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Justice Scalia's brush with golf history

In his dissent of the Martin/PGA Tour case, Scalia wrote: "The only thing that could prevent a court order giving the kid four strikes would be a judicial determination that, in baseball, three strikes are metaphysically necessary, which is quite absurd." Riccardo S. Savi/WireImage/Getty Images

When disabled golfer Casey Martin prevailed in a 2001 lawsuit that the PGA Tour took to the Supreme Court, many believed that it was a victory for both sides.

Martin would get to ride a golf cart in competition; the PGA Tour could feel relief in the court's ruling that would make it very difficult for others to do so.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believed that the court should have never been involved.

Scalia, who died Saturday at age 79, holds a unique little part in golf history. He wrote the dissenting opinion -- along with Clarence Thomas -- in the 7-2 decision that ruled the Americans With Disabilities Act required the PGA Tour to accommodate Martin's degenerative leg ailment and that doing so would not fundamentally change the game.

At the time, the PGA Tour -- along with legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus -- came off looking like the bad guys. Scalia sided with the tour, saying it had the right to make its own rules.

Martin, now 43 and the golf coach at the University of Oregon, played collegiately at Stanford and was a teammate of Tiger Woods for a time. In 1997, Martin sued the PGA Tour for the right to ride in its tournaments. The tour appealed to the Supreme Court after two lower courts ruled in Martin's favor; it got Palmer and Nicklaus to testify on its behalf.

Along the way, Martin won on the Nike Tour (now Web.com Tour) and earned his PGA Tour card. He played in the U.S. Open in 1998 (and again in 2012). He was a big story wherever he went, but eventually his ailment -- which to this day makes it very painful for him to walk -- kept him from successfully pursuing a golf career.

Scalia described the majority opinion as an exercise in "benevolent compassion'' and suggested that similar reasoning could be used in the example of a Little League baseball player who suffers from attention-deficit disorder.

"The only thing that could prevent a court order giving the kid four strikes would be a judicial determination that, in baseball, three strikes are metaphysically necessary, which is quite absurd,'' Scalia wrote.

The part of Scalia's dissent that is most often quoted:

"If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf -- and if one assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the Court has made to get to this point -- then we Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government's power '[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,' to decide What Is Golf.

"I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a 'fundamental' aspect of golf.''

Most of the fears about dozens of players wanting to ride a cart turned out to be unfounded. As PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem noted at the time of the ruling, "Given the way the ruling was written, I must say that I'm pleased,'' Finchem said. "Casey's [part] is finished, and yet we still have a reasonably good chance to maintain the sport as we know it. ... Hopefully, the way this opinion is written, we can have our cake and eat it, too.''

Martin had been the rare person who could hit a golf ball 300 yards despite having a disability. But the excessive walking made it very difficult, and even with a golf cart, Martin was in severe pain.

Since the ruling, there have been a handful of requests for a golf cart in PGA Tour competition, the most prominent by Erik Compton, who in 2008 had a second heart transplant. Compton later that year remarkably made it through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying after being granted a six-month waiver to ride a golf cart. He played in a few PGA Tour events on sponsor exemptions and after the six-month period ended, never requested a cart again.

Compton, 36, tied for second at the 2014 U.S. Open and is fully exempt this season on the PGA Tour.