PGA can take a walk

Dan Johnson is a Paradise resident who retired last July after 25 years with the state Department of Rehabilitation working as a counselor for people with disabilities.

As someone who worked with people with disabilities for 25 years, I was very pleased with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows Casey Martin to use a golf car in Professional Golf Association-sponsored tournaments. Mr. Martin has a circulatory disease that makes it difficult and painful for him to walk. He sued the PGA when it denied his request to use the car under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case revolved around two issues: Do PGA tournaments fall under the jurisdiction of the disabilities act, and does using a golf car “fundamentally alter the nature” of the tournaments? The former issue involved legal interpretations better suited for the legal scholars to discuss. The latter issue seemed to be more critical and touched off most of the controversy.

In essence, the PGA argued that walking is a fundamental part of golf and thus critical to the outcome of a tournament. It is the PGA’s contention that walking brings a critical element of fatigue that can “fundamentally alter” the outcome of tournaments.

It is difficult to consider as physically strenuous an activity where the standard attire is slacks and a polo shirt. If the walking is so important, I wonder why TV coverage overlooks it and instead focuses on players making shots? Are we missing dramatic coverage of players near collapse, staggering from shot to shot only to be revived by their caddies just in time for the TV cameras to show them making their next shot?

When this case first became public, PGA officials described a tournament some years before where a golfer approached the final green in near exhaustion. That seemed to be the crux of their case: Once, a number of years ago, one guy got tired. That particular day saw record heat, so it would not surprise me if a study of the records showed that even some spectators were near collapse, as well.

There are those—unfortunately Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas are among them—who say that allowing Casey Martin to use a golf cart is analogous to permitting a learning-disabled baseball player four strikes or lowering the basketball hoop to accommodate short players. These comparisons are absurd. Mr. Martin did not ask for a larger cup to shoot at or permission to play off tees closer to the hole. Such requests would certainly “fundamentally alter” the game. A much more suitable analogy would be Barry Bonds using a pad to protect his elbow from an errant pitch or a basketball player wearing a knee brace to protect and stabilize an injured knee.

Besides, how could something called a “golf” car be so foreign to the game of golf that its use would fundamentally alter it?

The PGA could do itself a big favor by dropping all this hogwash about the strenuous, physical nature of its game and focus instead on the incredible skill and concentration it takes to hit a ball 175 yards and have it land within a few feet of the target. In the final analysis, the court decision was a blow to the blind observance of an outdated tradition and a victory for people with disabilities that will further enhance their full participation in society. Good luck, Casey Martin.