Published November 20, 2014
Before going back to his day job as the head coach of Oregon's men's golf team, before getting into recruiting and focusing on getting his school back into contention for an NCAA title, Casey Martin reminded fans that he can play.
And it's not that he can play for someone who's in constant pain, whose right leg is significantly smaller than the left because of a congenital circulatory condition, who limps when he walks.
It's that Martin can flat-out play, period. During the first two rounds at the U.S. Open, the 40-year-old shot 9-over par, which may not be enough for him to make the cut at Olympic Club.
But it's a good score nonetheless, especially at such a tough tournament where shooting over par doesn't put you out of contention. Martin's performance looks especially good when you consider that plenty of tour veterans and the top two players in the world -- Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy -- carded worse scores.
Martin was actually well inside the cut before he bogeyed four of his final eight holes.
There's a temptation to look at Martin, to remember his legal fight against the PGA and his struggle to use a golf cart, and judge him on medical terms. But there's far more to Martin and his talent than that.
Prior to this week, Martin had not played in a "legitimate tournament," as he put it, since 2006. He gained entry for the U.S. Open by earning medalist honors at a 36-hole qualifier at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Oregon, which came just days after his Ducks fell to Texas in the NCAA national semifinals.
So he was a bit rusty and nervous when he showed up in San Francisco, and still managed to put together two competitive rounds.
"It's wonderful competing," Martin said. "I haven't done it in so long it really feels great to get out there and grind away."
But merely playing wasn't quite enough for Martin, who said he "wasn't really happy" with how he played Friday. He said it was flattering to get the attention he did, but was disappointed as a competitor.
"Just missed a lot of putts and hit a few loose shots when it was important," Martin said.
Martin's biggest obstacle this week wasn't his leg, or a disease, it was the fact that he just jumped into the toughest tournament on the calendar without any competitive rhythm.
"The biggest thing is actually just thinking like a great player," Martin said. "That's the challenge when you haven't done it and you have some bad shots that creep in there."
Those bad shots put him right around the cut line, and well off the lead. But at least when you judge Martin by his game and performances, you're judging him correctly.
There's no doubt that Martin is courageous for playing through excruciating pain that he can't control. But when you consider him like you would any other golfer, his talent becomes very apparent.
It should have been apparent when he tied for 23rd at the 1998 U.S. Open, but the societal tendency to view ability through the lens of physicality -- to view Martin as disabled or unable -- ensured that it wouldn't be a simple judgment.
That kind of view leads to Martin fielding this actual question on Friday: "With all the talent you have, do you ever think, 'What if I had two healthy legs?'"
Well, after his performance this week, the question I wonder is, what if he still had a tour card?