Martin now has ticket to Open Disabled golfer wins spot with playoff birdie

June 09, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Casey Martin has faced greater odds than those he battled yesterday in trying to qualify for this year's U.S. Open.

But the 26-year-old golfer who has lived since birth with a degenerative circulatory condition in his right leg beat those odds again yesterday when he earned one of the five spots among the 69 players at Clovernook Country Club outside Cincinnati.

After finishing the 36-hole qualifier tied with five other players at 2-under-par 138, Martin made a 25-foot birdie putt on the second extra playoff hole of the sectional qualifier to secure the last spot. It gave Martin a place in the field in next week's U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

"I'm stunned," Martin said moments after the putt fell and some 200 spectators roared their approval. "I kind of wrote myself off [after a double-bogey on the 36th hole]. I was destroyed. For me to come through after that, I'm very grateful."

That Martin qualified while riding in a single-occupant scooter provided by the U.S. Golf Association didn't seem to bother many other players trying to qualify. Most of the PGA Tour pros know they are in a can't-win situation when talking about Martin's plight.

But Brandel Chamblee might have a better understanding after what he went through yesterday.

Chamblee, a 35-year-old journeyman trying to qualify for his third U.S. Open, broke the little toe on his right foot over the weekend after catching it on a piece of luggage. He finished yesterday's qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville at 1-under-par 143 and was one of 12 to play off for five spots last night.

"I hear there is no difference between a temporary disability and a permanent disability [in relation to the law]," Chamblee said before going out for the playoff.

"If I had asked for a cart today, I'd have felt as if I was doing something wrong," said Chamblee, who earned a spot in the playoff. "But if they offered me, I might have taken it."

Martin, who suffers from a condition known as Klippel-Trenauney-Weber syndrome, sued the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart while playing this year on the Nike Tour. The condition prevents the blood from circulating in his right leg and causes the leg to swell.

After a judge in Martin's hometown found in favor of the player, the USGA ruled last month that Martin could use a motorized scooter while trying to qualify for the Open. He will use the same mode of transportation at Olympic.

The USGA is planning a news conference with Martin a week from today.

"It's going to be the Casey Martin Open, at least early in the week," said Jim Lehman, whose Minneapolis law firm represents Martin.

Lehman, an accomplished amateur player and the brother of PGA Tour star Tom Lehman, said after failing himself to qualify for the Open at Woodmont that this might be Martin's only chance considering how quickly his condition is degenerating.

"Who knows how Casey will continue to play?" said Lehman. "At least he gets a chance to live out his dream."

While the PGA Tour is planning to appeal Judge Thomas Coffin's decision, many players who would have voted against the use of carts back in February find themselves rooting for Martin.

"I'm still against carts," said former Masters champion Larry Mize, who has since met Martin at a Christian golf outing in Nashville last month. "But my feeling about Casey is, 'Let the young man play.' It would be neat if he got into the Open."

Said tour veteran Dan Forsman, who failed to qualify at Woodmont: "It's a non-issue in my mind. Imagine all the people he will inspire if he plays in the U.S. Open. I hope he goes out and plays well. What a story it would be if he goes out there and wins it."

Pub Date: 6/09/98

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