The cabdriver was excited when he learned that the fare he had
just picked up at Robert Muellar Airport would be teeing it up
in the Nike tour's Greater Austin Open later in the week. "Hey,
what do you think of the guy in the cart?" the cabbie asked. The
passenger grinned. "That's me," he answered brightly. The driver
turned, saw Casey Martin in the backseat and let out a low, "Oh,
The guy in the cart. Is that all there is for Martin? He has
beaten the PGA Tour in court, but can he beat Tour players on
Two things became apparent after Martin, 25, entered the Austin
city limits to play for the first time since winning his
landmark case, which gives him the right to ride a cart in
competition, against the Tour. First, he's famous. Facing a
standing-room-only pretournament news conference, Martin said,
"I'm dealing with the kind of media attention only select
players in the world face, and I'm not a select player yet. It's
like the world is watching to see if I'm really any good."
Second, he has enough game to be successful on the PGA Tour.
Despite finishing 16th at the Hills Country Club, eight strokes
behind winner Michael Allen, Martin was impressive at times,
especially during the first two rounds, a pair of 69s. He's a
surprisingly big hitter (Martin ranks 11th on the Nike tour in
driving distance with a 279-yard average) and a terrific putter
(28th on the tour). That's a combination any PGA Tour player
would take to the bank.
If Martin, who won the season-opening Nike Lakeland Classic,
wins two more Nike events this season, he will be immediately
promoted to the big Tour. If he doesn't, he can earn an
exemption for '99 by finishing among the top 15 money winners on
the Nike tour. He is currently first in earnings with $43,532.
Because of his celebrity and the avalanche of endorsements that
have come his way--he's now under contract with Nike, Spalding,
Ping and Hartford Life--Martin is just one of the guys on the
Nike tour the way Michael Jordan was just one of the guys with
the Birmingham Barons. Regular guys don't have schedules like
this: Martin's up at 4:30 on Monday morning in Austin, which is
2:30 according to his California dreamin' body clock, to go
forehead-to-forehead with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show. Martin
spends the remainder of the day with Stone Phillips at nearby
Barton Creek Country Club, playing golf and being interviewed
for Dateline. That night it's dinner with some suits from
Hartford Life to discuss his latest endorsement deal. On Tuesday
he plays an early practice round, then submits to a mass
interrogation by about 180 journalists, up slightly from the 27
who were credentialed for this event a year ago. "This is a
zoo," Martin says. Later he plays in a four-hole celebrity
event. On Wednesday morning Martin plays in the regular pro-am
and that afternoon has a photo shoot with ESPN and a session
with the Golf Channel. "I'm pretty sure I've got a golf
tournament on Thursday," Martin jokes, "but I can't remember."
In his gallery last week was a man with a prosthetic leg and
several fans driving single-rider carts. Nine-year-old Kern
Loest of Fort Worth was also there. He suffers from
Klippel-Trenauney-Weber syndrome, the same circulatory disorder
Martin has, and watched the tournament from the shoulders of his
father, Craig. Martin gave Kern an autographed cap and T-shirt,
and signed the boy's protective stocking. "Kern clipped
newspaper articles about Casey, took them to school and said to
his buddies, 'This is what I've got,'" said Craig Loest.
Martin takes his responsibility as a representative of the
disabled seriously. "It's like I'm standing for something far
greater than just myself," he says, "and that's flattering."
The biggest question concerning Martin is, How long will he
last? Clearly, he is vulnerable, and one misstep could cost him
his leg. Last week he weathered two potentially dangerous
incidents, both on the 18th hole at the Hills. On Friday, after
blocking his tee shot into a hazard, Martin jumped across a
three-foot-wide stream to to get to his ball. On the way back he
landed hard enough on his withered right leg to let out a yelp
of pain. "If I do something stupid, like slip or twist my leg,
that's definitely trouble," Martin says.
On Saturday, Martin's approach shot stopped in the gallery to
the right of the green. Someone tried to move a Golf Channel
cart that was in the way, not realizing it was in reverse gear.
The cart jumped backward, plowing hard into a volunteer, and
stopped within a foot of a shaken Martin. "That was scary," he
says. Imagine, Casey Martin done in by a cart.
Equally incongruous was the prospect of Martin's taking the
advice of his caddie, former Stanford roommate Steve Burdick, on
Sunday morning, when temperatures in the 40s combined with
40-mph winds to create a windchill factor in the low 20s.
Burdick suggested that, to stay warm, Martin should ditch his
cart and walk. Martin considered that option before choosing the
safer, albeit colder, path and riding. He shot 78, not a
terrible score under the conditions. Mainly, he was happy to
finish. "It's a relief to get this one out of the way," he said.
"Hopefully things will die down now."
Maybe, but he'll still be the guy. The guy in the cart. "I'd
like to be perceived as a good golfer and a good person," Martin
said, "but I'm afraid I'm always going to be labeled as the guy
in the cart. So be it."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL [Cameramen filming Casey Martin]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE Martin has been offered exemptions for PGA Tour events but wants to prove himself on the Nike tour first. [Casey Martin driving golf cart]
"It's a relief to get this one out of the way," Martin says.
"Hopefully things will die down now."