Former Stanford teammates Martin, Woods back together

By Jason SobelJune 12, 2012, 2:13 am

SAN FRANCISCO – Time embellishes all tales. Years go by and the mundane becomes interesting, the interesting becomes outrageous, the outrageous becomes exceedingly unbelievable.

The following story sounds easily amplified, enhanced for the benefit of dinner-table conversation and back-room banter.

And it could be, except for one little detail: There remains concrete evidence – or at least a pretty telling paper trail.

Eighteen years ago, two college kids played on the same golf team. Separated by three years, they may not have been the best of buddies, but the relationship quickly took on mentor-mentee proportions. One was a senior; he walked with a limp, but also carried a mercurial short game. The other was a freshman; skinny yet super-talented and armed with a cool nickname.

Video: Casey Martin news conference

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Their common bond was one of competitiveness. It showed in their matches against other schools, sure, but really reared its head during intrasquad putting matches after practice. Camped out on the green next to the 10th hole at their home course, the senior always enlisted one of his brethren as a teammate while the freshman partnered with a fellow underclassman.

Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the seniors swept a large majority of the matches. And perhaps it’s hardly noteworthy all these years later, but the freshman paid up – even once to the tune of a $190 check.

No, this would all be just a footnote in the annals of history – a lively story for the parties involved, free of any embellishment – until it’s revealed that the main characters of this tale competed for Stanford University.

The senior was Casey Martin. The freshman was Tiger Woods.

And yes, there’s proof.

“One day we had a match,” Martin recalled Monday. “We were leaving the next day on a trip. And [Tiger] 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.’ So I Xeroxed it, sent it home. My mother cashed it, but then she put it in the scrapbook, so it's official. You can come track it down. It happened.”

The story remains relevant so many years later, as Martin and Woods have taken clearly divergent paths to reach the same destination this week, both competing in the 112th U.S. Open Championship at The Olympic Club, not far from their Stanford roots.

Martin, of course, tried to make it as a touring professional, famously winning a Supreme Court case which allowed him the use of a cart during competitive rounds because of the effect Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome has incurred on his right leg. Meanwhile, Woods’ career has become the stuff of legend, as he’s compiled 73 career PGA Tour victories and 14 major championship titles at the age of 36.

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Until this week, they hadn’t seen each other in years, the University of Oregon coach rarely getting a chance to catch up with the jetsetting pro. It’s the nature of a truly “open” championship, though, in which for one week two men with distinctly opposite journeys can stand on equal footing in the same spotlight.

“It’s amazing how it’s panned out,” said Conrad Ray, the current Stanford head coach who usually served as the underclassman teammate to Woods in those post-practice putting contests. “It’s pretty surreal. I think there are a lot of common threads. Even though they’ve gone down different paths, I still think the common thread is that they’re both ultimate competitors. They want to win and they usually do. You can see that in whatever Casey has done and whatever Tiger has done, too.”

“They both have established tremendous precedence and taken on the establishment in different regards,” added Notah Begay, a PGA Tour pro and the fourth member of those matches. “Tiger in the way he plays and the fact that he’s African-American and has brought so many people to the game. Casey in that he’s taken one of the most powerful institutions to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.”

Perhaps that’s why, so many years later, there remains such mutual admiration between the two men. Time may have eroded the friendship slightly, as it does to so many contemporaries from college. But time hasn’t embellished their tale, hasn’t added conjecture or hyperbole to the good ol’ days.

This week, they will play at least one practice round together. One more chance for Casey and Tiger to relive their college days before starting on equal footing as fellow competitors once again.

The mentor has other things in mind, too. He wants some more of his mentee’s money, although he understands it may be a bit trickier than when he was a wide-eyed Stanford freshman.

“The word on street is it's hard to get,” Martin said with a laugh. “He doesn't like to pay. Don't say that; this is probably live, so don't tell him that. But I know that it's tough to get that wallet out. At least that's what I've been told.”

He should take solace armed with the knowledge of one point of information: Tiger Woods does know how to write a check.

Casey Martin owns the proof.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

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A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.