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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Martin Keeps Spikes Firmly on the Ground

March 06, 1998|THOMAS BONK

AUSTIN, Texas — So Casey Martin tackles the giant PGA Tour in court, hears Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus take a stance against him, beats the giant PGA Tour in court, takes about five weeks off because of the trial, becomes a full-blown media superstar and still manages to remain a down-to-earth, friendly, genuine article of a heroic symbol?

No matter whether you side with Martin in his cart-quest, there's no way you can dislike the 25-year-old from Oregon.

He is at once gracious, humble, funny and thoughtful. Martin, who is a Christian, said he isn't about to question why he has had to suffer with the painful circulatory ailment that may eventually lead to the amputation of his right leg below the knee.

"He's already treated me well beyond what I deserve," Martin said.

Besides being terrifically long off the tee, Martin's golf game may be helped by his approach. The way he looks at things, even under the scrutiny he has experienced, is impressive.

His agent, Chris Murray, got an invitation for Martin to meet Michael Jordan at a Chicago Bull game next week and had to tell Martin the news right in the middle of the fairway Thursday.

As Murray was continually surrounded by waves of reporters during Martin's round at the Nike Tour event in Austin, Martin started asking other reporters "What can he possibly be saying?"

Martin can hold his own when he's talking.

On abusing cart privileges: "So after my shot, I'm 150 yards ahead of everybody in my cart. . . . I'm not going to cruise up to the green and check the pin out and then drive back."

On his fan mail volume: "Thousands? No, millions . . . actually, hundreds."

On whether he's lonely riding in his cart: He pretends to cry.

On his fan and media gallery Thursday: "Well, I figure it's three people for every camera, so I don't know."

Murray says Martin has prompted broad interest because his story is unique.

"There are multiple passions involved," he said.

That's one stance that doesn't need to be decided in court.

DIRECT HIT

Martin always answers questions about Nicklaus very carefully since Nicklaus testified against Martin's position in the Cartgate case.

However, Martin slipped in a small dig at Nicklaus before the Nike Tour event in Austin at the Hills of Lakeway, which Nicklaus designed.

"I've played a lot of Jack Nicklaus courses and this one doesn't seem like a lot of Nicklaus courses. It's a lot better than most Nicklaus courses."

MORE CASEY

He hailed a cab at the Austin airport and told the driver he was in town to play the Nike Tour event. The driver asked him what he thought about the guy driving the cart.

"That's me," Martin said he told him. "Then the guy flips on the light and says, 'Oh, my God!' "

LAST CASEY

From Kirk Bohls in the Austin American-Statesman, in an open letter to Martin: "I saw your name in the headlines so often in February, I thought you were a Winter Olympic event."

A DALY REVIVAL?

You would almost have to say so, after John Daly's tie for fourth at the Nissan Open, where he played the last 32 holes on a tough Valencia Country Club Course in 11 under.

Not only was it Daly's best finish in a tournament since he won the British Open a mere three years ago, it also meant he closed out his West Coast swing by finishing under par in all seven events.

The last time Daly did anything like that was, well, never. In fact, when it did happen, he almost couldn't believe it.

"Everything is just clicking right now," Daly said.

Instead of chasing appearance fees abroad, Daly stayed home, played a lot of tournaments and even managed to improve. He turned down a reported $200,000 to play at Dubai and chose the Nissan Open instead.

And if his game is getting into shape, Daly's personal life remains in order since his stay last spring at the Betty Ford Clinic. Daly, who said he has been sober since, continues to battle alcoholism.

He said he carries a message of abstinence with him out on the golf course: "That's why I'm still alive."

Said Daly: "I have a chance to live a happy, joyful life. I've never given myself a chance for that before."

Daly keeps his hair short so he can fit it underneath his Callaway cap, which is part of his endorsement deal. But it's the gold pin on his shirt collar that Daly feels most comfortable with. It's an angel.

HEAVE-HO

You might have noticed that Tom Lehman used a sand wedge and then a driver for his putter on the last couple of holes Sunday at the Nissan Open. That's because he chucked his putter into a lake at No. 16 after three-putting a fourth time for bogey.

Lehman, who shot a final-round 74, was not remorseful.

"It deserved a watery death," he said.

NO YOU AREN'T

From Tiger Woods, sorry someone didn't understand a word he said: "My bad."

WORK OR NO WORK?

Fred Couples can't figure it. He plays so little his clubs get cobwebs and he wins the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

After playing the Buick Invitational, he takes two more weeks off before entering the Nissan Open and finishes in a tie for 65th.

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