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Out Of His Hands

Martin on Verge of Earning PGA Tour Card, but His Future Hinges on Court Ruling on Cart Issue--and Whether His Leg Holds Up

October 01, 1999|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For most players in golf's top feeder system, the formula is simple:

1. Finish among the top 15 on the Nike Tour money list to earn an exemption onto the PGA Tour.

2. Begin trading shots in January with Tiger Woods, David Duval, Justin Leonard and all the rest of the game's top stars.

But for Casey Martin, he of the painfully withered right leg and winner of a landmark ruling against the PGA Tour that allows him to ride a cart, it's not that simple.

"I am not in control," Martin said this week after polishing off a lunch of cheeseburger, fries and a soda at Moreno Valley Ranch Golf Club, where on Thursday he shot a three-under-par 69 Thursday in the opening round of the Inland Empire Open, five strokes off the lead. "It's out of my hands."

That's because even if he can overcome the debilitating discomfort in his leg to earn his PGA Tour card--he stands 14th on the Nike money list, with two events to play after this weekend--Martin may never actually play on the big tour.

His court case is being reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is expected to rule sometime before next May, perhaps as early as next month.

If the court rules against Martin, he also will lose the injunction that has allowed him to ride a cart in competition for the last two years, although he can file for an extension.

Since walking is not an option for Martin, who suffers from a congenital circulatory disorder known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a ruling against him could sideline him not only from the PGA Tour but the Nike Tour too.

"I haven't thought about it that much," said Martin, who probably will appeal to the Supreme Court if he loses, "but now that it's coming down, I think it would be pretty ironic if I got my card and then got a negative ruling. That would be tough to swallow."

For Martin, it would probably be even more painful than the hundreds of chemical injections he endured this summer from Chicago physician Brian McDonagh, who specializes in an ultrasound-guided therapy and believed so strongly that it would help Martin that he wrote the golfer after Martin's condition was made public.

Martin sought the radical treatment, which seeks to cause malfunctioning veins to self-destruct and stop the flow of damaging blood, because the pain in his leg had intensified.

"It was not an enjoyable experience," he said of the procedure, which he sat through, uncomfortably, during two visits to Chicago in July. "It would not be anyone's idea of a good time."

What's worse, it didn't help.

But even as Martin's leg continued to deteriorate--the specter of amputation hangs over him--his game began to flourish, pushing him as high as 11th on the Nike Tour money list.

Starting with the Dakota Dunes Open in early August, he had three top-10 finishes in four events, accumulating more than half of his yearly earnings of $101,527.

"There might have been some mental things going on there," he said, trying to explain his resurgence. "I know that when my leg was feeling poorly this summer, I was scheduled to play a few events that I didn't want to play. I was hurting, I wanted to go home.

"But I decided to play, and that might have loosened me up. I might have taken some pressure off myself. I was more relaxed mentally, not expecting much, and I played really well."

Oddly enough, his leg hasn't been hurting as much in recent weeks, but his game has slipped.

"It has actually felt pretty good, so I'm grateful for that," he said. "But it's funny: Even though my leg has felt better, I've played poorly. I almost want it to hurt again so I can play well. Figure that one out."

Martin can't.

"I've played some of my best golf when my leg has been hurting really badly," said Martin, who takes four Advil every morning to help him make it through the day and another four each night to help him sleep. "But there have been other times when I felt great and played poorly. There's really no rhyme or reason when I play well and when I don't."

He finished 37th two weeks ago at Boise, Idaho, then missed the cut last week at Junction City, Ore., not far from his home in Eugene.

"I haven't been on top of my game," he said. "I hit it well this summer for a stretch, but I kind of started to lose it the last couple of weeks. I didn't hit it very well."

And now he needs to finish strong to earn his PGA Tour card. Craig Kanada, 16th on the money list, trails Martin by only $1,273, and five others are within $10,000.

"Time is running out," said Martin, who figures he needs to boost his earnings to about $130,000 to finish among the top 15. "This is certainly crunch time. I'm there right now, but at the same time I'd like to be farther along. It's going to be a dogfight, no doubt about that. But I started the year poorly, so to be in this position, I'm ecstatic."

He knows what's required.

"I need to become more consistent," said Martin, who has missed the cut in 11 of 21 events. "One week I'm all-world and the next week I can't find the fairway. . . .

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