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Stubborn PGA Tour ends up looking bad

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 31, 2001


In the case of Casey Martin, the first thing you need to know is this: All parties involved will survive.

No one is going to dump Casey out of his cart. Not John Paul Stevens. Not Tim Finchem. As far as the law of the land is concerned, Casey can charge up his battery and make that annoying beep-beep-beep backing-up sound all he wants. Presumably, he can run over Gary McCord's foot, if he wishes.

As for the PGA Tour, it's going to be just fine, too. No, it will not resemble a Shriners parade, with all the carts whizzing down the fairways, weaving in and out of patterns as they go. No, pit crews will not become mandatory. Dwarves will not apply to play center for your NBA team, and fat guys will not sue for the right to play cornerback.

Relax. Things are going to be just fine.

And shame on the PGA Tour for not realizing it all the time.

The situation should never have come to this. No matter whether you thought the PGA Tour was hard-hearted and evil in its enforcement of the rules or you would have personally wrestled Martin out of the cart, you have to be amazed that a compromise could not have been reached before this snit arrived at the office of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Can you imagine it? In the capital city of the most powerful nation on earth, the nine men and women charged with making laws and divining justice spent four months talking about ... golf. The same minds that months ago debated who should be president of this country were talking about ... carts.

What's next? Do Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas debate the balk rule? Does William Rehnquist argue pass-interference with Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Do David Souter and Stephen Breyer discuss icing? How much of Congress will be tied up in fair play during college recruiting? How much of the president's day should be spent deciding the current BCS rankings?

In other words, don't these guys have something better to do?

Like, maybe, run the country?

Blame the PGA Tour for that. Despite losing in lower courts, despite losing in the court of public opinion, the tour begged the Supremes to get involved. In a perfect world, the court would have refused to hear the case, and it would have forced the tour to find a compromise. It would have been easy enough for the tour to create a medical exemption for Martin and still close the door on the fear it would suddenly have dozens of cases of injured golfers who also wanted to ride.

Had the PGA Tour done that, it would have won the public relations battle it has lost yet again. It could have embraced Martin as the unique, inspiring story he is, the way, for instance, track and field has embraced blind runner Marla Runyon. It could have maintained rules that said anyone not named Casey Martin still had to walk. In other words, the tour could have arrived at the Supreme Court's ruling, and its interpretation of that ruling, on its own.

For the record, I'm of the dissenting view. Only a moron would argue that it's as hard to play golf using a cart as it is walking the course. If that were the case, who would ever rent a cart? Try walking 18 holes and tell me if you're as strong at the end as at the beginning. Then try to do it six days a week.

Fairness? Professional sports never has been about fairness. If it were, we all would have been born quarterbacks and left-handed pitchers. By its nature, professional sports has culled most of the population for one shortcoming or another, be it speed or size or strength or stamina. Yes, those attributes play a part in golf, too.

All that said, however, common sense is a big part of golf, too. The PGA Tour should not have let things go this far. Nothing was to be sacrificed by an exception. The tour should have shown compassion from the start, and it never would have been force fed. Having one guy in a cart was never the threat the tour believed it to be. Trying to enforce a rule against him caused far more damage than Martin's putter ever has. (You wonder: Had Tiger Woods been born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, would the tour really want to legislate against what he has brought to the game?)

For a very long time, the Martin debate has been one where common sense left the room. The tour should have realized long ago it could not win, and that it should not wish to. No one is going to feel more sympathy for a billion-dollar sport than for a kid with a birth defect. When most of us view the game from a cart, and we still call it golf, and when the senior tour views golf from a cart, and they call it golf, the population is never going to understand how important walking is to the game. Most people simply do not believe that if you put the golfers in carts, the results of the upcoming U.S. Open would differ much, if at all.

What happens now? There are those who worry about the ripples of the Supreme Court decision. Rocco Mediate has a bad back. Jose-Maria Olazabal has bad feet. Chris Patton has a large stomach. John Daly drinks a bit. Will each immediately seek a ticket to ride?

Finchem, the tour commissioner, says that isn't going to happen. He says, somewhat predictably, the Supreme Court decision was narrow enough to protect the rules. Translation: The PGA Tour's view is that before the case, Martin was a huge threat, but now that Martin has won, he's none at all.

Sure, eventually someone else will try to ride. Of course they will. A legal precedent has been set. Lawyers will race to court, and you can bet they'll be driving something faster than a golf cart.

Still, it seems simple enough for the tour to get a board of doctors to determine how badly an applicant needs a cart. If someone else out there has Martin's circulatory problems, then the tour should open its arms.

One cart isn't going to ruin professional golf. A second or third won't, either.

As for the lack of common sense? That's the real threat.

Recent coverage

Court: Golfer can use cart (May 30, 2001)

Government should be thrown out of the game (January 21, 2001)

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