Interview: Casey Martin
BETH MAJOR: We would like to welcome everyone to the 112th U.S. Open. We're joined by Casey Martin who is playing in the U.S. Open for the first time since 1998. Which was also held here at the Olympic. That year he played very well, finished tied for 23rd, last Monday he qualified for the U.S. Open again. First time you've really played in a professional event since 2006. You've been the golf coach at University of Oregon since then. Can you talk a little bit about qualifying last week and sort of what went into your thought for even entering the U.S. Open and then going through the qualifying process?
CASEY MARTIN: Yeah, certainly.
I decided to qualify basically it's Olympic Club and I had a wonderful experience here in '98 and I thought it would be fun to try to maybe get back. It worked out in my schedule with recruiting and coaching that I could make it to the first stage up in Washington and then the second round was right in my backyard at Emerald Valley. So it kind of worked out that way quite nicely. And here I am.
BETH MAJOR: What's the reaction been since you qualified last week?
CASEY MARTIN: It is within been overwhelming really. It kind of feels like 1998 all over again with a lot of the attention and it's great. I'm totally flattered and ‑‑ but last week it was a very challenging week for me. Just a lot of demands on my time I'm just not built for this. It's like I coach and I don't have an agent and I just kind of live my life. Then all of a sudden it was just kind of being bombarded. There was a lot of calls I couldn't respond to,
BETH MAJOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. What are some of the memories you have from '98?
CASEY MARTIN: The memories from awesome here. First of all the golf course is incredible. It's extremely difficult, but I remember playing a practice round with Tiger and all the hoopla that goes along with that. I remember vividly the first tee experience. It was a lot different because I think I played about three or 3:30 on that Thursday and there was a lot of attention then. And I remember being not sleeping the night before and having all the next day to kind of wait for it. So I remember it being very nervous.
But I also remember just being on the golf course having a lot of support and playing well and just it was kind of a one of the better weeks of my professional career in '98 for sure when I was here.
Q. When you won your court case you had a quote said something like: People are going to look back and say why did we even fight him on this. Do you sense that there's that spirit now. Seems like a lot of people who were against it 14 years ago are no longer?
CASEY MARTIN: I hope so. I don't like to be the center of controversy and it kind of followed me for a long time there. But it's not my nature to necessarily seek that out. But I am hopeful the way that I conduct myself and the way I play or whatever that it really ‑‑ the controversy fades and that you can just hopefully just appreciate it. Somebody just trying to pursue their dreams like anybody else and just trying to play this great game that we all love. So hopefully that will be the lasting impression of it.
Q. The first six holes are supposedly incredibly difficult without a break. If you could just kind of talk to us a little bit about that. And then secondly off topic, Tiger winning last week, I don't know if you saw it, but how do you think he looks moving coming into this tournament?
CASEY MARTIN: Well, I can attest, I played the holes today. They're incredibly difficult. Very intimidating. People have been coming up to me this week going, way to go, I'm so excited for you, you have to be so excited and I am. I want to make it clear I really am excited to be here. But there's also this in the back of your mind the little fear factor of I have to play this golf course. And I don't play or practice like a lot of these guys do and yet I still want to compete. So there's that borderline fear of, I don't want to miss a shot. Because you do not want to ‑‑ those holes are just brutal. First hole is the same as it's always been with a more difficult green and now it's a par‑4. 2 and 3 have been lengthened. I think 5 and 6 have both been lengthened and so it is a really brutal stretch of golf. You have to hit it well. Shape it perfectly. Hit long irons that are going to hold the green.
All that being said, for the greatest players in the game it's a challenge let alone for a disabled 40 year old golf coach. But it's also a thrill, what a challenge to get to go and try to do that and play those holes and play this whole golf course because it's not like the last 12 are easy. It's going to be just a huge challenge and hopefully I survive this week.
And as far as Tiger, I watched Tiger a lot, yesterday was the first day, first time I've seen him in many years and so I can't speak to his game up close. I'm going to play with him tomorrow, I believe. But certainly watching him, some of the magic's coming back for him and that's great for golf and great for everybody and him as well.
