Despite leg problem, Casey Martin returns to the U.S. Open

Casey Martin was a picture of courage at the 1998 U.S. Open where he played all four rounds out of a cart, a controversial move that was decided by the courts, because a circulatory disorder in his lower right leg made it impossible for him to walk 18 holes.

Now thanks to a superb qualifying performance in cool and rainy conditions in Creswell, Ore., the 40-year-old Martin returns to the U.S. Open at the very same venue – the Olympic Club in San Francisco – as where the 1998 championship was conducted.

Martin, the head golf coach at Oregon, fired two rounds of 69 Monday at Emerald Valley Golf Resort to finish as medalist and win one of two available berths in the Open. He finished in almost total darkness by sinking a 5-foot par putt on his last hole.

Martin, whose affliction is known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, went to court in order to win the right to use a cart in the Open under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He went on to tie for 23rd in 1998.

He later sued the PGA Tour and won, and used a cart in his years of competing on the tour and the Nike (now Nationwide) Tour before he retired from professional tournament competition in 2006 to take the Oregon job.

He told reporters after his round that he felt having to use a cart in the Open is now a non-issue.

“That’s already kind of been there, done that,” he said. “If there is (controversy), there is. I think there is going to be a lot of tension, but not controversy.”

Martin said he hadn’t competed in a tournament in five years. He said he might have played 15 rounds in the last year.

“I just don’t play any more,” he said.

Another disadvantage was that Martin was exhausted from having led the Ducks to the semifinals of the NCAA Championships at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles and had a quick rest day before the Open qualifier.

One fellow competitor happy to see him return to the Open was Tiger Woods, his former teammate at Stanford.

“Just incredible,” Woods tweeted. “Ability, attitude and guts. See you at Olympic, Casey.”

--Joe Juliano