Casey at the Tee

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;

There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.

And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,

No stranger in the crowd could doubt `twas Casey at the bat.

-From "Casey at the Bat."

Mighty, unmistakably mighty, Casey, from Ernest Thayer's 1888 poem, was known throughout the land (or at least throughout Mudville) for his charisma, confidence, brute strength, and ability to hit a baseball.

Fast-forwarding 115 years, one finds another Casey, also known throughout the land for his charisma and confidence. That this Casey possesses such an uncanny skill for striking the ball, like his literary namesake did, similarly sparks great interest-even astonishment and inspiration. However, the ball Casey 2001 swings at is titanium and dimpled, not leather and stitched.

And this Casey is far from the "sturdy" Casey in Thayer's famous work. No, this Casey is hobbled and frail...and fading.

This Casey, if you are not aware, is Casey Martin, the professional golfer.

Martin suffers-and suffers is the correct word-from Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber syndrome, an acutely painful birth defect that constricts the blood flow to his right leg and causes weakness.

Martin started golfing in 1978; by 1990, he needed an electric cart to escort him about the golf course as he competed in amateur events, because walking hurt him so.

For seven years after, all was good, no, great, in Martin's world, as he entered college at Stanford, teamed with Tiger Woods to win the NCAA team title in golf, and earned All-American recognition for himself.

He qualified for the Nike tour, the minor league for the PGA, on Dec. 8, 1997. A month later, on Jan. 11, 1998, Martin won his first (and only thus far) pro event, the Nike Classic. Exactly a month after that he was in court.

He was battling to play golf, something he had long done against his own body and now something he would have to do against the body that governs golf.

Crippled Casey Martin was said to have such an "unfair" advantage over other players on the Nike Tour because he used a cart, something not permitted in the bylaws of the sport.

However, the U.S. District Court in Oregon sided with Martin, allowing him to ride around the Nike Tour. And later he, with his cart, was successful enough to graduate to the PGA Tour for the 2000 season.

On March 6, 2000, the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the Oregon's court ruling. The PGA planned another appeal.

That brings us to the events of last week, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from the PGA as to why Martin shouldn't be able to ride, and consequently not be able to play, on their tour. Incidentally, Martin will play on the tour (formerly the Nike Tour) that starts in March, as he fell one shot short of scoring low enough in the PGA Qualifying Tournament to make that circuit in 2001.

The PGA's point, which is certainly valid, is that the governing body of a professional sport has the right to set its own rules. But there is also this thing called Americans With Disabilities Act.

Lexington native, Jack K. Daniel, Sr., PhD, 69, doesn't care for the sport of golf, but he has compassion for Casey Martin. Like Martin, Daniel is disabled, and courageous.

"Most people have no idea just what the word disabled means, until they or someone close to them becomes disabled. I lost my legs in an accident 20 years ago. To say that it changed my life is an understatement. It took me about two years of getting used to not standing-not walking, not skiing, my favorite pastime. I was also a fly fisherman and an avid small game and bird hunter. All those things had to be changed, my way of thinking had to be changed. It was a cold reality-I was never going to walk again with my own legs-never going to be the same again...."

The 28-year-old Martin may someday face that same fate.

"A 6 inch curb might as well be a 6 foot curb, doors are not wide enough, switches and buttons are up too high," Daniel continued, "but I made the changes, and accepted the challenges of a new life."

Daniel says that the Americans With Disabilities Act helped assuage many of those physical obstacles that he faced and that it also addressed psychological ones.

"We were no longer thought of as second-class people."

Neither is Casey Martin a second-class golfer. (In fact, he ranked 6th on the PGA tour in driving, the kind that has nothing to do with carts, in 2000.)

But if the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in June, sides with the PGA, Martin will likely lose his livelihood.

Daniel doesn't see that happening.

"I think that the courts are obligated, under federal law, to see that Casey Martin is permitted to use his electric golf cart in the pursuit of his career. Golf is his job; it's his living."

Yet would such a ruling, then, set a (poisonous) precedent permitting the judiciary branch power to reconstruct the statutes of not only the PGA but also other governing bodies like the NFL, NHL, and NBA? Nobody wants that.

But simultaneously, nobody, save the pushy PGA, wants to deny Martin what may remain of his career.

For he's a special player in ways. Almost iconic, like Thayer's Casey...who, back in 1888, amazed us because he could not hit the ball.

Though this Casey amazes us because he can.