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Savran: Casey case didn't merit all this fuss

Saturday, June 02, 2001

Everyone is entitled to and guaranteed a day in court. The guarantee, however, doesn't extend to that day coming before the Supreme Court.

This nation's highest bench reviews each case on merit then decides if it will hear arguments.

One might contend the nine justices might focus on more gripping matters than Casey Martin's right to ride. But this banal case stirred the embers of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so enter the supreme setting.

One of the dissenting opinions in the 7-2 ruling in Martin's favor offered, "the rules are the rules." Just the kind of scholarly, juridical expression you'd expect from one of the alleged brightest legal minds in the country.

There used to be rules that black people couldn't drink out of the same water fountains as whites.

Or that African-Americans had to sit at the back of buses.

Or that people of ethnic heritage or of certain religions couldn't, and in some cases still can't, join some country clubs.

Are those rules OK, too, Mr. Justice?

What the Supreme Court ultimately determined when it allowed Martin an EZ Pass around the PGA's playgrounds is that walking is incidental to the game of golf, that striking the ball is what's central, not walking to it.

And while I agree that a person who walks the course is going to be more physically taxed than one who doesn't, especially in the third and fourth rounds, I don't believe that's a significant enough advantage to alter the course of a tournament.

After all, players don't carry their bags, and there are several minutes between shots, plenty of time to catch one's breath after a rigorous stroll up the fairway.

For the most part, tour players are in much better condition than they were 10 years ago. If they're not, shame on them. And when or if fatigue becomes a factor, it's generally mental.

Granted, physical fatigue can loosen one's concentration, but at that level of competition, pressure tightens arms and legs more than physical exertion. And to assuage those who disagree, Martin should not be given a literal free ride. He shouldn't be allowed to ride the cart to the exact spot where his ball lies. He should leave the vehicle on the cart path and walk to his next shot.

Isn't all of this hysteria a bit premature anyway?

I could understand this being Armageddon if Martin had actually done something, like if he rides his motorized chariot to victory in two of the next four events. But he hasn't. And probably won't. He finished 179th on the prize winnings list last year and barely threatens to make the cut on the Buy.com Tour, let alone win a tournament, this year.

He's just another body on tour, literally trying to hack out a living -- nameless and faceless until these proceedings.

One wonders if the same affliction that limits Martin would strike David Duval or Tiger Woods. Do you honestly believe either would have to go all the way to the Supreme Court to seek relief? No. They sell tickets and sponsorships. I suspect their path would contain fewer obstacles and would have been cleared long before a complaint reached this point.

What this is really all about is control. What the PGA Tour is most upset about is not that Martin can ride a cart, but that they were ordered to allow it. Hiding behind the cloak of the "Sanctity of the Game," their real objection is that they feel the Supreme Court has trespassed. They contend that establishing this precedent will open a cornucopia of challenges by those with the slightest of handicaps. As if someone will ask to ride a cart because they have an ingrown toenail.

Reasonable people understand this won't happen. It's just a shrill, shallow, the sky-is-falling response from a group not used to being told what to do and how to do it.

And that's unfortunate, because many nongolfers, including myself, believe this reaction reinforces the snobbish image golf has sought to eliminate and, in large measure, has been successful doing so.

The number of people who play the game proves that point. The sales of golf equipment, the number of weekend warriors hacking their way through public and private courses tells us golf is the peoples' game. But attempting to maintain such an exclusionary policy has undermined this effort.

Contrary to Tim Finchem's statements, the world is not coming to an end. The next tournament in which Martin plays will most likely find him elsewhere Saturday morning, finishing around 179th.

And until he wins, or even challenges for a title, or until someone else tries to ride the coattails of the Supreme Court's decision, I don't expect we'll hear much more about it. The earth's orbit will remain intact. The only thing knocked off-kilter here was the carefully crafted image of the PGA.

Stan Savran is a co-host of SportsBeat, weeknights at 6:30 on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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