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A Call to Arms, Er. . . Legs!

by Taylor Spalding

I know, I know, by now the Casey Martin debate is as old as a shiny cracked leather glove. But this is not a stale old opinion about who is right and who is wrong. This is a call to all able bodied golfers. This is a call to the army of all amateur golfers to revolt against the industrial golf machine. Stand up and fight for your right to walk the course! Comrades, this is a call to legs!

So much for parody, how about paradox. The walking issue puts the PGA on a tightrope and a possible "lose either way" scenario. Here's what scares the PGA about the issue:

If you agree with the PGA of America and believe that walking is an integral part of the game then you the golfing public should walk in support of the great tradition. If you stand on the side of Casey Martin and against those bullies of the PGA, you should walk in Martin's support.

The PGA wants things both ways now doesn't it? The official stance by the PGA is that walking is integral to the competition at this "elite" level. Yes, I believe Finchem used word "elite." What does all this mean for us "commoners," you know, the rest of us? I can imagine a forthright PGA member saying, "Well it doesn't matter, you commoners butcher the art of golf enough that riding or walking won't make any appreciable difference in your play. But hey, if you're having trouble with your game, see your PGA professional." After barking the PGA mantra and with his eyes green and wide open he says, "Just open your big fat wallet and dish out for the cart. This is a business now, not just a game." It's a fine line when you're trying to massage both sides of the issue.

However the debate ultimately turns out, the question of walking is getting attention. And either way, walking wins. Let's just hope it's not too late. I'm with Peter Jacobsen on this. Let's give golf back to the people! Let's return golf to the affordable family activity that it once promised to be.

Of course this calls into question the nature of the club professional. Is his role that of a teacher or a businessman/woman? It seems to be the latter. Bob Rotella, the famous sports psychologist, points out that statistically the average American handicap has not improved in seventeen years. Based on anecdotal evidence it's probably more like seventy five years. With all this consumerism going on in the golf industry, does anyone in gadget selling, club making, or lesson giving industries really care if anyone improves? Perhaps not, but they will be happy to sell you that "promise" and they will be happy to rent you a cart!

Here's a guy that wants to walk, pines to walk, but just can't do it. Even though this hullabaloo has put Martin on the lips of nearly every golfer in America, I'm sure Martin wishes he was never embroiled in this mess. He just wants to fit in with his fellow competitors ... and compete. At first I was firmly against Martin because I thought that his riding would add more momentum to the continuing demise of walking the links. But now that I see what kind of attention the issue of walking is getting, I hope the thing makes it to the Supreme Court!

The bottom line is the question of whether riding a cart is even an advantage. I firmly believe that it isn't. A wonderful writer by the name of Michael Laughlin agrees. In his book "Radical Golf" he describes cart riding like so:

"Ride, bounce, get out, practice your swing, hit the ball, get back in the cart, and repeat the process again. This adds 5 strokes, maybe more, to anyone's game."

If nothing else, walking improves circulation, helps regulate breathing, keeps a player loose, and puts a player in touch with the more aesthetic aspects of the game. These are all benefits. And who out there can truthfully say to themselves, "I need less exercise"?

If the PGA is so firm in its belief that riding is an advantage, why didn't they compromise. The perfect solution, which the astute Cleveland broadcaster Chuck Galetti came up with, would be to let Martin ride if he gives up the right to a caddie. I say, expand this. Let any pro ride a cart if he gives up the right to a caddie. How many professionals would go for this? Do you really think it would fly? Of course not! Even the Martin detractors on the tour know that the game is determined by strokes not strides. Finchem already admitted to the court that walking "at times" is an advantage. Walking is a tradition, not a rule!

The PGA hasn't a leg to stand on. Whatever appeal is made, the PGA will likely lose it. Even if they do win an appeal, the spotlight that once was on Martin and the question of the game's integrity will be reflected back right on to the PGA itself and the question of its own integrity. A slave cannot serve two masters. What ideal is the PGA then serving, the hallowed game or the mighty greenback?

Posted March 10, 1998

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Copyright 1998, Golden Barefoot Golf


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