CRESWELL, Ore. – He hadn’t touched a golf club in nine days. He hadn’t played in a tournament in five years.
It didn’t matter. Oregon men’s coach Casey Martin won a U.S. Open sectional qualifier Monday by shooting two consecutive rounds of 2-under 69 at Emerald Valley Golf Resort.
Martin’s 4-under 138 total edged one of his Oregon golfers, Daniel Miernicki, and an Oregon State rival, Nick Sherwood, by one stroke.
In a sudden-death playoff Tuesday morning, Miernicki or Sherwood will earn Creswell’s second exemption and join Martin at next week’s U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.
With the victory, Martin will return to Olympic, where 14 years ago he tied for 23rd in the U.S. Open while at the center of a legal dispute with golf’s power brokers. Martin, who suffers from the circulatory disorder Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome in his right leg, won via the courts the right to use a cart while competing. That dispute eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the sectional, Martin, riding a cart, triumphed on a day filled with low temperatures, persistent rainfall and a two-hour lightning delay. Playing in the last group of the day, he had 22 minutes between rounds to eat a sandwich.
“I would not have entered if this qualifier hadn’t been in Oregon,” Martin said with conviction. Emerald Valley is one of three courses used by Martin’s Oregon golf team.
The opening 18 took more than five hours to play. Then came the lightning delay, forcing Martin into a fast-play scenario.
“He definitely speeded up,” said his caddie, Josh Unruh. “He wanted to finish. By the time we got to 16, it was very difficult to see.”
Martin bogeyed 16 and 17, which put him into an awkward position playing the final hole. He needed a par to win by one stroke, and he got it when he two-putted from 45 feet. His first putt was 4 feet short, but he rolled that one into the middle of the hole.
“Out there on the back nine, I thought I had about a five-shot lead,” Martin said. “Then I made those two bogeys, and suddenly I found out I was only one shot ahead.
“I wanted to finish and go home and sleep,” he added, explaining his decision to play in near darkness. “I am exhausted after the NCAAs (Oregon lost to eventual-champion Texas in the semifinals). I need to rest.”
The 40-year-old Martin estimated he has played “only about 15 rounds of golf in the last year. I just don’t play any more.”
That’s something different. He was a teammate of Tiger Woods’ at Stanford and then played on the PGA Tour and Nike Tour (now known as the Nationwide Tour). He was an erratic putter, however, and six years ago decided to abandon competitive golf for the Oregon coaching job.
“I putted great today,” said Martin, who now putts with a long putter. “I hit the ball great, too.
“I came here with no expectations. I didn’t prepare for this. I think maybe that’s the secret. I just had a couple of swing thoughts, and they worked well. It all seemed pretty simple. I didn’t complicate things.”