SAN FRANCISCO -- "It was a war," Casey Martin said after walking off the 18th green and up the steps to the clubhouse. For most, those words would be used to describe the conditions of the course and the battle going on between the first and 18th holes at The Olympic Club. For Martin, the war was also a constant fight with his body.
Sure, he's able to ride a cart around the course after successfully suing the tour for an exemption in 1999. A rare circulatory problem in his legs forces Martin to walk with a severe limp, making even the most simple of tasks look difficult. It's almost painful to watch him navigate the course, walking from his cart to his ball, climbing hills to reach each green and then navigating the putting surface with the flatstick.
The physical toll a round takes on his body is more than most of us can imagine. But he made it, and turned in a round to be proud of along the way.
It was clear from the start that Martin, who coaches the golf team at Oregon and is far removed from his regular playing days, was dealing with nerves. He said as much after the round, candidly admitting that it took him a good six holes to settle in -- he played the brutal first six at Olympic at 5-over to open his round.
But a birdie on seven stopped the bleeding and, perhaps, calmed him down a bit. He battled back, stringing together pars before a bogey on 12, followed by another string of solid pars.
On 17, he hit a superb second shot into the par-5, then got a little bit lucky as his ball stayed on the fringe, coming fractions of an inch from rolling all the way down toward 18. Seeing his bit of good fortune, he walked over to the ball, looked over to the gallery, smiled, and held up his thumb and index fingers, illustrating just how close his good shot was to becoming a bad one. An easy two-putt birdie got him to 4-over, and par on 18 -- following a birdie putt that just missed -- to cap the round.
All things considered, Thursday was a success for Martin. He made it. He finished his round and is in a good spot -- eight shots back of Michael Thompson, but tied for 60th and only five shots behind Tiger Woods and a glut of other golfers tied for second at 1-under -- to make the weekend as things stand now.
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But better than the round was the crowd's reception to Martin. Everywhere he went, people stood and applauded, rooting him on while practically willing his ball to the hole. He was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fan favorite at The Olympic Club. And each time a fan cheered or called his name, he made it a point to acknowledge them individually with a wave, a point and a smile.
As Martin walked up the stairs behind the 18th green to sign his scorecard and hustle back to the hotel to get some sleep before his early tee time, another gathering was going on just out of sight. Martin's personal cheering section -- a group of Oregon administrators and friends decked out in Ducks gear -- embraced and spoke with pride about the round he turned in.
It was a group that included Chip Kelly, head coach of the Oregon football team and personal fashion stylist to Martin. That bright green and white striped shirt Martin wore, making him easily recognizable from hundreds of yards away? It was Kelly's idea, Martin said as he chuckled near the clubhouse.
After a brief moment of laughter, Martin limped off to finish his obligations, another reminder of the condition he's battling. His war doesn't end when his round does.
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