by | Jan 18, 2001 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MAYBE CASEY Martin will trip on something and his leg will just snap, and the doctors will amputate it — as they say they might have to — and then golf’s nasty little problem will go away.

But unless that happens in the next few months, the showdown of Compassion vs. Control will be decided by the highest court in the land.

That’s right, our Supreme Court has gone from chads to five-irons. The justices sat in their austere chambers Wednesday — where the presidency was decided a month ago — and debated whether a golfer with a near-crippling blood disorder in his leg should be allowed to use a cart.

When you step back and consider it — I mean, this is the Supreme Court — you have to shake your head. How did Casey Martin wind up before Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas?

Here’s how. Hardened hearts. Hearts that think honoring a game’s tradition is more important than honoring a human being. I’m sorry, but it’s that simple, and you can cry about your rules till they close down the pitch ‘n’ putt.

When a person looks at the nightly pain that a Casey Martin endures, the threat of a crippled future he faces every day, the courage and talent it took just to rise to the level he’s at — which is still the lowest rung of the PGA Tour — when a person looks at that, and still says, “Too bad, we can’t let him ride from hole to hole, because that’s not how we do things,” well, sorry, but that’s picking a piece of paper over flesh and blood, hubris over humanity.

And that’s hard-hearted.

Sport’s rules not the question

Now, I’m no Supreme Court justice, but I can break this case down. Martin, 28, has a degenerative birth defect that makes walking long distances painful and at times nearly impossible. As an amateur, he used a cart to go from hole to hole. A few years ago, when he got to the pro level, he sought to do the same. He was denied.

Facing the loss of his career, Martin ultimately sued, claiming he was entitled to a cart under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

A district court agreed with him.

The PGA Tour appealed.

The Appeals Court agreed with him.

The PGA Tour appealed.

Thus it went to the Supreme Court Wednesday, where each side had 30 minutes to make its case. The PGA Tour argued golf is not subject to the Disabilities Act, it’s a sport, it’s our sport, we make the rules, and the rules say “no cart.”

Martin’s lawyer argued that Casey still has to make his shots, same as everyone else. He said walking from hole to hole is not fundamental to the game.

“All that proves is that you could play golf under different rules,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “All sports rules are silly rules, aren’t they?”

Of course they are. But the fact is, once you start arguing sports rules in court, this case is likely lost. It’s the wrong question.

Here are the right questions….

PGA Tour just blew it

Question: Has Martin’s cart “advantage” propelled him to the top of the golf world? No. Martin didn’t even qualify for the PGA Tour this year, and to date has won just one pro event in his career.

Question: Has Martin’s cart usage opened a floodgate of other golfers suing to get an edge? Not hardly.

Question: Has anyone proved that walking the course is a hardship to a player’s game? And has anyone proved that riding it — and thus losing a
“feel” for the course — is not a detriment? Nope and nope.

Question: Does Martin work just as hard as the others, while suffering a pain on and off the course that they could not even imagine? Yes.

Question: Is Martin far more of an inspiration to the game than he is a detraction? Absolutely.

These are the proper questions in the Casey Martin case. They were not asked Wednesday, and for good reason: They would have been inappropriate before the Supreme Court.

Where they would have been appropriate is where this thing should have been decided all along: in the offices of the PGA Tour, where, if they had a lick of sense, they could have recognized that Martin is not a repeating act, that he is truly one in a million, a guy with that much of a handicap who can be good enough to even try for a tour card.

They could have recognized that bending over to help a handicapped athlete only makes them taller in stature.

They could have said, “Look, we can hide behind the rule book, but ours is a gentlemen’s game, so we’ll take the high road and enable a superb talent to pursue his dream despite enormous odds. If there’s another case like this to follow, we’ll evaluate that one on its own merits, because that is what gentlemen do.”

Instead, the PGA took the stubborn route, acting as if it was preserving something sacred — when in fact it was crushing something far more significant: the hopes of any handicapped children who might have been looking at Martin and saying, “If he can make it, so can I.”

Let’s face it. Once you get to the Supreme Court, you are supposed to be arguing the law. The fact that Wednesday was a legal debate is not shameful.

What’s shameful is that it got there at all.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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