SAN FRANCISCO -- Fourteen years after he maneuvered along the Olympic Club's sloping fairways, we can safely say this about Casey Martin's crusade to use a golf cart in competition: It did not send the game spiraling into disarray. Not even close.
Martin handled his unique situation with grace and dignity the last time the U.S. Open came to San Francisco. He was only 26 then, barely six months removed from obscurity -- a struggling mini-tour pro known, if anything, for spending one year as Tiger Woods' teammate at Stanford. Then Martin filed (and won) his lawsuit against the PGA Tour and qualified for the U.S. Open. He momentarily waded in Woods-like fame, standing on the No. 1 tee at the Lake Course on June 18, 1998 -- a man, his cart and thousands of curious, piercing eyes. "It was total chaos -- the most stressful week, golf-wise, I've ever had," Martin said one day this spring, sitting behind the 18th green at Stanford Golf Course. "There's nothing I've experienced in golf that related to how I felt that week. I was petrified.
"This was my first really big tournament, in a sense, and I was The Story. I remember having a late tee time on Thursday -- and the fairway was lined with people, media all over the place. I was just praying not to have a meltdown."
Fast forward to 2012, with the Open returning to the Olympic Club in June, and Martin occupies a much different place in the sports galaxy. He's almost 40 now, a little wiser to the world, and he's no longer swimming upstream against the tour, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. He's done fighting (and winning) all the way to the Supreme Court.
Martin sails below the radar, mostly, as the golf coach at Oregon in his native Eugene. It's an ideal match -- the painful circulatory disorder in his right leg does not prevent him from doing his job, his good-natured personality comes in handy, and his name recognition helps in recruiting.
Here's the fresh twist: Martin stands only 36 holes from taking another cart on another journey around the Olympic Club.
It remains a wild long shot, but he could create one of the coolest stories of this 112th U.S. Open. Martin hadn't even entered Open qualifying in five years, because his coaching duties leave him little time to practice or play, but he couldn't resist the nostalgic lure of Olympic.
He went out and shot 2-under-par 70 in local qualifying May 7 in Vancouver, Wash., good enough to advance to the next stage. Martin will take his crack at sectional qualifying -- a grueling, 36-hole test -- June 4 in Creswell, Ore.
"It's going to have to be an act of God," he said before advancing through locals. "I'm doing this to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle."
It's easy to forget, and not vital in the grand scheme, but Martin played well in the 1998 Open, his first and only major championship. He briefly flirted with contention and ultimately tied for 23rd -- one shot behind Woods, one shot ahead of Vijay Singh and two shots ahead of '98 Masters champion Mark O'Meara.
He was trying to carve out a career as a tour pro despite Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, the birth defect that leaves him with a severe limp and constant pain.
His was a whirlwind ride into the national spotlight. Martin filed his lawsuit in late 1997, soon landed an injunction allowing him to use a cart, earned his first professional victory at a Nike Tour event in Lakeland, Fla., in January '98 and then won his lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
As the appeals process began its three-year odyssey -- the tour argued that walking is a fundamental part of the game and that no player should be permitted to use a cart -- media attention engulfed Martin. It crested at the Olympic Club, from his Monday practice round with Woods to his first two rounds alongside 1994 Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
Steve Burdick, one of Martin's teammates at Stanford, was his caddie during the '98 Open. Burdick recalled Martin's original golf cart nearly toppling over on top of him early in the tournament, symbolic of his unnerved state.
Burdick occasionally reminded Martin of Bible verses on the course, to calm him.
"I remember Casey being really nervous and asking me where his first tee shot even went," Burdick said. "It was crazy -- because he had a cart, it was difficult for him to get through tees and greens. It was awkward but still exciting."
Martin had a chance to earn an invitation to the 1999 Masters (by finishing in the top 16), but he came up two shots short. He never played in the Masters, though he used the Open as a springboard to a strong season on the Nike Tour in 1999 and his only full season on the PGA Tour in 2000.
More lasting was Martin's landmark legal triumph and the reaction he generated from the public. The crowds at Olympic embraced him, fully aware he wasn't trying to gain an advantage by using a cart. He was merely trying to make it through 18 holes despite obvious physical hardship.
The Supreme Court decision, in 2001, didn't open a floodgate of disabled professional golfers riding in carts, as tour officials feared. Only a few players have used carts since then, most notably two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton for a short time.
As it turned out -- and as sensible people understood at the time -- Martin's cause was worthy and justified.
Age: 39 (turns 40 on June 2)
Job: Men's golf coach, University of Oregon
Deep roots: Born and raised in Eugene, Ore.
Local ties: Stanford class of 1995 (economics)
College glory: Two-time All-American, helped the Cardinal win NCAA title in 1994
Tiger time: College teammate of Tiger Woods for one season ('95)
Major moment: Tied for 23rd in 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic Club
Health hurdle: Born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, congenital circulatory disorder in right leg
Landmark victory: Won 2001 Supreme Court decision vs. PGA Tour, allowing him to use cart in competition
PGA Tour: Two top-25 finishes in 41 career starts
Nike-turned-Nationwide Tour: One win and 10 top-10s in 126 career starts
Coaching acumen: Guided Ducks to three NCAA Championship appearances in past four seasons
On the state of his leg: "I do have pain and discomfort, but I'm doing OK. Amputation certainly could be a reality, but I've lived with that reality a long time. I'm going to be 40 soon, so every day I have my leg now is a bonus."