Casey Martin, who championed rights of golfers with disabilities, fights to save leg
EUGENE, Ore. — Golf often has been described as a good walk spoiled, usually by those without a sweet swing like Casey Martin’s.
The Eugene native has experienced great joy during a lifetime of golf, whether it was winning a state title at South Eugene High, winning an NCAA championship at Stanford, where he also would play alongside Tiger Woods, making the PGA Tour, competing in the U.S. Open or coaching the Oregon men’s team to its 2016 national title on the Eugene Country Club course Martin grew up playing.
It's always been the walking that spoiled the fun.
Martin has suffered from a debilitating condition called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome since birth.
That’s the reason Martin successfully sued the PGA Tour, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, for the right to use a cart when he played in events. Following the ruling, Connecticut’s PGA Tour event, then the Canon Greater Hartford Open, welcomed Martin with a sponsor’s exemption. He arrived two weeks after finishing in a tie for 23rd at the U.S. Open, but failed to make the cut after rounds of 71 and 73 at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
“I knew this day was coming,” Martin said, “and it's here.”
Nightmare becomes reality: Martin always feared one misstep on a fairway could lead to the amputation of his weak leg.
The nightmare became a reality when he fractured his right tibia in October after misjudging a step onto his street, which was under construction, while retrieving the garbage can from the curb.
“This was the reason,” Martin said of his famous lawsuit, in which the Supreme Court ruled in his favor with a 7-2 decision. “I remember when I was in my 20s talking to doctors that had looked at my leg, they were like, ‘Look, you need to really guard against this happening.’
“I was grateful that I was able to hold it off for a long time. I thought it would happen at 27 not 47. But it has happened. I'm just going to do everything in my power to save my leg.“
Martin was perhaps more adaptable to the social isolation and shuttering in the coronavirus battle after being bedridden for a month following the accident.
“I feel like I've been in quarantine for six months,“ Martin quipped.
Assistant coach Brad Lanning guided the Ducks through the remainder of the fall schedule.
He did manage to return: Even though Martin’s leg has not mended, he returned to campus on crutches and accompanied the Ducks to tournaments in Hawaii and California before the NCAA canceled the spring season due to the ongoing pandemic.
“It was frustrating, but I did the best I could,“ Martin said. “Brad’s been awesome. He did so much of the work and really freed me up to just kind of do what I can do physically. So I’m very grateful for that. The department’s been great. They’ve given me a lot of leeway and support.
“Now with the season ending, I mean, if ever you’re going to have this happen, I guess this was the year to have it happen for me.”
Oregon a strong program: In 2017, Oregon followed up its national title by winning the Pac-12 men’s golf championship outright for the first time since 1959 and then finishing as the runner-up at the NCAA championships.
Martin, who earned national coach of the year honors, has helped develop Aaron Wise, Wyndham Clark and Norman Xiong into promising young professional players.
Before the COVID-19 cancellations, Oregon was scheduled to host the annual Duck Invitational last week.
The current players will have to wait until 2021 to atone for the program's rare NCAA Tournament miss under Martin in 2019.
“We had a bunch of struggles this year, just learning and trying to quiet our minds and just play golf,” Martin said. “I think the guys felt a lot of pressure to keep things going and not be the team that had things slip a bit. We were trying to deal with some of those mental issues, but we were making headway.
“We had our home tournament here that we could have really made some noise in. We were very bummed to hear the news, but understanding why, obviously.“
Fracture not healing: Martin still hasn’t been able to take a step without crutches. The congenital circulatory disorder is preventing the fracture from healing.
Walking relatively pain free with a prosthetic is something Martin has thought about, but amputation could be a perilous procedure in his case.
“If I lose my leg, it would be an above-the-knee deal, and it’s pretty risky for my situation anyway,“ Martin said. “It’s something that I’ve recognized could happen, but I would really rather not, if I could save it, because of the risks.“
Will try brace: Martin will travel to Washington in the coming weeks to get fitted for an ExoSym brace. The expensive carbon-fiber leg support, which is not covered by insurance, could help redirect the weight to allow for the fracture to finally heal.
“Hopefully, it can give me some relief, but it’s certainly been a big struggle,“ Martin said. “It was the most pain I’ve ever dealt with in my leg. That’s why I took a golf cart, because of this fear.“