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Jewish World Review June 6, 2001 / 16 Sivan, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

OK, pro golfers -- let's make this game interesting -- THE golf world is all atwitter over the United States Supreme Court ruling that allows Casey Martin to use a golf cart while playing in tournaments.

Martin, who suffers from a congenital circulatory disorder in his right leg, has been asking to use a cart in PGA Tour events because walking a course is difficult for him; the PGA Tour has been arguing that walking the course is a fundamental part of the sport, and that to allow Martin to use a cart would give him a competitive advantage. The Supreme Court decided in Martin's favor last week, ruling in a 7-2 vote that the Americans with Disabilities Act allows Martin to use a cart.

Predictably, outrage in the golf world was immediate. Many professional golfers said that -- although they sympathize with Martin because of his physical condition -- they strongly believe that every golfer should have to walk the course. Golf tournaments do not just reward skillful shotmaking, they said -- conditioning is important, too. Why should Martin get to breeze along in a cart, when his opponents are sweating and becoming fatigued as they trudge the six miles of a golf course?

Steve Pate, a golfer who competes on the PGA Tour, said: "Walking six miles a day six days a week is part of the deal." Ken Venturi, a former top golfer who now is a television commentator, has said that allowing one golfer to ride in a cart while others walk changes the competitive balance: "Fatigue does play a big part. It will influence your game. It will influence your shotmaking. It will influence your decisions." Jack Nicklaus said that the Supreme Court was wrong to think that the wear and tear of walking a course is not a big factor in a tournament: "I think we ought to take [the justices] all out to play golf. I think they would change their minds. I promise you it's fundamental."

So there seems to be a growing consensus among the pro golfers: Being tough and strong is just as important on the golf course as being adept at chipping and putting.

Fine. If they believe that, then here's a suggestion for them:

Carry your own damn bags.

That's what is being left out of this whole argument. The pro golfers, and the officials of the PGA Tour, talk as if walking around some country club is the same thing as being forced to go on the Bataan Death March. Casey Martin's leg is weak? Then he should be disqualified from playing alongside us big boys.

And then the pro golfers go out onto the courses....

And have other men lug their golf bags for 18 holes -- for the same six miles the golfers brag about being able to walk. Yes, the golfers stroll up and down the rolling hills of the beautiful courses, under sunny skies, with politely applauding galleries oohing and aahing at their every stroke. The golfers will grin and acknowledge the adoring fans with a wave every once in a while.

Meanwhile, a few steps behind them, caddies will lean forward and struggle up those same hills, under that same hot sun, with golf bags the size of Buicks strapped to their shoulders. The caddies are beasts of burden for the pro golfers; the caddies -- literally -- do the heavy lifting, until the moment the golfers deign to select a club and swing it.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, do the pro golfers really want to convince the world that their conditioning, and not just their dexterity during 70 or 72 swings of a light club, is what defines their sport?

Fine. Change the rules. Ban caddies. Make the golfers lug their own bags.

Then they'll have a case -- then they will be able to look the public in the eye and say: The Casey Martin decision was wrong because our sport should belong to the strong and the tough. The Casey Martin decision was wrong because a golfer should be rewarded for being able to overcome fatigue.

As it is now, whenever a golf tournament is on television, the person who in the eyes of many viewers seems to be in the most admirable physical condition is not the golfer in the pastel slacks, pondering for long seconds what his next shot should be -- it's the caddie standing near him, catching a breath before having to hoist that heavy bag onto his back again and head for the next hill.

Athletes, it can be argued, should not be provided with bellmen to carry their bags, at least not when the tournament actually is being played; athletes should not be furnished with skycaps to assist them on the field of competition. If the golfers are going to say that Casey Martin should not remain among them because he can't walk as well as they can, then they should do the only proper thing:

Lug those bags themselves. See who's really the fittest.

And besides -- think of all the money they'll save on tips.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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