August 12, 2010

My Shot: Casey Martin

Age 35 / Men's golf coach / University of Oregon

Casey Martin, photographed Dec. 18, 2007, in Eugene, Ore., sued the tour to use a cart when Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome kept blood vessels in his right leg from working properly.

Casey Martin, photographed Dec. 18, 2007, in Eugene, Ore., sued the tour to use a cart when Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome kept blood vessels in his right leg from working properly.

The leg. Well, the time is coming when it's going to reach that point where amputation isn't that far off. If they were only going to take it below the knee, I probably would've had it done already. But it's going to be above the knee, and there are a lot of potential complications with the vascular stuff. I've read an awful lot about the guys coming back from Iraq who have lost limbs, and in general they do so well that it looks tempting. The doggone thing hurts worse than ever most of the time, and if they did amputate, the pain would eventually go away. The problem is, it's still my leg. Even though it's a lousy leg no 100-year-old man would want, I'm attached to it.

• • •

The biggest stress of 2000 wasn't in the courtroom, or talking to the media, feeling the occasional bad vibe from people, worrying about my leg, or trying to keep my game together. It was dealing with the cart. Inching my way through crowds, looking for a place to get out and duck under the ropes, driving ahead and waiting for the other players to catch up -- that was stressful. I found the logistics of riding in that environment to be very difficult, especially when there were 20,000 people out there. I never did find the knack for concentrating or getting into a rhythm, and I'm not sure it was even possible. Walking is the best way to play this game.

• • •

There are two keys to success in a career. One is to really love what you're doing. I had that when I played the Hooters Tour, then the Nationwide Tour and then the PGA Tour for a year. The other thing you need is to be really good at it. I mean, if someone really loves the subject of law but absolutely sucks at being a lawyer, he isn't going to be as happy as he could be. Let's face it, I wasn't quite good enough. Not at that level. It was time to move on.

• • •

Most pro golfers dreamed of playing the tour from the time they were little. But until I got to college, I always wanted to be a brain surgeon. I was a 4.0 student and pretty nerdy. After one semester at Stanford, I knew the brain-surgeon thing wasn't going to happen. Being on the golf team, combined with even the basic courses at Stanford being darned difficult, combined with me being self-diagnosed ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder], blew that plan right out of the water. I was very glad I had golf to fall back on.

• • •

When the court case became a political issue, the politicians who lined up behind me were virtually all Democrats, with the exception of Bob Dole. Democrats obviously are more outspoken for the disabled and the little guy in society, so there was no surprise there. What caught me off guard a little was that when the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in my favor, the two dissenters were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are the fellows who generally uphold things that moralists and Christians care about. I'm conservative and Christian, and I misread those guys completely.

• • •

Shortly after Jack Nicklaus testified against me, I played a practice round with his son, Gary. We were friends and had played a lot together. Gary said, "Just so you know, the tour put a lot of pressure on my dad to testify, and I don't think he felt real great about doing it." I thought, Well, OK. But when I had some physical problems a year later, Jack phoned me. He wanted to know how I was doing and asked if he could do anything for me.

• • •

On the Hooters and Nationwide tours I'd meet the occasional veteran player who was pretty jaded about golf. Guys who had devoted their life to the game but who felt success had eluded them, unfairly. A couple of them were downright bitter, which was very hard for me to understand. They might not have reached all their goals, but how many of us do? They got to travel, meet extraordinary people, had their health and were not exactly living hand to mouth. They had options, and they were, after all, playing a game for a living. I knew that no matter where you go, you'll find happy, optimistic people and unhappy ones. I just thought it was peculiar to find any unhappy person in golf.

I started thinking of becoming a college golf coach when I was playing the Hooters Tour. We're drawn to areas where we had good experiences, right? I'm only 35, but college to this point was my favorite time in life. Being on that golf team at Stanford and winning a national championship, watching Tiger play when he came in as a freshman, getting to know Notah Begay and so many other exceptional guys -- I was drawn by the opportunity to re-create that for someone else and relive pieces of it in the process.

• • •

You have to feel for a guy like Phil Mickelson. In college, he was the guy. He was almost unbelievably good, and we all knew -- heck, he knew -- he was destined to be the man who challenged Jack Nicklaus' records. Then Tiger shows up, and there goes Phil's shot at immortality. I think there's a little tragedy in that. Phil and the other guys, Tiger has stolen their thunder and ripped their hearts out. He's in their heads, and he works it.

