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Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2001

PGA Tour unwilling to bend rules

Supreme Court to make ultimate decision on Martin’s use of golf cart

January 17, 2001

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The PGA Tour today will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that walking is an integral part of the game. That is the essence of the Tour's case against Casey Martin.

If walking is so vital, then why were players at last week's Mercedes Championships given rides on two holes with hilly terrain?

Martin's people could not have asked for a better piece of evidence to introduce to the Supreme Court, which includes at least two justices who have made holes-in-one (Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens).

While the PGA Tour would argue that vehicles were used to speed play and that all players competed on equal terms, Martin's attorneys would counter by saying that if physical stamina is so essential to the sport, why bend the rules to make conditions easier?

Providing lifts to players is not uncommon at PGA Tour events to get them from one green to the next tee when a significant distance is involved.

But at the Mercedes event in Kapalua, Hawaii, players were given rides between shots on two holes.

"I think it takes away from a guy who's in good shape as opposed to someone who's not, like me," David Toms said of riding a cart up the steep hill on the fourth hole at Kapalua Plantation. "It puts that hill into play."

Obviously, the PGA Tour makes concessions to its rules to account for physical hardship. Yet the Tour has been unwilling to make accommodations for a person who, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, is protected against bias in jobs, housing and places that serve the public. The Tour is concerned, as it should be, about its ability as a sports organization to set the rules of its game.

But the problem with the PGA Tour's stance is its inflexibility. Two federal courts have already sided with Martin, granting him the right to use a cart because of the circulatory disorder in his right leg. The PGA Tour has appealed both times, with the Supreme Court now its last hope.

Sure, the Tour needs to be able to set its own rules. And sure, the Tour should be concerned about the floodgates that will open should the Supreme Court rule in Martin's favor. For instance, will a player with a bad back petition for a cart?

But this is something that could have been eliminated through compromise in 1998, when this case first went to court. And there should be compromise if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the PGA Tour.

Instead of ignoring special cases, the Tour would be better served to treat each one individually, just as it did in Hawaii, when it was determined that speed of play outweighed the importance of having the event won by survival of the fittest.

While a cart-riding player is not subject to the fatigue and other conditions that walkers encounter, Martin's disability dramatically swings the balance against him.

Because blood flow to his right leg is restricted, Martin has difficulty walking.

This is a case that Martin must win, or his professional career is virtually over. Even if allowed to ride a cart, he does not know how long he will be able to play because of his leg's brittle condition. In a full season on the PGA Tour in 2000, Martin finished 179th on the money list.

As for the PGA Tour, this is a case it cannot win, even if it wins unless it grants Martin an exemption.

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