Achenbach: Casey Martin shows off his resolve

Casey Martin

Casey Martin

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Hilton Head, SC - Harbour Town Golf Links

4:16:01 AM ET. 04/19/2014




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SAN FRANCISCO -- Cool hand Casey.

In the first round of any major championship, I would rather watch the Casey Martins of the world than the Rory McIlroys.

Why? Because Martin is an everyday guy, a lot like you and me. Okay, he’s more talented than we are, but he harbors no pretensions about winning the U.S. Open.

Making the cut would be a big deal to Martin. He’s already done it once -- right here at the Olympic Club in 1978, when he tied for 23rd, finishing just one stroke behind his old college teammate, Tiger Woods.

Now Martin is back for a second U.S. Open at Olympic, and nobody expected him to be here. Well, perhaps nobody besides Martin and his father, King Martin.

What I saw Thursday in the first round was a brave man who refused to bow down to the bogey master. Martin was 5 over after 6 holes, but fought back ferociously to finish with a 4-over 74.

“The birdie on 7 settled me down, and I played nicely after that,” said Martin, who attempted to drive the 288-yard uphill 7th, came up short, but pitched to 10 feet and made the birdie putt.

All golfers could learn a lesson from this man. Despite a painful birth defect that hinders circulation in his right leg and causes him to walk with a limp, and despite all those bogeys out of the gate, he gathered himself to play the final 12 holes in 1 under.

He was as resilient as, say, the University of Oregon football team. Martin, the UO men’s golf coach, is a close buddy of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly.

So, wearing a phosphorescent Nike shirt that was selected by Kelly, Martin launched the kind of comeback often showcased on the Oregon football field.

“If you (dare to) wear this shirt, you better play well,” Martin observed.

“Tough guy,” somebody said, reflecting on Martin’s golf game.

Replied Marlin (Cricket) Musch, Nike’s college amateur golf manager, “He has to be tough to deal with all that pain.”

Martin has been in a spotlight all his life. There is, of course, no hiding his kind of disability from other kids. And kids can be cruel.

A gifted golfer since he was very young, Martin learned to deal with that attention as well. At Stanford University, he was part of an NCAA championship team.

His father revealed that after his son sued the PGA Tour and won the right to use a cart in tournament play, a spectator at a PGA Tour event approached Martin and lashed out, “You’re a cheater.”

I say you’ve got to be as tough as an alligator to be Casey Martin. It showed in Thursday’s opening round. Here’s what it looked like from outside the ropes: He turned an 80something into a 74.

“He never gave up on a very demanding golf course, not even after a bad start, and you have to admire that,” said Dennis Miller, the celebrated club professional who played with Martin.

Miller, bedeviled by his short game, shot 80.

Martin also deserves an award for honesty. After the round, he attempted to describe the pressure and how it made him feel.

“My nerves were terrible,” he said. “I was really nervous. I tried not to be. I tried everything to get rid of the pressure, but nothing worked. If you play, you kind of know what your swing feels like, but under pressure it’s like you never hit a shot before. I was all over the map. It doesn’t feel like I played well. It feels like I got out of a war.”

After that monologue, there should have been a long applause. There wasn’t, which makes me wonder if people really understand the brilliance displayed by Martin on what is arguably the most difficult of the U.S. Open courses.

Cool hand Casey, I say. The gravity of the U.S. Open came charging at him like a freight train, and he stood his ground when many golfers would have crumbled.

Golf is such a wonderful game, the way it mixes physical skill and raw emotion and requires that we master both.

“I was a special day,” concluded Martin. “I’m really glad that I played decently, but, man, it was a stress out there.”

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