|A Good Ride Spoiled|
|Our columnist hits the links to test exactly how much walking it takes to wipe him out|
|June 4 — It’s not very often that I get story ideas from golf legend Jack Nicklaus, but the man was onto something.|
THE OTHER DAY, after the Supreme Court ruled that it would not
“fundamentally alter” the game of golf to allow Casey Martin—who suffers
from a degenerative disease that makes it painful to walk the course—to
use a golf cart even though professional golf bars the use of any
conveyance other than the feet.
You remember the facts in this case: Martin, who suffers from Klippel-Trenauay Syndrome, once played on the PGA Tour until his condition left him unable to compete without a golf cart. When the PGA refused to waive its “walking rule” on the grounds that physical endurance is part of the game, Martin sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a much-maligned law that supporters claim is the greatest civil rights achievement of the past 30 years and opponents claim will produce so many frivolous lawsuits that our entire legal system will be clogged until Jan. 14, 2144.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that under the ADA, the PGA Tour—like any employer—must make reasonable accommodations for its handicapped employees. The 7-2 ruling almost caused dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia to himself become disabled by a degenerative condition—in his case, the sudden engorging of the blood vessels that supply the hyperbole center of his brain. Scalia’s dissent was so wild and uncontrolled that if it were ever made into a Hollywood movie, I would want William Shatner to play it.
Scalia claimed the ruling would merely open the door to other lawsuits, such as those brought by (he really said this) the parents of a learning disabled Little Leaguer suing so their tyke could get four strikes instead of the usual three because of his disability.
Fortunately, Justice John Paul Stevens held his ground, ruling that golf is not a game about walking: “The essence of the game [is] shot-making—using clubs to cause a ball to progress from the teeing ground to a hole some distance away with as few strokes as possible.”
Not only did Stevens make the game sound positively easy (do you know any golfer who causes “a ball to progress” in “few strokes”?), he dismissed the notion that walking the five miles of the normal golf course was vital to the game.
At this point I couldn’t help thinking one thing: What kind of lame-ass sport can be played with an atrophied right leg or really fat guys who drink beer between shots anyway?
And then I heard the soothing words of Jack Nicklaus.
“I promise you, [walking] is fundamental,” Nicklaus said, disputing Stevens’s argument. “I think we ought to take them all out and play golf. I think they’d change their minds.”
Man, I thought, the Golden Bear is right—as always. Let’s play some golf! I’ve got a column to write! Roll over, Scalia and tell Bagger Vance the news: We’re hitting the links!
Now, I have played golf before (listen, I can explain: I was younger, it was peer pressure, I made a mistake, this was before the Surgeon General’s warning, etc.) and always remember myself being fairly exhausted by the time we finally made it to the drinking part of the course (the famed 19th hole).
But in light of the Martin ruling, I obviously needed to conduct a full fact-finding investigation of golf’s potential to exhaust. And I needed to do so on an absolutely beautiful Friday while everyone else was at work.
The round started off fine. Because I can only hit a ball 75 yards at a time (is that a disability under the ADA?), my body needs only short walks before resting. And because my shots tend to land out of bounds rather than in the fairway, I was able to stay out of the brutal sun most of the day (perhaps Casey Perfectionist should consider that as an energy-saving tip).
At the 5th tee, a vendor selling water, frozen Snickers bars and Gatorade pulled up, but in deference to Martin, I resisted the offer of nourishment. Meanwhile, one of the aforementioned fat suburban guys bought Gatorade, presumably to replenish all the vital minerals he lost while riding around the course, walking four feet to his ball, swinging apathetically and hopping back into his golf cart.
Playing behind this foursome offered me plenty of rest as their balls careened off rocks and trees like test rockets in a Pentagon’s missile defense trial. If Stevens was right, and golfing was essentially about “shot-making,” the Gatorade boys were playing a different game, one that looked like it was essentially about “divot-making” or “ball-losing.”
After the 11th hole, I felt the first cricks in the neck (hey, when you’ve made 73 shots and it’s only the 11th hole, you start to stiffen up) and a twinge in my knee (the one I use for praying before shots).
Sensing my pain, a guy pulled up in his golf cart and offered to let me ride with him for the rest of the round. I jumped at the chance, but not into the golf cart, lest I abandon my mission. But I appreciated the chance to hear from a guy who plays golf two or three times a week.
“The game is not about walking, it’s about hitting the ball,” said the golfer, Al Turnipseed. (He can afford to say that; he hits the ball 300 yards and can make it stop on a dime. Of course the game is about shot-making to anyone who actually makes the shots!). “You don’t keep score of the walking, just of the shots.”
Turnipseed’s friend, Andre Mann, disagreed (naturally—with his slice, the only way he can beat Turnipseed is if the golf cart suddenly had engine trouble). “Walking induces fatigue,” Mann said. “If you’re riding, you’re not subject to fatigue.”
And I was certainly subject to fatigue. When we finally walked off that 18th green, the five-and-a-half hours of golf (nearly twice my normal workday!) had taken their toll. I was tired, hungry, late and, with a score of 119, humiliated.
Later, icing down after my fact-finding round, I wondered, was I alone in my weariness? Worse, was Antonin Scalia right?
To find out, I called up writer and CBS commentator Bill Geist, not because he kinda looks like a beardless version of me (http://www.cbsnews.com/now/story/0,1597,13564-412,00.shtml), but because he actually has a book out right now called “Fore! Play: The Last American Male Takes Up Golf” (Warner Books).
In addition to getting commentary by one of America’s premier humorists, I figured that if I’d mention his fine new book, he might do the same for my book, “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (which is every bit a perfect Father’s Day gift as his). This type of handwashing is a time-honored journalistic practice that is even older than golf!
Geist really understands golf. He says he always plays with a cart because without it, “I get tired and I can’t bring along a cooler.” He agreed that walking is part of the game, but he leaned toward the conclusion that it was the “annoying” part.
“I love golf carts,” Geist said. “In fact, I think the game should be played entirely in carts—you know, polo-style. I can’t tell you if it would lower everyone’s scores, but it would be a lot more fun.”
Finally, a game where Casey Martin can beat Tiger Woods.
Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House). Visit him at http://www.gersh.tv
© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.