Casey Martin had already played for four hours when he teed off Thursday on the 16th hole at the Olympic Club. The ball sliced slightly to the right, nestling on the edge of the deep rough next to the fairway. As shots went during the first round of the U.S. Open, there was nothing memorable about this one.
Yet, in the time it took Martin to retrieve his tee and walk to the fringe of the tee box, applause from the gallery had swelled into the sort of ovation usually reserved for the sport's kings and princes, a Jack Nicklaus, a Tom Watson or a Tiger Woods.
"What did I do?" Martin asked his caddie.
What did he do?
Where do you want to begin?
When he started playing golf despite pain so severe in his right leg from a rare circulatory disorder that his brother could hear him moaning through the wall separating their bedrooms? Or when he went to court to force the PGA to allow him to pursue a career as a professional golfer? Or when he sank a 25-foot putt on the 38th hole two weeks ago to qualify for a berth in the 98th U.S. Open?
How about Thursday?
A round that began under an overcast sky ended five hours later in virtual darkness. He finished it in the kind of conditions one would expect in a city of which one of the Olympic Club's early members, Mark Twain, once said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." His score appeared as if it would be respectable until he bogeyed the last two holes for a 74, four over par and eight shots behind leader Payne Stewart.
But if there's one thing Martin can do as well as any golfer in the world, it is persevere. "I realize I didn't play great," he said. "But I'm there. I'm still in the tournament."
Anybody who believes Martin has an advantage because he's the only player allowed to ride in a cart has never seen him play.
The pain in his leg, he acknowledges, is not as excruciating as it was before the U.S. District Court in his hometown of Eugene, Ore., ruled that he could use the cart under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But he is never entirely free from it, his limp becoming more pronounced with each hole.
"God, it's painful just watching him," a member of his gallery, Chip Eggers of Manhattan Beach, said after Martin left his cart about 40 yards from the sixth green Thursday and walked the rest of the distance with his caddie, former Stanford teammate Steve Burdick.
Martin, 26, didn't have to sue the U.S. Golf Assn. to play here. Officials accepted him without complaint after he earned a berth, although they supplied him with a one-seat cart early this week that, according to American Golf Car President Roger Pretekin, is "good for shopping malls but not the steep hills of the Olympic Club."
After one broke down in a practice round Monday, the USGA gave him the more traditional two-seat cart that he drove during the first round.
"You want to know the ironic thing about this cart?" Martin's attorney, Bill Wiswall, said while watching his client play Thursday. "It's endorsed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who were two of the most outspoken players against Casey when the PGA made its case."
Some players here this week have gone out of their way to welcome Martin. One is Woods, even though he lost $30 to his former Stanford teammate in a practice round Tuesday. Another is John Daly, who said he wants to be paired with Martin so he can keep his soft drinks in the cart.
Others, such as Nicklaus and Watson, emphasized that they also support Martin as an individual. But they refused to budge from their stance that the PGA should be allowed to decide its own rules.
That is the kind of thinking that made the Americans With Disabilities Act necessary. That is the kind of thinking that would allow discrimination in the workplace. That is the kind of thinking that allowed the PGA to remain segregated until 1964, 17 years after Jackie Robinson and nine years after Rosa Parks.
The PGA, stubbornly, is appealing the Martin decision in the U.S. Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
If the first round of the U.S. Open is an indication, the court of public opinion favors Martin.
He said he was overwhelmed by the ovation he received when his name was announced at the first tee.
"I have to admit I was almost crying," he said. "I had to get up there and hit it quick before I thought about what was going on."
It would be nice to report that he was inspired to shoot the round of his life. That will have to wait, perhaps for today, or the Greater Hartford Open, the first regular PGA tournament to offer him an exemption, or for next year's Masters, which has announced it will gladly accept him if he qualifies.
But Thursday was still a significant day, because he was here. That's why they call it the U.S. Open.