All eyes on Martin at US Open
There’s one recent tournament winner who will have all eyes on him at The Olympic Club next week during the 112th US Open.
No, not Tiger Woods, who knows even he’ll have to defer some of the spotlight to Casey Martin’s improbable return.
“Simply incredible. Ability, attitude and guts,” Woods tweeted about his former teammate at Stanford. “See you at Olympic, Casey.”
Martin, best known for fighting to use a golf cart in competition due to a leg condition, qualified for the Open on Monday. It will be his first go at a major event since 2006, when his focus turned to being the University of Oregon’s golf coach.
“I’m sitting here looking at a US Open Olympic hat the USGA sends me every year and I had it on my mantle in my home office, looking at it thinking, ‘Boy, that would be special,’” Casey’s father, King Martin, told The Daily. “The fact that it played out the way it did is pretty extraordinary.”
The conditions for a comeback couldn’t be better for Martin. He advanced from a solid performance at a local qualifier to the sectional, which happened to be at Emerald Valley Golf Club, one of Oregon’s home courses. Still, he seemed relaxed.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t care, but I don’t play golf,” Casey Martin told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve played maybe 15 rounds of golf this year. So to think I was going to qualify would be kind of a stretch. But then I got rolling and played well, drove it great, got some confidence and started making some putts.”
He cited this year’s course as a reason for the attempted comeback — it’s the site of the 1998 US Open in which he finished tied for 23rd.
“His memories of Olympic last time were so great,” King Martin said. “Knowing he was . . . not going to get that many more shots, he [decided] he’d take a swipe at it.”
The 40-year-old suffers from a defect in his right leg called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, in which blood circulation is restricted and causes him severe pain when he walks.
“He definitely has times where he’s struggling, but he can play,” King Martin said. “The rigors of five tournaments in a row and two weeks off aren’t possible for him.”
That’s what led Martin to sue the PGA Tour in 2001 to allow him to use a cart to get around courses. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled in his favor despite the Tour’s argument that a ride would give him a competitive advantage.
He’ll ride in a cart when play begins next Thursday.
“What he stands for [is] perseverance and not quitting and not taking no for an answer,” said Martin’s older brother Cameron. “So I think this will revive a little debate.”
Martin didn’t play for nine days before the qualifier. He was too busy coaching the Ducks to an NCAA men’s golf semifinal berth at Riviera Country Club.
Meanwhile, the day at Emerald Valley, where he played two rounds in the same day, wasn’t without drama. Martin had to wait out a two-hour rain delay, while an errant shot on the eighth hole of his second round went missing. As time was about to run out, forcing him to take a penalty, it was found underneath his cart.
Martin turned what could have been a disaster into a birdie, but he still had another challenge to overcome.
He chose to finish his round, despite near-darkness around 8:45 p.m. A par putt clinched his spot, helping avoid a playoff and defeating Daniel Miernicki, who coincidentally is one of his golfers at Oregon.
“He could have made the choice to stop. And in retrospect, I think he wishes he would have because it might have been wiser,” said Cameron Martin. “But on the other hand, thinking of going ahead, given how close he was to the lead, he didn’t want to go home and think about it all night.”
Don’t expect this appearance to force Martin to quit coaching and try to get back on to the PGA Tour.
“There’s a sense of unfinished business, but he’s not just driven at all costs to be back out there,” Martin’s father said. “I think if he had been, he wouldn’t have pursued coaching.”
“I don’t know what his avenue back would be, unless he went out and won the U.S. Open,” he added. “I laugh, but he’s always surprised me with what he’s done. It’s pretty extraordinary what his life has taken on, so who knows what plans exists out there?”