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Return of Casey Martin to U.S. Open will be storyline to watch

The reverberations from what Tiger Woodsdid Sunday on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio are still being felt throughout the golf world, but there’s an even better comeback story coming to the Olympic Club in San Francisco next week.

It’s the story of Casey Martin.

The name is barely remembered by golf fans, let alone sports fans. It was 14 years ago that Martin, a former teammate of Woods at Stanford, fought the USGA to allow him to use a golf cart in order to qualify for its national championship.

When Martin qualified for the PGA Tour three years later, he took his case to court, where a legend named Arnold Palmer said that while he admired Martin’s tenacity, allowing the then 29-year-old a golf cart would give him a competitive advantage.

Attorneys for Martin, who suffered from a degenerative circulatory condition that prevented proper blood flow from his heart to his right leg, won their case.

Not only did Martin qualify for the 1998 Open, he made the cut the next week at Olympic and finished tied for 23rd. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Martin using a cart, until I saw him drag his damaged leg up a small hill to the first green after getting out of his cart. I began to quietly root for Martin.

I will be rooting for Martin again next week at Olympic when the now 40-year-old University of Oregon golf coach will be playing again in the Open. He shot a pair of 69s at a sectional qualifier Monday to earn a spot.

There are any number of good stories to come out of the various qualifiers around the country Monday in what the Golf Channel bills as “the longest day in golf.” One of my favorites was discovering an unknown named Bubba Watson at the 2004 sectional qualifier at Woodmont in Rockville.  

This year has its share of heartwarming stories who will make their way to Olympic next week.

But few will get the attention that Martin undoubtably will receive when he arrives. I remember him to be a pretty low-key type, but even he won’t be able to fend off the number of reporters and TV folks asking him for a moment of his time.

The buzz next week will be mostly about Woods, and deservedly so. It will also be about defending champion Rory McIlroy and what has contributed to him missing the cut at his past three events. It might also be focused on Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1 ranked player, trying to finally win his first major.

The most inspiring story, though, belongs to a 40-year-old college coach with a bum leg and a big heart. I will be watching – and rooting even harder than I did 14 years ago.   

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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