• • •

A lot of junior golfers today have gurus, attend golf academies, see sport psychologists and play an unbelievable schedule of tournaments. My gut reaction is that it might be a bit too much. I'm not as drawn to recruiting these cookie-cutter kids as I might be, because they've already bought into some method of how to play. I look for kids who are do-it-yourselfers, players who have had success figuring it out for themselves. To play good golf, you have to have a clear mind. The cookie-cutters don't have that. Their heads are congested with swing mechanics, and they haven't learned how to improvise or adjust. I don't think you can reach your potential playing golf that way.

• • •

By the time I was about 13, the pain in my leg would sometimes be profound. I had to find a way to deal with it mentally. I discovered that if I immersed myself in an activity so completely that I was almost hypnotized, I'd forget I was in pain. I'd hit balls for hours, or play the piano for so long I'd lose track of time, or I'd read something so good that it made me concentrate. I always dreaded night and going to bed, because when I relax my mind, the pain comes to the forefront. But if I can be busy or get immersed in an activity, it's a blessing. Obsession is good. It not only made me forget the pain, it helped make me a good golfer and a decent piano player.

• • •

What killed me as a pro wasn't just my leg. It was my putter. I never was better than average, and in an effort to improve I tried every style of putting I could think of. Bernhard Langer. Belly. Claw. Split-handed and cross-handed. Over the years I actually got worse. But there was one style I hadn't tried, and that was the long putter. That's what I use now, and I'm better than I ever was. Once in a while I have this impulse to give pro golf another go. But the leg erases those thoughts pretty fast.

• • •

Haven't gotten married; haven't come remotely close. I'm looking, but it's tough and getting tougher. The tour was no place to find a girl, and now that I'm back home I feel too old for the 20-year-olds, and the girls my age are already spoken for. I'm in no-man's land. My friends suggest I start looking on the Internet, but I can't make myself go down that road.

• • •

Here's another reason I'm single: I'm a big believer in Bigfoot. I've probably read as much about them as anybody alive, and, living here in Oregon where some of them live, I've had access to some pretty amazing evidence, including some first-person stuff from people whose honesty I would never question. The brother of a close friend of mine saw Bigfoot while hiking once -- a nine-foot ape, walking upright like a man. We'll find him within the next 10 years, and when it happens, I'll be there.

• • •

One week in 2000 I missed the cut at Bay Hill. I was hanging around practicing, and I see Mickelson hitting flop shots. I walk over to watch, and he's doing things that aren't human. I mean, he's taking a full swing on a 40-foot chip and sucking the ball back past the spot where it landed. He's holing shots left and right. If you think Phil is impressive on the golf course, you should watch him practice. It's getting almost depressing, so I go over to the range to say hi to Tiger. He's out there hitting his 260-yard stinger, and then he switches to a wedge and starts banging 125-yard shots off the flagstick, hooking one, then fading one, then hitting them high and low. I really was about at the top of my game at the time, and this took me down a peg. I limped over to my courtesy car very slowly that day.

• • •

Another reality check came when Tiger joined our team at Stanford. You hear all these stories about Tiger practicing hour after hour until his hands were blistered, but they aren't true. Tiger would come out, hit balls for 20 minutes, chip and putt for 20 minutes, then head to the weight room for a couple of hours. He was a maniac in the gym. His practice was hardly legendary, but he was miles better than the rest of us. Why? Because he is unbelievably, outrageously, ridiculously talented. You can't teach talent and certainly can't acquire it, not like that guy.

• • •

The first thing I told my team when I took over at Oregon was, "You might do well in tournaments, but you'll never beat me." I wanted to give them something to shoot for. I think I went undefeated the whole year, and last fall I really laid it on. I talked some serious trash to a freshman from Hawaii, Sean Maekawa. "You will never, ever beat me," I said. The time we played, he pummeled me. I was secretly very happy but also a little sad. Pros don't like being beaten by amateurs.

• • •

I love poker -- small-time stuff, $2 and $4. A friend of mine had the brilliant idea of representing the more famous players, and today he's become the Mark McCormack of poker agents. You'd be surprised how those guys do with endorsements. My neighbor, who played golf at Oregon, makes his living playing poker online. One of his buddies, who played the Golden State Tour, also played online and asked if he could stay in my guest room. For the year that he was there he hardly left the house. He played all afternoon, got something to eat, then played until 4 in the morning. He played eight tables at a time -- two computers, four screens going on each. Today, two years later, he's one of the best in the world, making a million dollars a year.

• • •

When we go to heaven, we will all be whole. We'll all have perfect bodies, physical ones. I don't know if there will be golf -- the Bible sort of hints against it -- but no way will there be golf carts.