Q. Not everyone in the golf community back in '98 was in your corner necessarily with this whole thing. Now 14 years later to what degree have you harbored any bad feelings toward people, toward the event over the years or has it just washed off your back?
CASEY MARTIN: There certainly have been negative stories or there's controversy and there's two sides to every story. But I try not to focus on it too much and I don't take it personally. I realize that there is another side to my story and people can certainly ‑‑ we can agree to disagree. So I've really ‑‑ I try to not major in that and try to just feel fortunate that there's a lot of people that are pulling for me, I get a lot of support out there from the galleries and trying to enjoy that. And so, yeah, if I sought it out I'm sure I could find a lot, but that's ‑‑ life's too short to do that.
Q. Speaking of Tiger, when you look back to the college days and which probably seems like a long time ago, what were your aspirations back then? You've seen where he's gone, is that the kind of path that you wanted to take with your playing career and that?
CASEY MARTIN: Yes, I wanted to win 73 times on the TOUR. I did. Absolutely. (Laughter.)
I never in my wildest dreams would try to have a career ‑‑ I couldn't dream up a career like Tiger in my wildest dreams is what I'm trying to say. So, yes, we were teammates. He was way different than the rest of us. When I was a senior and he was a freshman, he made us look like we were beginners. Honestly. So I'm the biggest Tiger fan in the world. I love watching him play, love the way he competes. Anxious to get out there and actually watch it live tomorrow and Wednesday and so I'm just thrilled to be in this tournament with him and the rest of these guys. Just trying to enjoy it. Not trying to ‑‑ obviously my career didn't pan out like I would have always dreamt, but a lot of great things have happened through golf and I have a great job at Oregon coaching, I love it, and so I'm not complaining at all. But certainly never could have imagined something like what he's done, yeah.
Q. How would you characterize your health since '98 to now?
CASEY MARTIN: Yeah, my health is fine. My leg ‑‑ I'm not hitting golf balls every day. I'm not walking a golf course all that much anymore. So there's been a reprieve from that for my leg. Having said that, it still, it's getting older. I'm 40 now and so this is at that point where I didn't know if I would ever really be able to keep my leg. So it's not great. When I wake up I feel it. When I get out of the golf cart I feel it. When I travel with the team and travel down here, I definitely feel it. But it's just that's always going to be the case. And so I'm not complaining, it's hanging in there. But I'm not going to be running a marathon either.
Q. Is it true there's a story about back in your college days with Tiger that you took some money off of him in a putting contest?
CASEY MARTIN: It's very true. (Laughter.)
Q. And you saved the check that he paid you? Can you just run through that?
CASEY MARTIN: You know what, we used to, maybe against our coaches in the NCAAs wishes, we used to play for a little bit, putt for a little bit of money up on the 10th green at Stanford. And it used to be me and Notah against Tiger and Conrad Ray who is now the coach at Stanford. One day we had a match and Notah and I probably thanks to Notah in a team match got up a little bit and Tiger said, hey ‑‑ we were leaving the next day on a trip. And he says I'll come out and let me try to earn it back. He might have been down 40 bucks or something.
Well I putted very well, and he kept trying to push the envelope and I kept winning and I think I won $190 which is a lot for a college kid. And he brought me a check. And it says to Casey Martin from Tiger Woods 190, $192. So I Xeroxed it, sent it home, my mother cashed it but then she put it in the scrap book so it's official you can come track it down. It happened. (Laughter.)
And you know, it may never happen again, but it definitely did happen. (Laughter.)
Q. But the check did clear?
CASEY MARTIN: Yes, it did. Even before, yeah, he was a freshman in college and it cleared. You can only imagine that.
Q. You talked candidly about the severity of your injury. I'm curious when you left here in '98 would you have thought 14 years later you would have even had a right leg?
CASEY MARTIN: Probably ‑‑ yeah, probably not. When I left here in '98 my golf game was probably at the peak of when I was playing or at that point I had won a Nationwide Tour event earlier and qualified for this and played well and I really felt like my career was going in that right direction and unfortunately didn't work out. Not so much because of my leg, just because of golf in general, but my career kind of plateaued and then went the other way. And so I ended up coaching. But looking back, I would have hoped my career would have gone a different way, obviously, and it kind of took a side turn. But and I forget what ‑‑ to your point?
