He wielded a driver, a pitching wedge, a putter, and everything in between. But the instrument with the greatest command over Casey Martin’s emotions Monday was never in his bag.
The golf clubs did their part — helping the 39-year-old to a 2-under-par 70 in a U.S. Open local qualifier at Royal Oaks Country Club. However, all attention quickly centered around the red Sharpie that would indicate whether his score was low enough to make him one of six players to qualify for sectionals.
It wouldn’t come as a shock if he didn’t. Monday marked Martin’s first competitive round in six years. More than a decade earlier, if you remember, he made national headlines by successfully suing the PGA Tour for his right to use a golf cart during competition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (he has a birth defect in his right leg that forces him to walk with a severe limp and makes walking an entire golf course virtually impossible).
But since 2006, Martin has been out of the public eye and enjoying his gig as the University of Oregon men’s golf coach.
“I didn’t think he was going to shoot 70,” said Rak Cho, who plays under Martin at Oregon and also shot 70 Monday. “He never practices. He’s literally been practicing for four days.”
And reminiscing for 14 years.
Martin has played in one major golf tournament — the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he finished in a tie for 23rd. And a big part of the reason he decided to extemporaneously resurrect his golf career this week was because the U.S. Open heads back to Olympic this year.
But you don’t inch closer to returning to the country’s national championship without taking risks, and on a day in which Martin stalked the pin en route to five birdies and three bogeys, he found himself as the clubhouse leader upon his round’s completion.
Then out came the red sharpie, and in came the other scores — a 70 for Cho, a 70 for Shane Prante, a 66 for medalist Nick Sheridan, a 69 from Charlie Hughes…
“I think we’re going to be in a playoff together,” Martin said to Cho at that point, figuring at least two golfers would card a 70 or better.
But only one did — Joe Dolby, who shot 70 — meaning Martin had qualified and would extend his return to competitive golf by at least another month.
“I was kind of nervous. There’s golf and then there’s competitive golf,” said Martin, whose sectional qualifier will take place June 4 at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Ore. “I’m just glad I didn’t embarrass myself.”
Martin, who used a cart, said that his leg felt much better Monday than it did during his practice round Sunday, when the pain was almost unmanageable. He added that he isn’t envisioning a full-time return to the PGA Tour, and is primarily attempting this run for fun.
He also mentioned that he stepped away from the game six years ago because of physical struggles, the coaching opportunity at Oregon, and the fact that “I just wasn’t all that good.”
Asked if he would miss cuts like Tiger Woods if he made it back on Tour, Martin responded, “Oh yeah. I can miss cuts with the best of them.”
Former Vancouver residents Jonathan Moore and Gerrit Chambers could relate to that feeling a bit Monday. Each was one of seven players to shoot 71 and find themselves shut out of a qualifying spot. Moore, 27, grew up in Vancouver before moving to Florida as a teenager to attend The Leadbetter Academy. He would later win an NCAA individual championship at Oklahoma State.
Chambers, a Hockinson graduate, currently plays golf of the University of Washington.
Moore admitted that he has not lived up to his own expectations since capturing the NCAA title, but is “in a good place. I’m not searching.”
Gerrit’s brother, Ty, shot a 77.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email email@example.com