Casey at the cart Disabled golfer: PGA should waive rule for Martin, pained by rare circulatory condition.

January 26, 1998

THE LONGEST field goal ever made in the National Football League is 63 yards. The record has stood 28 years. It was set by a Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints, who had half a right foot and wore a special, square-toed cleat to protect it. No other kicker wore a similar shoe. We bring up this bit of trivia not as one final commercial break from the Super Bowl, but to contrast the enlightenment of the NFL a quarter-century ago with the position taken by the folks who run today's Professional Golfers' Association Tour.

Casey Martin, a former Stanford teammate of Tiger Woods', has a rare circulatory disorder, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome. The congenital condition can result in oversized extremities and painful varicose veins. Mr. Martin has trouble walking all 18 holes of a golf course without severe swelling in his right leg and foot.

As a college player, he was allowed by rule to ride in a golf cart, as are pros on the senior tour. But the PGA forbids players on its regular tour from using carts. The 25-year-old Mr. Martin asked for a waiver, citing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The PGA denied him. It reasoned that a cart allowed him an advantage over competitors who must walk, regardless of fatigue. The case goes to federal court in Oregon one week from today. Mr. Martin received temporary approval to use a cart in a recent Florida tournament, which he won.

Few might pay this matter much attention if it merely involved the insular world of golf. But the Martin controversy raises broader questions. The PGA should allow him to use a cart for the reasons that led Congress to create the disabilities law, whether or not this unusual case applies. The young athlete's obstacle is not "fatigue," because that can be "cured" by better conditioning. Mr. Martin's problem is lifelong and, as yet, without an easy remedy.

We've often heard the pros describe golf as "80 percent mental." If so, then why in this case does it suddenly become "80 percent walking." The PGA appears so fixated on an impossibly "perfect" level field that it has missed the more critical standard: Anyone qualified should receive a reasonable chance to compete.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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