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Cart Controversy - Again - Plagues Martin
After suing the PGA Tour in 2001 - and winning the case - over his right to ride a golf cart in tournaments, Casey Martin is again in the news over a similar situation.
Thinking he'd received prior approval to ride a cart during a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at El Camino Country Club in Oceanside, Calif., the current University of Oregon men's golf coach drove around the course until being stopped at the fifth or sixth hole. Martin was told by the United States Golf Association - which oversees the tournament - that he was not qualified to use a cart because he was a spectator.
Martin believed that tournament chairman Matt Pawlak had given him prior permission to use the cart. Martin, a former teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford, suffers a debilitating birth defect in his right leg called Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome, which prevents him from walking. When he sued the PGA Tour 12 years ago, he was awarded a victory under the Americans with Disabilities Act and was allowed to use a golf cart for Tour events.
Being informed by Pawlak that he couldn't drive at the qualifier shocked the 41-year-old Martin. "It was brutal, the worst experience of my golfing career," Martin told USA Today Sports on Tuesday. "The long story short: I'm living my life, doing my job, and it sucked to have that taken away. I felt like I got on the bus and they ordered me to the back or even to get off. It felt horrible."
Martin tried to plead his latest case to Pawlak, who's also the assistant director of rules, competition and course rating for the Southern California Golf Association. "I said, 'Man, I went to the Supreme Court, and I know what my rights are. Do they know my story?' " Martin said. "And he said, 'Yes, they know.'
"I said, 'Let me ride this.' He apologized, but said he couldn't. I said, 'I know I can use this cart, but if not, can you or someone take me around?' He said, 'We can take you to a point on the course and drop you. We can't cart you around.' "
The USGA heard about the controversy and later issued an apology to Martin. In a statement, the USGA said, "The unfortunate situation at the U.S. Junior qualifier stems from a misunderstanding over the USGA Cart Policy at our championship events. We regret that this misunderstanding may have caused Casey an inconvenience, but it certainly was unintentional.
"We have extended to Casey accommodations that we offer all disabled spectators at our championships. Despite this unfortunate situation, we continue to admire what Casey has been able to accomplish in the game as both a player and a coach."
The Southern California Golf Association later issued its own statement Tuesday night. "We are sorry for the confusion caused by our misunderstanding of how to apply the USGA's policy," the statement read.
"We alerted Mr. Martin as soon as we were notified by the USGA that we were not properly enforcing their policy. We then attempted to accommodate Mr. Martin in every way available within the guidelines of the USGA policy, but he declined assistance."