Q. In a general sense, where would you have thought you would have been 14 years later?
CASEY MARTIN: Thank you. Yeah, I probably wouldn't have thought I would be coaching and I don't really think 14 years in advance, so it's hard to think like that. But, no, when I was going through my trial and through my challenges I didn't have a real long long‑term vision of professional golf. I thought it would be a pretty short window. And so here I am 40, even though I'm not playing for a living I'm still playing, and so I'm grateful for that.
Q. The game has changed obviously in the years since Tiger first started making headlines. I'm just wondering as a coach, in the beginning as a fan when we watched Tiger we were all amazed. And I'm just wondering now if you see players ‑‑ is it that talent, is it still one in million or do we see people that can kind of replicate the skills that he was doing?
CASEY MARTIN: Well, as I said I'm saying I'm 40, I'm 40 years old I've been in golf playing and now I'm coaching so I get to go and watch all the top players come up. Watch them when they're young and no disrespect to anybody, that I've seen, but there's no one even close that was like Tiger. That I have seen personally. There's some great players out there. Some kids that you're going to see coming up out of the college and amateur ranks, junior ranks that are phenomenal players and American golf I think is in great great hands going forward with some great kids. But I don't see any Tiger Woods.
Q. The last time I saw you you were in a very rainy Harding Park about 2005 and in a little satellite tournament at that time and you were talking about still chasing that dream and still doing that. Where was it that from 2005 to now that that changed and you had to make other choices? What was it that made you take that different path?
CASEY MARTIN: Well, I think any time you play professional golf and you're not one of the great great players, you're kind of a borderline player, you're always thinking what do I do if this doesn't last. So I had always thought about my career, especially because of my leg, but also because of the level of golf that I was playing, you have to think of keep your options open. And so I had always thought what would I do if I didn't compete. I love golf course design, I kind of thought about that, and but I also grew up in Eugene, Oregon and I grew up a huge Duck fan. And so what happened was the coach there, Steve Nosler. He's a good friend of mine and he kind of had told me if you're getting ready to retire, hint hint, I am too, and maybe you could slide in and take my position over.
So it kind of worked out because I live there, I just knew everyone there and just had a lot of respect for that people in the athletic department and they knew me and so the time just finally got right. I played the mini tours for long enough and wasn't making a lot of money and certainly physically was challenged to do that. I just felt like that this is the right time, I have an opportunity to share what I've learned in the game and stay close to the game and do it in my hometown and for the Ducks, which I've always loved to do.
So just seemed like the time was right and I did that in I guess 2006. And I don't regret it at all, it was the right decision for me, I love what I'm doing and we have had a lot of success and it's been a kind of a magical time for Oregon athletics and so I'm really grateful I got to be there. And I intend to be there for a long time. And so it worked out for good for sure.
Q. If I remember when you were playing you actually were one of the leaders in distance off the tee and it was your short game that sort of did you in, wasn't it?
CASEY MARTIN: Yes, I'm sure it was. Yes. There's many things that have been in my way.
Q. The PGA TOUR driving distance leaders, weren't you among them?
CASEY MARTIN: For this tournament, yeah, I do remember that. I drove it well here. If you hit the fairways out here the ball's going to go a long way. If you hit it in the rough it will just stop. And I remember I was hitting it well here, hitting a lot of fairways and ‑‑ but, man, it's a different golf course too. My goodness, it's going to be a big task this week.
Q. Given that you haven't played that much competitively the past few years how were you able to do this? How did you qualify and do you believe does fate have a role in this?
CASEY MARTIN: Did you say fate or faith?
Q. Either one.
CASEY MARTIN: Well certainly faith for me does. People ask me all the time how does this happen? I really don't play much golf. I am around the game. I don't want to lie, the members at Eugene Country Club will know I'm on the side of the range hitting balls all the time and I love the golf swing, I love golf. But that's kind of what ‑‑ I hit balls for about an hour a few days a week. That's kind of my exercise. I don't go on the golf course that much and actually play for score.
