin' agent says his client will ask for sponsor's exemptions (meaning he won't have to qualify) at a handful of PGA Tour events this year — presumably supposing that Martin can be sold as a crowd-drawing curiosity for how he plays golf, if not for how well.

Martin himself says he hopes the end of his battle in the courts will lead to a personal renaissance on the fairway. But as for changing the world, or even the world of golf, Martin doesn't seem to want the extra pressure. He knows the game — and his own game — all too well for that, and he'll settle for just playing well enough to make some of this fooferaw seem worthwhile.

"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."