Martin's ride on tour not without its bumps Decision: Following court ruling and lucrative endorsements, Nike Tour player must still deal with a crippling leg ailment.

May 14, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GLEN ALLEN, Va. -- There is a part of Casey Martin who wouldn't mind going back to his life of relative obscurity, the golfer with a hard-to-pronounce condition that affects the circulation in his right leg and a hard-to-figure future that could come to a quick and painful conclusion at any time.

And there is a part of Martin who enjoys the attention he has received since beating the PGA Tour in court in February, a landmark decision that now allows the 25-year-old to ride in a cart while his competitors on the Nike Tour walk.

"In a way, the PGA Tour put me on the map," Martin said here Tuesday while preparing for this week's Nike Dominion Open, which begins today at the Dominion Club.

He now has contracts from Nike, Ping and Naya water. He recently did an instructional piece for Golf Digest and will become a contributing editor to a magazine for people with disabilities. He is also currently working on a book to tell his inspirational story, the one Martin hopes will lead to the PGA Tour next season.

Toward that end, Martin is currently seventh in earnings on the Nike Tour and needs to finish in the top 15 to avoid going back to qualifying school in the fall. But much of his $53,643 in earnings came from the $40,000 he received for winning the season-opening Lakeland Classic in January.

"I've been playing OK, but I haven't played as well since I won in Lakeland," said Martin, who has finished no higher than a tie for 13th and has missed the cut three times in six ensuing tournaments. "Sometimes I feel as if I'm trying too hard."

It is understandable considering how much his life has changed in the past three months.

There have been the distractions that grew out of his court case, which was resolved by a judge in Martin's hometown of Eugene, Ore. It led to a media circus at the Greater Austin Open, the Nike Tour's first event after the decision in Martin's favor.

There is also the reality that Martin's condition -- a birth defect known as Klippel-Trenauney-Weber syndrome, which causes blood to build up in his leg and wear away the tibia bone -- has worsened as a result of playing four straight weeks.

"I wanted to see if I could do it," Martin said of his playing schedule. "After three straight weeks, I'm tired and my leg isn't feeling great."

Steve Burdick, who has caddied for Martin since Austin, has seen his former Stanford teammate wear down in recent weeks.

"In college, it was quite a different ballgame," said Burdick. "Most people don't realize how hard it is for him. He can't stand out there for two or three hours after a round hitting balls. I think it affects his distance control the most."

Martin plans to play at a Nike Tour event in Knoxville next week, then take a week off before playing in a tournament in Concord, Ohio and trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. To Martin's surprise, the U.S. Golf Association recently said it would allow him to use a single-rider cart.

"They probably would have taken a lot of heat if they didn't," he said.

His battle with the PGA Tour isn't over. The tour has appealed the decision of judge Thomas Coffin.

"That's disappointing," he said. "The court of public opinion has spoken and the courts have spoken. That's enough. They have the right to appeal. Hopefully, I'll win again."

He has turned down a number of sponsor's exemptions into regular PGA Tour events, partly because he doesn't want to play at the next level until he is ready and partly because he doesn't want to lose his position among the top 15 on the Nike Tour.

At an outing sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Nashville two weeks ago, Martin received a substantial appearance fee. "He's getting more than guys on the PGA Tour who have won majors in the past," said Chris Murray, Martin's Minneapolis-based agent.

More importantly, Martin also received something else: words of encouragement from former Masters champion Larry Mize. He said he has also been supported by fellow Oregonian Peter Jacobsen. "Both Larry and Peter have told me that I would be welcome out there," said Martin.

In many ways, Martin's rookie year on the Nike Tour is not unlike what another former Stanford teammate, Tiger Woods, experienced on the PGA Tour last year. He has heard that other players have privately sniped at the attention and endorsements he has received.

And then there is the issue of Martin riding while they're walking.

"I know I'm tired after a round," said Martin, who wears a strong support stocking to keep some circulation in the leg. "A lot of people who say I have an advantage don't have any problems."

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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