Casey Martin said he had not played a single 18-hole round in the nine days leading up to sectional qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Open. After back-to-back rounds of 69, he is heading back to The Olympic Club – arguably the toughest U.S. Open test in recent memory.
“It kind of feels like 1998 all over again with a lot of the attention, and it's great,” Martin said. “I'm totally flattered, but last week it was a very challenging week for me. Just a lot of demands on my time -- I'm just not built for this.”
Martin, who is now the head golf coach at one of the top-ranked collegiate golf programs in the country in the University of Oregon, played in the 1998 U.S. Open when it was last held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
He was well aware of the multitude of questions he would be fielding this week about the infamous lawsuit he filed against the PGA Tour in 2001.
The case, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court, granted Martin the privilege of driving in a golf cart while playing in golf tournaments on the PGA Tour.
Martin has a degenerative circulatory disorder in his leg that prevents him from walking golf courses without pain.
“The way the golf course is, is quite a bit different. It's more open areas,” Martin said. “And so they will have a cart caddie for me out there, too, where I'll park kind of short of green and he'll take it to the next tee. And they have been overly accommodating, the USGA, which it's been great, and I think it will work really smoothly this week.”
Martin said the reality of whether or not his leg will have to be amputated is still up in there.
“I think I'm going to keep it as long as something drastic doesn't happen,” he said. “And that's always been the fear. It's still pretty fragile. So my leg compared to '98, it's probably not quite as good just because it's older, but it hasn't deteriorated to the point that it was. My leg, it goes in cycles.”
There is no underestimating Martin, though. The last time he played in the U.S. Open, it was in 1998 at the same Olympic Club golf course he will be playing this week.
That week in 1998, Martin tied for 23rd.
“I drove it well here,” he said. “If you hit the fairways out here, the ball is going to go a long way. If you hit it in the rough, it will just stop. And I remember I was hitting it well here, hitting a lot of fairways and ‑‑ but, man, it's a different golf course too. My goodness, it's going to be a big task this week.”
That seems to be the overwhelming consensus on the hurdles The Olympic Club is set to throw at the best in the world this week.
The Lake Course is not the longest course the U.S. Open has ever seen, nor does it boast the most challenging shots.
What the course does have is tight fairways, tiny greens running at 12+ on the stimpmeter and blind shots – lots and lots of blind shots.
“You have to hit it well. Shape it perfectly. Hit long irons that are going to hold the green,” Martin said.
However, the biggest obstacle set before these players will be during the first six holes of the championship, which many experts are setting the pace at a one or two-over par score in order for the stretch to be considered a success for any one of these players.
“Well, I can attest, I played the holes today. They're incredibly difficult. Very intimidating,” Martin said. “I want to make it clear I really am excited to be here. But there's also this in the back of your mind the little fear factor of I have to play this golf course. And I don't play or practice like a lot of these guys do and yet I still want to compete.”
Of the many keys to this week at The Olympic Club is driving distance and accuracy, which Martin was among the leaders in when he was a regular on the PGA Tour.
“I don't want to lie, the members at Eugene Country Club will know I'm on the side of the range hitting balls all the time and I love the golf swing, I love golf,” Martin said. “But that's kind of what ‑‑ I hit balls for about an hour a few days a week. That's kind of my exercise. I don't go on the golf course that much and actually play for score.”
Those surprised at how the Oregon head golf coach managed to qualify for the U.S. Open at age 40 with a degenerate leg and little legitimate playing time are not alone. Even his own players are surprised.
“They probably are a little surprised because I don't play that much with them,” he said. “But when I do play with them, they're good matches and I've got a couple really, really good players on my team that are graduating and so when I go play with the team I'm competitive with them. So they kind of know where my level is in relationship to those guys.”
Through the entirety of the national spotlight placed on him this past week and the bombardment of interview requests, Martin has still kept his focus on the golf test at hand – one that will test the players both physically and mentally.
“I tell my guys that are qualifying for the U.S. Open, I'm like, do you know what you're getting into if you qualify? Do you know what it's going to be like? And I kind of do that tongue in cheek.”