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COMMENTARY: Casey Martin’s remarkable road to the U.S. Open

by Admin on June 10, 2012

Casey Martin was allowed to use a cart during the 2012 U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Oregon. (Copyright USGA/Steve Gibbons)

By John Ziegler

Thanks to the fact that over a third of the field comes from open qualifying, the U.S. Open is famous for remarkable “Cinderella” stories. But this year, when the Open returns to The Olympic Club in San Francisco, there is one account in particular that may be more incredible than an actual fairy tale.

Imagine if there was a 40-year-old “pro” that hadn’t actually played competitive golf for several years and who went through both stages of qualifying in order to make the field. That would be pretty amazing, but it wouldn’t even be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the unbelievable narrative to which I refer.

You would have to add that this person didn’t even play any golf at all for the nine days before the final stage of qualifying because he was coaching a college team in the NCAA Championship. The fact that he would make a 5-foot putt to beat out one of his own players for the last spot would represent a mere footnote in his implausible story.

But wait, this exercise isn’t nearly complete. First, you need to understand that this golfer is severely handicapped with a birth defect that many experts thought would not allow him to still have both his legs at this age. Even still, his afflicted leg is badly withered and he can barely walk.

Click here to check out starting times for the first two rounds of the 2012 U.S. Open

Now add to this human drama the fact that this condition forced the player to fight legally for his right to use a golf cart during tournament play and that the battle resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling (one which, for the record, I disagreed with on purely legal grounds).

Martin plays a shot on the 17th hole at Emerald Valley on his way to qualifying for the U.S. Open. (Copyright USGA/Steve Gibbons)

Just for good measure, include into the mix the reality that this Open will only be this player’s second major championship and that his first was played on the very same course fourteen years ago. Oh, and by the way, he played the course frequently when he went to college at nearby Stanford. And one of his teammates was Tiger Woods.

The golfer of which I speak, of course, is Casey Martin. In an age where nearly every good story gets over-hyped to the point of absurdity, the Martin tale is simply impossible to overrate. One of the most remarkable aspects of it may be that, at least to this point, the media has actually kind of underplayed it a bit.

The notion that Casey Martin is playing in the 2012 U.S. Open is just simply impossible to comprehend in a rational world. In an era where thousands of highly skilled and able-bodied men who make a full-time living at the game attempt to make the Open through qualifying, the concept that Martin would be one of the 58 to actually make it is statistically ridiculous.

It has become a cliché, but it is true that even the movie department at Disney would pass on this script for being too unrealistic. But thankfully for golf, it is all very true and may not have reached its climax yet.

Martin is interviewed by Golf Channel's Steve Burkowski following his qualifying bid. (Copyright USGA/Steve Gibbons)

My favorite part of the story (so far) is that when Martin was going through the online process to apply for the tournament he came to the part where, thanks largely to his famous court battle, contestants are asked if they plan on using a golf cart in the competition. After he clicked “yes,” he was then asked to go through an arduous process of providing paperwork to prove that he was indeed medically eligible for the cart privilege, which was roughly the equivalent of the President of the United States being forced to go through an airport security pat down.

Martin decided to call the USGA to see if, given his lengthy history in this area, he really had to go through all of the red tape. The USGA wisely told him to go ahead and just ignore that section. After all, they had a pretty good idea that he wasn’t making it all up.

Logic dictates that, even with his familiarity with The Olympic Club, Martin has no shot to contend at the Open. Of course, reason would have also demanded that he had no chance to even get to the tournament. Here’s to hoping that rationality continues to take a holiday when it comes to the play of Casey Martin.

John Ziegler is a scratch golfer who has won four club championships and played in two USGA Mid-Ams. He is currently a member at Spanish Hills Country Club in Camarillo, California. He can be reached at talktozig@aol.com.

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