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WHAT'S YOUR HANDICAP?
June 1, 2001

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

I'm a golfer. My handicap is twenty (thanks to an incurable slice and a non-existent short game). Casey Martin's handicap is a bum leg.

Does anyone else see the irony in a Supreme Court case involving a handicapped person and a sport where one's handicap is the uniform measuring stick for success?

 
 

Just about everyone I have spoken to about this issue has an opinion. The general consensus is "Good for Casey Martin". I agree, good for Casey Martin.

After that, the waters get a little muddy. On the surface, forcing the PGA Tour to change its rules - for any reason - doesn't seem right. On the surface, one man using a golf cart while everyone else walks doesn't seem right.

Scratch the surface, and you'll find Casey Martin. He is the exception. The PGA Tour should have treated him as one. One simple line buried in the tour's rulebook could have put this issue to rest in 1997.

RULE 104257, SECTION XIXV, PARAGRAPH FOUR: If you demonstrate exceptional golfing ability, have the talent and patience to qualify for the PGA Tour AND you suffer from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, you will have the opportunity to ride a golf cart between shots during tournament play.

I can't see what the PGA Tour hoped to gain by taking this case to the Supreme Court. They had to know that it would be a public relations nightmare. They should have known that setting this kind of precedence was dangerous for golf and all sports.

What's next? Greg Chalmers disqualified himself from the Kemper Open last weekend, and forfeited a $95,000 paycheck. He told a competing player's caddie what club he used after a bad shot. That's against the rules. (FYI, it's also illegal after a good shot).

If you ask me, that rule reeks of Constitutional violations. First Amendment lawyers would have a field day arguing the freedom of speech implications of such a rule.

There's a reason why there are no umpires or referees running around the golf course looking for rules infractions. The golfers police themselves. If Casey Martin thought for a minute that riding a cart gave him an unfair advantage, I have to believe he would disqualify himself.

* * * * *

I've walked golf courses pulling my bag on a handcart. I've walked golf courses using a caddy.

And, boy have I walked golf courses driving in a motorized cart. I don't know about your game, but you put two twenty handicappers in a golf cart and there's a good chance even Richard Simmons would be fatigued by the time he reached the eighteenth green.

Hogan's Law #1: The "CART PATH ONLY" rule is always in effect on the hottest days of the year.

Hogan's Law #2: A golf ball will always travel in the opposite direction of the cart path.

It's very distracting to be the designated cart driver. I'm driving down the cart path and I approach my drive and I see my cart partner's ball is twenty yards farther down the fairway. Do I stop at my ball? Do I drive up to his and walk back? Do I try to split the difference?

I usually split the difference. Now, I still have a forty-yard walk to get to my ball. I can see the 150-yard marker across the fairway. I line up the ball with the marker and the green, use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate my distance, choose the appropriate club and head to my ball.

Naturally, there is a sprinkler head right next to my ball marking the correct distance. I'm off by twelve yards. I have the wrong club. A quick look over my shoulder reveals the next foursome is already on the tee. Anxiety sets in as I sprint back to the cart, grab the club I need then sprint back to my ball.

Breathing heavily and sweating like a racehorse, with no time for a practice swing, I take a swat at the ball. You can guess the results are not good, but the ball goes far enough up the fairway to get out of the way of the group behind me.

As I walk the sixty or so yards to my ball, I realize my cart partner hit a great shot while I was completing my wind sprints and has proceeded to the green. I hightail it up to the cart path, sprint back to the cart and "speed" up to my ball.

Still in a hurry, three guys waiting for me on the green, four guys launching golf balls at me from the tee behind, I skull my next shot into a green side bunker. Back to the cart. I finally reach the "parking area" behind the green. Let's see, I'll need a sand wedge, a pitching wedge in case I leave it in the tall grass between the green and the bunker, and, EUREKA, my putter!

After a great bunker shot (that's all it really takes for a twenty handicapper - one great shot per hole), I mark my ball and approach my cart partner. "Did you bring my putter?", he whispers. (I can't tell you my reply, I'm trying to get more women and young adults to read my column).

With my golf shirt already matted to my back, my sunglasses fogged up, and a double on the score card, we drive to the second hole.

Sure am glad we got a cart, otherwise I might have been fatigued.

* * * * *

I wish Casey Martin luck. I wish the PGA Tour had just done the right thing in 1997 instead of opening a big can of litigious worms.

Greg Chalmers didn't need a court of law to tell him to do the right thing, most golfers don't.

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