Casey Martin will return to U.S. Open

Updated: June 5, 2012, 10:56 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Casey Martin will be riding his golf cart in the U.S. Open next week at the Olympic Club -- just as he did 14 years ago.

Martin, 40, now the golf coach at the University of Oregon, was the medalist at a 37-player sectional qualifier on Monday at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Ore.

He earned one of two spots in the 112th U.S. Open -- the other will be decided in a playoff Tuesday. Martin shot consecutive 69s in the weather-delayed event to edge Daniel Miernicki, who plays for Martin at Oregon, and Nick Sherwood by a stroke.

Martin holed a 5-footer for par on the final hole to avoid the playoff.

"It means a lot," Martin told the Golf Channel. "I mean I haven't really had a lot of time to think about it. It's just with the national championship (Oregon made it to the NCAAs last week), I was just so involved in that.

"I think that actually helps coming back. I really haven't even thought about this. So I just kind of went and played golf. And amazingly for not playing in nine days before this tournament, or before today, I played great. I hit a lot of great shots. I was choking down the stretch, I mean, but I hit a lot of great shots. I was kind of, I was enjoying it. It was kind of different. So I liked it."

Martin pointed to a fortunate break on the eighth hole of his afternoon round when he seemingly had lost his ball -- only for his caddie to find it covered in mud just before the time limit expired that would have required him to take a penalty stroke and return to his previous spot to play again.

After looking at a possible double bogey, Martin chipped in for birdie.

"I kind of realized maybe something was going on," he said. "I kind of had a peace about that, that something's going on here because that's a little bigger than myself."

Martin, who finished in near darkness and admitted he probably should have stopped and resumed in the morning, won a lawsuit in 2001 filed against the PGA Tour that went to the Supreme Court, allowing him the use of a cart in competition under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He had been granted an injunction in 1997 and qualified for the Open in 1998 at Olympic, where he tied for 23rd in his only appearance in a major championship.

Martin has a birth defect in his lower right leg that makes it extremely painful to walk. Called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, it limits the blood flow in his lower right leg.

It didn't keep Martin from earning a golf scholarship to Stanford, where he was a two-time All-America and teammates with Notah Begay and, for a year, Tiger Woods.

Martin's tour career ended in 2006 as he took the Oregon job, and he hadn't tried to qualify for the Open in five years. He made it through a local qualifier last month and called himself a "longshot" to make it out of sectionals.

"My game is good at times," Martin told ESPN.com before his Oregon team competed in the NCAA championships. "I don't know how I'll handle the nerves. Golf and competitive golf are quite the different story. Competitive golf I really don't know. I just haven't played enough. I'm going to find out (Monday) with a big carrot involved. I'll see how I hold up."

Martin held up fine, actually building a comfortable lead over the back nine before a couple of late bogeys.

He described his previous U.S. Open experience as a "whirlwind" due to all of the media attention and the novelty of a player riding a cart.

Martin can expect more of the same next week.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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