So for me to be here, it's kind of surreal and certainly as a Christian I trust that God has a purpose for me to be here and I'm thankful for that. I don't know what that is, but I'm grateful to be here and see what's in store.
Q. I want to know if you're going to give Tiger a chance to win back his $192 tomorrow?
CASEY MARTIN: I will. I don't know. The problem now and the word on street is it's hard to get, it's hard to get, he doesn't like to pay ‑‑ don't say that, this is probably live and don't tell him that. But I know that it's tough to get that wallet out. So at least that's what I've been told. So I'm going to give my best tomorrow to get in there. But actually it may not be even ‑‑ the USGA may frown on gambling on the golf course so in that case.
BETH MAJOR: It's a professional event.
CASEY MARTIN: Oh, OK.
Q. What about the providence of finding the ball under the cart at the sectional qualifier when you thought it was lost and were going to go back to the tee at 3?
CASEY MARTIN: Certainly. I had a situation in the qualifier I was playing really, really well and then the wind picked up on the short drivable par 4 and I still hit driver and I kind of hit a flounder and it should have just been in the trees, we couldn't find it. It was very dark that day, it was kind of a wet day, and we looked forever. We couldn't find it so I was ‑‑ I kind of moved my cart to go to a different area and there was an official there that moved his and suddenly my caddie found it right where we were looking. He kind of felt bad. He thought people might have thought he dropped the ball just because it was kind of bizarre how it appeared.
But looking at it, it hit a wet spot and kind of come out of its plug and there was mud on the top and I had either driven on top of it, not like touching it, but just over the top of it or the official did. And so when I was getting ready to almost get out and go back and re-tee it, there the ball was. Having said that, I chipped to the side of the green and then chipped in from about 30 yards for birdie. And that's kind of when I thought, okay, maybe something greater than just myself, someone, something's going on here. So it was a great day and I've used the word "magical" but it really was kind of a magical day for me to get here.
Q. Two part question. How is your leg now compared to what it was 14 years ago? And is it still a question of whether you will long‑term keep your right leg?
CASEY MARTIN: It definitely is a question. I think I'm going to keep it as long as something drastic doesn't happen. And that's always been the fear. It's still pretty fragile. So my leg compared to '98 it's probably not quite as good just because it's older but it hasn't deteriorated to the point that it was. My leg, it goes in cycles. And there's days where I'm okay and I kind of get around and then there's days where something ‑‑ the switch turns and it's quite painful.
So I haven't figured out really what causes things, it's just kind of the way it is with the circulation, with the circulatory problems that I have. It's just kind of random. So it depends on what kind of days I have. It's not going to be great, I'm not going to lie, I'm in pain, not now, but when I get out of the golf cart if you look I'll grimace a little bit and I just ‑‑ it's just kind of the way it is. But when I get out there and kind of get moving, it tends to be a little better. It's the first steps after I get up or out of a cart or out of an airplane or whatever that are really quite painful. I feel like I'm just old. My leg just feels really old.
Q. You talked about not playing much. Before the local qualifier when would have been the last time you actually competed? I'm sure you played against your players some but do you count that as being a help and even so when would have been the last time you played in anything?
CASEY MARTIN: A legitimate tournament, might have been the Nationwide in Eugene in 2006 or something like that. I think it's been five or six years since I've been in a legit tournament that you would actually say, hey, this is a golf tournament. A lot of barbecue circuits, a lot of scrambles, let me tell you. I played a lot of scrambles. And I did ‑‑ twice before my preparation for this was playing in a Young Life scramble and an Oregon Club scramble.
So that's I guess how you prep for a U.S. Open. You play golf courses from about 6,200 yards in a scramble. That's what I did. But I don't want to lie, I'm around the game a lot. I'm active in our practices as a team, I'm there, I hit balls beforehand. I'll sometimes go do some of our drills with the guys. So I am close to the game.
And I've actually learned a lot as a coach and I kind of feel like I try to take a lot of the swing theories out there and try to be the guinea pig with my guys and be like, hey, I'm working on this, guys, it's kind of working, what do you think?
