I figured I’d wait until the dust settled before weighing in on the Casey Martin decision. I imagine most of you are familiar with the young golfer who has recently been permitted by the United States Supreme Court to use a golf cart when he competes. Mr. Martin does not and cannot walk very well. He suffers from a degenerative circulatory disorder that causes him to be disabled. If he cannot ride in a golf cart, he cannot compete. Mr. Martin, sued the Professional Golf Association under the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act for permission to ride the cart through his round of golf. The Pro Golf Tour opposed Mr. Martin with their main argument being that the walking involved while playing an 18-hole golf course can fatigue players, and therefore can affect the results of the tournament. The PGA, whose position was backed by none other than Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, argued that a decision in favor of Casey Martin would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the competition.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in dissent, wrote that to allow Mr. Martin to use the cart would be tantamount to permitting a blind Little League baseball player a fourth strike instead of the usual three.
While it pains me to disagree with golfers that I admire such as Nicklaus and Palmer, I think that all of the above arguments are ridiculous. Casey Martin suffers from something called Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber syndrome. The syndrome affects the flow of one’s blood and therefore affects one’s ability to walk. This is golf, this is not a walking tournament. A heavy-set golfer who is out of shape would not qualify for aid from the Americans With Disabilities Act. There is no reason that this act should not pertain to athletes. This doesn’t put Mr. Martin in a better position than the other golfers playing in the tournament; it is an attempt to even things up and give him a chance to compete. The bottom line is, the man can barely walk, and this ruling is not going to open up the flood gates for others to seek special dispensations. As Mr. Martin himself has indicated, he would much rather have two good legs and not have needed to litigate this matter. I think it is fair to say that putting Casey in a cart is not going to give him an unfair advantage.
If fellow golfer John Daly asked for a cart because he is too heavy, he’s not going to get one. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires a high threshold for one to receive help from it. It’s goal is to create a fair playing field for those who are disabled. There is no reason that this law should apply to all aspects of our society but golf. If a Little Leaguer were given four strikes instead of three, that is something that would clearly affect the competitive outcome of the game. Not so here, as this is not a walking contest, it is about how far under par you shoot in your round of golf.
No, I am not saying that walking has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome and that on a Sunday afternoon, while one is walking toward the green on his seventy-second hole, it helps to be in some reasonable form of shape; however, this is not about shape, this is a man who is disabled and ought to be entitled to attempt to make his living on the PGA tour, just like any other skilled golfer.