Did the USGA Discriminate Against Casey Martin?

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COMMENTARY | Former PGA Tour golfer Casey Martin has had an interesting ride in professional golf. Pardon the pun.

Many golf fans will remember Martin as the player who sued and won a case against the PGA Tour in 2001, fighting for his right to use a golf cart while playing in a tournament. Born with a rare blood -circulation condition in his right leg -- Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome -- Martin has severe difficulty walking, let alone playing 18 holes of championship golf.

Currently the head men's golf coach at the University of Oregon, Martin claims that he was recently discriminated against while attending a USGA event, according to Golfweek. Martin, now 41-years-old, says he was denied the use of a cart at a US Junior Amateur qualifier at El Camino Golf Club in Oceanside, Calif.

That's right: Martin wasn't even playing golf in this circumstance. Instead, all he wanted to do was watch from the sidelines.

Attending the event as part of his college recruitment responsibilities, Martin contacted tournament chairman Matt Pawlak prior to attending the qualifier to request the use of a cart. Pawlak reportedly approved this request, thus allowing Martin to use the cart during his visit.

Martin began his day in a golf cart and began his recruiting efforts. At least, until the sixth hole.

It was on that hole where Pawlak reportedly approached Martin while in the cart and told Martin that the USGA prohibits spectators from using golf carts. Martin cooperated with the request and gave up the cart. Pawlak later told Golfweek that the USGA asked him to not allow Martin to use the cart after all.

"I've never felt more discriminated against or unfairly taken advantage of in my entire life," Martin told Golfweek.

The USGA later released a statement to the magazine, suggesting the whole ordeal was a "misunderstanding".

"The United States Golf Association has been and continues to be a strong supporter of Casey Martin. The unfortunate situation at the U.S. Junior qualifier stems from a misunderstanding over the USGA Cart Policy at our championship events. We regret that this misunderstanding may have caused Casey an inconvenience, but it certainly was unintentional. We have extended to Casey accommodations that we offer all disabled spectators at our championships. Despite this unfortunate situation, we continue to admire what Casey has been able to accomplish in the game as both a player and a coach."

So just what are the accommodations referred to by the USGA in the above statement? As Golfweek points out, the 2013 USGA "Qualifying Manual" decrees that a handicapped or disabled spectator has the option of using a scooter transport to selected areas of the course to view play as it comes through that area. However, no player will be shuttled from hole to hole, "regardless of their condition or relationship to a player in the event."

On one side, tournament rules are meant to be followed by spectators and competitors alike. However, why would Pawlak - chairman of the tournament in question - initially allow Martin the use of a cart only to change his mind later? Surely Pawlak knew the rules by which that day's event would be governed. More importantly, how does a spectator riding in a golf cart disrupt tournament play?

Perhaps the more pressing question is whether Martin's past has anything to do with how he's treated now.

Adam Fonseca has covered professional golf since 2005. His work can also be found on the Back9Network. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and family. Follow Adam on Twitter at @chicagoduffer.

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