So I'm active that way. So it's not like I just don't know anything about it, I just don't play golf for score very often.
Q. I know one of your senior players lost a really tough playoff on the following day. Did you follow that playoff? And secondly, what has been your players' reaction? How surprised are they that you got into this?
CASEY MARTIN: They probably are a little surprised because I don't play that much with them. But when I do play with them they're good matches and I've got a couple really really good players on my team that are graduating and so when I go play with the team I'm competitive with them. So they kind of know where my level is in relationship to those guys.
And yes, Daniel Miernicki lost in a playoff, I was not there, but that was tough. Although things work out, he's got a busy few weeks, he's playing in the Travelers next week in Hartford and then the Irish Open, so he's going to get some starts as a pro and I'm excited for him. He's a great player and great kid and I'm bummed he's not here. It would be fun to experience that with him. But he'll be here soon enough.
Q. Between 1998 and now you had not played any rounds here?
CASEY MARTIN: No. Not to my knowledge.
Q. Going back to 1998, what are the three or four snapshots in your mind that, when you remember that week, someone who was maybe especially kind to you here or do you run into people the same people yet or not?
CASEY MARTIN: You know, there were a lot of people that have been kind to me, but to name them, I can't remember exactly.
But the experiences here, what I took from the snapshots are, A, the stress of the U.S. Open. That was my only major I played in and it was really different than other golf tournaments. So that's kind of what I've always held on to.
I tell my guys that are qualifying for the U.S. Open, I'm like, do you know when you're getting into if you qualify? Do you know what it's going to be like? And I kind of do that tongue in cheek. So that's really what I remember though is just the difficulty and the challenge mentally and physically of a golf course like this.
Then just the thrills. I made some putts that week, hit some shots. To hear the roar of the crowd like that you don't really get that on the mini tours obviously or the Nationwide Tour, you only get that at the really big tournaments. To experience that a little bit was a lot of fun. I remember that. Like I said, it was a great week for me.
Q. Where is the cart?
CASEY MARTIN: Where is it now currently?
Q. The cart that you used here. Did it go into ‑‑
CASEY MARTIN: I have no idea. I assume it's in the cart barn. (Laughter.)
Q. Your lawsuit was against the PGA TOUR, do you recall the circumstances though with entering the U.S. Open that year? Did you have to fight the USGA or did they just go along with it?
CASEY MARTIN: Exactly. My fight was strictly against the PGA TOUR, you're right. And this is not the PGA TOUR. But they were, because they were so closely linked, obviously having won that or winning the injunction at that time, legally it wouldn't have been a great thing for them to contest it, because of what had just happened. It was so similar.
But had they said no, it doesn't work for us, I would have had to have sued them as well, which I'm grateful I didn't have to.
Q. Are there any rules or recommendations that they give you in terms of where to drive it, when to drive it, anything like that?
CASEY MARTIN: Sure. No, there are. They have done an awesome job. They had a guy whose really scouted it out for me. The way the golf course is, is quite a bit different, it's more open areas. And so they will have a cart caddie for me out there, too, where I'll park kind of short of green and he'll take it to the next tee. And they have been overly accommodating, the USGA, which it's been great and I think it will work really smoothly this week.
Q. Wondering what goals you have set for yourself for this week.
CASEY MARTIN: I'm trying to figure that out. I said jokingly to not shoot a million and to make contact. Which is sort of tongue in cheek, obviously.
I would like to make the cut. I would like to get paid. Obviously there's a lot of money in this tournament and that would be fun.
But that aside, I'm just going to go out there and just compete. I don't get to compete much and so I've gone from basically nothing to the pinnacle of golf, which is a lot to take in emotionally and mentally.
But I'm going to go compete, give it my all, and see what that means. If that means last place, that's what it means. If it means first place, then ‑‑ it's not going to mean first place ‑‑ but if it, you know, I'm going to take whatever I get and consider this a great experience.
BETH MAJOR: We would really like to thank you for joining us today, we appreciate the time you spent and we're happy to have you with us and best of luck this week.
CASEY MARTIN: Well, thank you, guys, for having an interest. Thanks.