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US PGA undecided about cart issue

Casey Martin. Allsport.

With two federal courts taking opposite views on golf carts in competition, the PGA Tour said today it would wait until summer before deciding if it should ask the Supreme Court to take up the Casey Martin case.

"Whether the request for a Supreme Court review is the appropriate next step, I'm not certain at this point," commissioner Tim Finchem said after meeting with the nine-member PGA Tour Policy Board.

"We want to be careful to understand what the world would be like if these two circuit court opinions sit there in terms of administering the rules of our sport."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last week upheld a lower court's decision that Martin, who has a rare circulatory disease in his right leg, should be allowed to ride a cart on the PGA Tour.

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A day later, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court in Chicago upheld a ruling that denied Ford Olinger, a club pro from Indiana who sued the U.S. Golf Association, the right to ride in U.S. Open qualifying.

Both Martin and Olinger, who has a degenerative hip disorder, sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The fact you've got two courts on very different sides of the issue should help people recognize that this isn't a simple issue," Finchem said. "And this isn't about Casey Martin."

Martin begged to differ.

"It is about me," he said, sitting in his cart after a practice round for the Bay Hill Invitational. "I'm the one driving the cart. It's my lawsuit. So, it's definitely about me."

Martin said the tour's position to further study the two opinions was "bad news," although he wasn't surprised.

"I've come to know them," he said. "Why should I expect anything less? It should be a pretty easy decision, but apparently not. Hopefully, we can get past it and move on. Apparently, two years hasn't been long enough for them."

The lawsuit has turned into a public relations nightmare for the PGA Tour, which has been viewed as an ogre for going to court against a player who has experienced severe pain in his right leg since before he could walk.

Finchem said the tour would love to find a way to make an exception for Martin to use a cart if it could keep the right to make walking imperative for everyone else.

"If it was just about Casey, and this were 'up or down' on Casey and the whole thing would go away, it would be a lot easier," he said. "But it's not. We just have to ask people to understand and bear with us and see what happens.

"We're faced with the realities of what's happened here in the courts."

What's next?

Finchem said he was told Olinger would ask for a rehearing from the 7th Circuit, then would petition the Supreme Court if unsuccessful. If both Olinger and the tour ask the Supreme Court for a review, Finchem said that might increase the chances of getting the case heard.

In the Olinger ruling, the 7th Circuit said a cart would change the nature of competition, and that such rules were best left to the governing body.

The 9th Circuit ruled the opposite in Martin's case. It said a cart only gave him access to competition, but that the key component in golf was hitting shots.

Finchem, a lawyer by trade, spent a week studying the 9th Circuit opinion. He said he was troubled by the court's suggestion that the tour establish a standard to determine whether a player with disabilities spends as much energy in a cart as a typical player who walks.

"This circuit has been reversed by the Supreme Court more often than any other circuit in the country, and I think they made a mistake again," Finchem said. "I think it's a bad law, but that's what it is. We have to deal with it."

In the meantime, Martin can ride. Finchem said even if the tour appeals to the Supreme Court, it could be a year before the court decides whether to hear the case. If it does, it could be three years before a decision is returned.

At the heart of the issue is whether the court should set the rules for golf.

"These are issues that sooner or later need to be cleared up," Finchem said.

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