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Casey Martin
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USGA calls golf carts unfair

A federal judge will decide by Monday whether to allow a disabled local golf pro to ride in qualifications for the U.S. Open.

The USGA objects that doing so would dramatically change the way the game is played.

U.S. District Judge Robert Miller said Tuesday he hoped to have a decision by the weekend, but gave himself a deadline of 7:30 a.m. Monday, when Ford Olinger is scheduled to tee off in a local qualifier for the Open.

The Warsaw, Ind., golf pro successfully sued the USGA last year for a temporary injunction allowing him to ride in an Open qualifier under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Olinger, who has a degenerative hip disorder, now wants to make that exemption permanent, though he didn't advance beyond the local qualifier last year.

His lawyers attacked claims by the USGA that allowing him a cart would give him an unfair advantage, saying those beliefs were based on fear more than fact.

"We don't have any proof that a cart gives a disabled person any advantage," lawyer John Hamilton said. "If an individual like Ford can make it through 36 holes, certainly the USGA won't say he has an unfair advantage. In fact, he will have run a gantlet far more difficult than any of these individuals did."

USGA lawyers speculated Olinger's case could affect Casey Martin's status for the U.S. Open. However, the USGA on Tuesday said Martin, a member of the Nike tour who has played on the PGA Tour, will be allowed to use a cart in the Open and its qualifying rounds.

Martin, who has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk long distances, won the right last year to ride on tour under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

His case is on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were heard this month, and a decision isn't expected for months.

USGA lawyers called Ken Venturi on Tuesday to bolster their claims that carts would be an unfair advantage. They asked the golf analyst to testify about staggering through his final round in searing heat to win the 1964 U.S. Open.

"You're talking about the World Series. You're talking about the marathon," he said. "You're talking about only the best, physically and mentally, being able to win."

Venturi, who said those who can't live up to those standards shouldn't be allowed to compete professionally, also said carts are detrimental to the course during U.S. Open play, especially to the long rough required for the annual championship.

But he also testified the fatigue golfers feel from walking the course doesn't adversely affect their games, but is simply one of the many factors they have to deal with to win championships.

"The only way for things to be equal is to play by the same rules," Venturi said. "Where do you draw the line? It's simple: Play by the rules."

Lawyers on both sides focused much of their final arguments on whether a golf cart would be a reasonable accommodation, as outlined in the ADA.

USGA lawyer Lee Abrams argued the U.S. Open has been played for more than 100 years with the rules applied to all competitors equally, disability or not. Making an exception could open the floodgates to countless baseless claims, Abrams said.

During Venturi's testimony, Abrams asked him about Ben Hogan's 1950 win at the U.S. Open, just a year after an automobile accident. Doctors predicted Hogan would never walk again.

"They never thought about carts," Venturi said. ``Knowing Ben Hogan as well as I did, he wouldn't have taken one."