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Casey Martin
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Martin hopes for smoother 1999

Martin hopes for smoother 1999

Golfer Casey Martin, who sued the PGA Tour for the right to ride a motorised cart in competition, hopes the bumps in the road aren't quite as big this year.

Martin wants to steer clear of those draining days he spent in a federal courtroom in 1998. He could do with a little less media attention, at least when the focus is his cart.

''It was one of the most amazing years of my life,'' he says. ''But I'd never want that kind of scrutiny and intensity and debate again.''

Martin, 26, tees it up for the first time this year starting Thursday in the Nike South Florida Classic at Pompano Beach.

He will be the defending champion at next week's Nike Lakeland (Fla.) Classic.

''I'm hoping to get back to business as usual, so I can play golf and get better,'' he says. ''I hope eventually my game will measure up and the attention will be for that.''

Whatever he does, he'll be under a media microscope.

He's the man who rides a cart because a congenital circulatory ailment in his lower right leg makes it painful to walk a course.

''I know people will be watching to see if I sink or swim,'' he says. ''I'm used to that now.''

However, it wasn't all drudgery for Martin in 1998.

How many golfers have their picture taken with Cindy Crawford, as Martin did at a launch party for ESPN The Magazine.

He appeared on Crossfire. He travelled to Washington for a press conference with Robert Dole and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to promote the Americans With Disabilities Act.

''There were some really challenging experiences,'' he says. ''It was fun to get a taste of the limelight.''

Martin made changes in his lifestyle during the off season

He moved from Foster City, Calif., near the Stanford campus where he was a college star, to his hometown of Eugene, Ore.

He bought a house at Quail Run, a gated community in Eugene.

''It's not Isleworth,'' jokes Martin, referring to the high-end enclave near Orlando favoured by Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara. ''But it's perfect for what I want.''

The three-bedroom digs are your basic bachelor pad.

''I have a piano, TV, couch and a bed,'' he says. ''And very little yard to take care of.''

That piano is a new Yamaha baby grand, which Martin plays like a pro. He took lessons for six years as a youngster.

He likes contemporary Christian music as well as Billy Joel, Elton John and George Winston pieces.

Martin sometimes breaks into Great Balls of Fire. ''It's a simpler version than what Jerry Lee Lewis played,'' he says.

As the season begins, Martin hopes to hit all the right notes.

''I won't put too much pressure on myself early,'' he says. ''In the summer is when you have to be cranking, for the big-money purses. That's when I faded last year.''

His amazing victory at Lakeland was the first Nike Tour event of 1998. He won $40,500, stamping him a threat to finish among the top 15 on the money list and earn a PGA Tour card for 1999.

But he lost momentum as the year progressed, posting only two other top-10s. He finished 29th with $81,937. He also fell short at qualifying school.

Martin can't explain his second-half flameout. Perhaps the pressure of the court case and attendant scrutiny wore him down.

''That had to take a toll,'' he says. ''But the crux of the matter is I have to become a better golfer.''

William Wiswall, lead lawyer for Martin when he won the right to ride a cart last February, knows how hard Martin works.

On a cold, foggy day last month at Eugene Country Club, Wiswall noticed one man practising.

''It was Casey,'' Wiswall says. ''He pitched balls two days later when greens were so frozen the balls bounced 20 feet in the air.''

Because of his leg, Martin has to limit his practice time.

''Some people can hit balls all day, but I can't,'' he says. ''I'm able to practice enough where I can improve. One shot a round is all I need.''

Martin proved he has the game when he tied for 23rd in last year's U.S. Open, earning $34,043.

He played two PGA Tour events, the Greater Hartford Open (missed the cut) and Quad City Classic (tie for 66th), on sponsor invitations.

He earned $74,500 at the Skills Challenge late in the year.

Martin remains popular with companies seeking endorsement relationships.

He represents seven: Nike; Spalding; Hartford Life; GolfWeb; Naya Bottled Water; Select Comfort Bed Company; and We, a lifestyle magazine for people with disabilities.

Martin might become involved in a golf course design project for disabled people in the Washington area.

He was honoured Tuesday as winner of the Ben Hogan Award, presented annually by the Golf Writers Association of America to a player who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness.

Martin suffers from Klippel-Trenauney-Weber Syndrome, a painful condition in his lower right leg.

He sued the PGA Tour under the Americans With Disabilities Act, winning the first round in federal court in Eugene.

The PGA Tour appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

A date has not yet been set for oral arguments, but it is likely to be a drawn-out appeal, given the congestion in the federal court system.

''A resolution probably won't come until the end of this year or into the next,'' Wiswall says. ''But I'm very positive about his chances on appeal.''

If Martin loses, would he try to keep playing pro golf?

''In my heart I'd want to,'' he says. ''But I just don't know how wise that would be because of my leg.''

Pain is his constant companion.

He's had some rough days the past couple months, especially with swelling in his right knee.

''We thought with rest, the pain would go away,'' says his father, King Martin. ''But it's very noticeable to me he's struggling with it.''

Daily doses of Advil are Casey's only concession to the pain.

''There will always be discomfort,'' he says. ''I accept that.''

But he's grateful for the chance to ride a cart. It enables him to pursue his dream of some day playing the PGA Tour.

''A lot of the pain that forced me to seek a cart was eliminated,'' he says. ''The cart made a difference.''

TW6/1/99