- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

Casey Martin's ticket to ride on the PGA Tour now hinges on how fundamental walking is to golf in the view of the Supreme Court.

Martin wants the court to uphold the Americans With Disabilities Act applied to professional athletes so he can use a golf cart to compensate for a birth defect that limits his walking endurance, his lawyer told the justices yesterday.

The PGA Tour argued to keep top golf tournaments on an even playing field and said the ADA was not meant to compensate for the handicaps of professional athletes.

"Athletic events are simply tests of excellence who can perform the best," said PGA Tour lawyer H. Bartow Farr III of the District, who insisted the sport never allowed an exception to a fundamental rule on its tour until federal courts ordered it to do so for Martin in 1998.

"If you have different rules for different players, you are not going to get an answer," said Farr, who added that a four-day tournament includes walking 20 to 25 miles.

"Walking is not the game. The game is hitting the ball," said Martin's lawyer, Roy L. Reardon of New York. "The whole purpose of the Act is to give Casey Martin a chance to get to the game."

He said Martin was not seeking a break on "where he hits the ball or the size of the hole," but needs the accommodation the ADA requires to compete at all with "this tragic disability."

For an hour, justices joked and jostled with lawyers for Martin and the PGA Tour over the importance of sports rules and whether the cart Martin has ridden since 1998 gives him an edge over golfers who must walk the course.

Martin watched attentively from the front row, crowded into a pew with other spectators while his future as an athlete was debated by a court that was less than unanimous on rules, golf or sports and probably won't decide the case until June.

"The longer the better for me," Martin was quoted on the PGA Tour's official Web site. "If they overturn it, at least I'll get to play longer."

His cart has not put Martin at the head of the pack on the PGA Tour despite the respite from his circulatory disorder, called Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber syndrome. He also wears a support stocking to control swelling of his right leg.

In the 2000 season, his first full year after moving up from the Nike Tour, Martin failed to make the cut at half the 30 tournaments. His best finish was a 17th in the Tucson Open. He won a meager $143,248 in 2000 and failed to make the cut last week at Tucson.

Farr cautioned that the decision could apply to any professional sport, a prospect that seemed to trouble some justices.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who said he was more comfortable discussing baseball than golf, asked if tall batters could exempt themselves from a generous strike zone or if a National League pitcher might sit out his turn at bat, as American League pitchers do under that league's designated hitter rule.

"It's a silly rule. All sports rules are silly rules, aren't they?" Scalia said. "Rules are rules, and therefore you can't make an exception for one individual."

A decision on the cart comes into play if the justices decide professional athletes are covered by the ADA, which Farr said could disrupt sports other than golf.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested the court would give "substantial deference to the game," triggering a blunt retort that Martin's lawyer repeated twice.

"If you just roll over, you're giving the PGA [Tour] and organized sports a free pass out from under the Americans With Disabilities Act," Reardon said.

Justice Kennedy replied that the court would hardly "roll over" for anyone.

Reardon said that from 1965 to 1997, the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament, potentially a 252-hole process to identify the the best 168 players from a pack of 1,200, the golf cart rule was waived.

"All that proves is you can play golf under different rules," Scalia said.

Asked Justice John Paul Stevens like fellow Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, an avid golfer: "How can it be an absolute rule if it doesn't apply to the qualifying events?"

When Farr tried to say something about managing the logistics of a huge mob scene, Stevens interrupted him.

"If logistics are enough to justify using a cart, why doesn't a handicap justify it?" Stevens demanded.

Replied Farr: "All competitors deserve all the same rules. There has been no exception to that whatever."

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