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Martin Struggles to Stay Competitive

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. -- The cart stops along a slope on the 18th fairway in West Virginia's hills. Casey Martin hops out and limps to his ball.
Two approach shots from the same spot land in a greenside bunker. He rides on, then descends into the pit without hesitation.
The practice round now over, Martin's troubled right leg has held up again under the rolling terrain. It's his golf game that is struggling, six years after winning the right to ride a cart in PGA Tour events.
``I hope to somehow get over the hump and make some sense out of it,'' Martin said. ``The controversy's wound down. That's just because I haven't played particularly well these last three years.
``I'd love to start playing well again and cause a stir.''
Martin has been relegated to alternate status on the Nationwide Tour. He must wait for a qualifier to drop out or receive a sponsor's exemption.
He's earned just $15,858 in two PGA events this year and has yet to make a cut in three Nationwide Tour events. He finished 3-over-par Friday at the Pete Dye West Virginia Classic.
Martin's condition makes it virtually impossible to walk long distances. As luck would have it, the pain worsened around the time he won his federal lawsuit against the PGA Tour in 1998. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 2001.
Riding in a cart has reduced the level of discomfort, but the physical pain is still there.
``My leg is an issue, but it's not why I haven't been playing well,'' Martin said.
He doesn't like to put much weight or pressure on his leg, and that's reflected in his swing. When he hits the ball correctly, there's discomfort. When he's sloppy, his leg feels fine. Subconsciously, over time, his swing has gone the latter route to avoid the pain.
``So that's my struggle,'' Martin said. ``Trying to retrain my body to accept a little bit of a different feel has been tough.''
Martin also has altered his tournament preparations because he can wear down during practice rounds. During one recent round, he hit fewer shots to save his strength.
``I think golf can certainly be physically taxing on a course like this in the heat, but more so it's the mental aspect,'' he said. ``You grind for five hours in competition, you're exhausted from that more.''
Martin had sought numerous medical remedies to relieve the pain, and had surgery in 2002 to improve the blood flow in his right leg. He doesn't foresee any more operations.
``I'm not proceduring anymore. I've done it a few times. It's been a very bad experience and I'm just not going to do it,'' he said. ``I'm just content to live my life, and if something were to happen for the better, great. But I'm not going to be out there searching for it.''
Martin earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing in the top 15 on the Nike Tour's money list.
His best finish in his only full season on the PGA Tour was a tie for 17th in the 2000 Tucson Open, and he missed the cut 15 times in 29 tournaments.
Two years ago, Martin was in good position to earn another tour card but had a meltdown on the final six holes at qualifying school.
Martin has kept his sense of humor, however, throwing one-liners at fellow competitors or anyone within earshot.
``He stays positive, and that's what's important,'' said former Nationwide player Kevin Kennedy, Martin's caddie at the West Virginia Classic. ``If he hits a bad shot, he kind of laughs about it and moves on. It's the attitude you need out here.''
But Martin, 32, can't survive on laughs alone. The college teammate of Tiger Woods and Notah Begah III at Stanford would like to make something happen in the next couple of years.
His deadline is in his heart, not on a calendar.
``I've just got to continue pursuing until the passion's gone or until something else better pops up. You never really know. There's no real rule book,'' he said. ``Fortunately, I can afford to still do this and I want to do it.
``I'm just not quite ready to throw in the towel. ... If I finally say this is too much, I'll walk away. I can do it. I'm not dependent on golf to make me happy.''
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