Skip to main content

Conversation With Casey Martin

Editors Note: Born in Eugene, Ore., and educated at Stanford, former professional Casey Martin is coach of the University of Oregon men's golf team. Martin was a three-time All Pac-10 selection and was a member of an NCAA Championship team in 1994. He turned pro in 1995 and played on the Nationwide and PGA tours. Martins lawsuit in 2001 with the PGA Tour for the right to use a golf cart during competition is well-documented. He was named Ducks coach in 2006. Golf Channel reporter Casey Bierer recently sat down with Martin before his team opened its spring season in Hawaii at the Hilo Invitational Feb. 4.

Casey Bierer: Coach Martin. It's a new year and a lot going on in your life. Lets start with the University of Oregons golf team. What is the state of your Ducks?
Casey Martin: We are very young, but, we are working hard. We did not have a great fall season. But, we have some great players. I have ten guys on my team. Ive got one senior, five sophomores and four freshmen. And during the fall we played three freshmen and two sophomores in all the events. So, were really young and we kind of took our licks in some of the bigger tournaments. But, the kids are getting valuable experience and I am really excited about the future.
CB: You have developed a reputation for recruiting gritty players. Whats your philosophy?
CM: I think everyone has there own bias and point of view on life. Certainly, I love a pretty golf swing as much as anyone else, but, I really try in my recruiting to not just fall in love with a kid because of his pretty golf swing. Ive tried to watch how kids compete and look at who is focusing on their scores and how they play rather than just how they swing. And its kind of worked out that way where Ive got a fair number of players that dont really have swing coaches. They just like to go and compete. And that doesnt bother me at all because thats how I used to play. I didnt have a swing coach until much later in life and I think that does influence how I recruit. I dont automatically go after cookie cutter kids out of the golf academies. Some kids cant afford to play all the AJGA events but that doesnt mean they dont have a lot of game. You have to know where to go and how to find those kids.
CB: Whats the learning curve been like for you ' taking your talents as a professional golfer and transitioning to coaching college golf?
CM: I have a lot of knowledge about golf and the golf swing, but, the biggest thing for me and the challenge even now is, Im not a trained instructor. So, when do you try and help the kid with his mechanics and when do you just let it go? When do you say something, when do you not say somethingkind of that balance. And there is a lot of talent in knowing what to say about the golf swing and when to say it. Thats been the biggest learning curve for me and remains a challenge; when to intervene with a kids swing mechanics. When to get on him and when to just keep your mouth shut. But I am learning it and it is a fun process to learn.
CB: What is the biggest joy you get from coaching?
CM: I love it when we are out practicing and guys start playing really well and applying some of the things we have been talking about and the work starts paying off. That is a lot of fun to see. Its also a lot of fun to see when the guys are having a good time. I had a blast when I was at Stanford. We really did have a lot of fun. I try very hard to bring that in to this program at the University of Oregon. When we practice and we do some competitive training stuff, were working hard but at the same time its still fun. And I love it when I see the kids that I have recruited to play on my team having a blast, going to school, going to games, playing golf, having fun in practice ' that is really rewarding for me.
CB: Your schedule kicks off in February in Hawaii at the Hilo Invitational. What are your expectations?
CM: I dont know, exactly. This is a team that by the end of the year can be competitive with other really good teams and were hopeful to make the NCAAs and just kind of see where it goes. We had some high expectations in the fall and the kids may have felt a lot of pressure and as a result Im just trying to keep it loose and let them go and play and see what happens.
CB: What do you want people to know about Ducks golf in Oregon that they may not know?
CM: That is doesnt rain here every day. They should know that. (laughs) First thing people say when I go to recruit is, Doesnt it rain there everyday? NO. It does not rain here all the time. I think a lot of coaches out there have done a good job of convincing kids it does rain here all the time, but, it doesnt. We have a great climate for golf here. We can play all year round. We were in short sleeves all last week and this is a great place to play golf. And just basically that I think this is a sleeping giant of a golf program. I am very excited about what we have here.
CB: Lets turn to business. You have a relatively new endeavor, an internet golf community called How did it come about and whats the premise behind it?
CM: I have a good buddy named Dusty Schmidt. Over a short period of time, just the last three years really, Dusty has become one of the most successful poker players in the world. He made over $1.5 million last year just playing online. Dusty is a golfer. He played some at UC Irvine. He played on the Golden State Tour, but he had some health issues and had to stop playing. Well, when he started playing poker online he was actually living in the guest room in my house to save money while he learned to play. On his journey to get better at poker, Dusty frequented a web site called Stox Poker and became friends with a guy named Nick Grudzien. Nick is a former Wall Street guy turned professional poker player. Well, this is really a poker community online and one day Nick put up a video clip of his golf swing on the poker blog saying how his swing sucked and he needed help. Well, my friend Dusty saw the video clip and gave Nick a lesson online. So people on the poker blog started to talk about the fact that there should be a golf version of the Stox Poker web site. A place where you can have video blogs, have forums, get your golf swing looked at by teachers, post golf scores, keep track of stats, social network, blog about golf with other golf enthusiastsreally just an entire golf community on-line. So, Dusty thought it was a great idea and he brought it to me to get involved and I loved the idea and jumped in. And weve been building this site for about a year. Its fantastic. It is evolving and morphing constantly and has really picked up steam here recently.
CB: And how will you be involved with the site on an ongoing basis?
CM: Im going to be doing a lot of swing stuff on our video blog. Answering questions for people and getting directly involved. I have video swing tips on there and in fact I just shot a bunch of fresh stuff in the desert that will be up there soon. When I was doing a lot of speaking engagements I used to love answering questions from people ' talking about life on Tour, talking about my life experiences on and off the golf course. So Ill be doing a lot that in the video blog. And hopefully the word will get out that when people go to visit the site theyll get me and theyll get their questions answered.
CB: January 17 marks eight years that your case was argued in the Supreme Court. Is it just me, or does it feel like it was just yesterday?
CM: Yeah, it is just amazing to think that so many years have gone by. It does feel like just yesterday to me. Its kind of hard to think that I am 36 years old now and it seems like just yesterday I was fresh out of college and playing golf. Its definitely amazing how time has flown by.
CB: What are your thoughts reflecting back on that time in your life?
CM: It was a crazy time in my life. Its something that Im really glad I went through but I would never want to go through it again. It was a time when my life really changed in a very short period of time and I was dealing with all kinds of pressures and new opportunities. Even though it was a challenging time and stressed me to the max there is a lot of good that came out of it. People I met, experiences I had, opportunities that came about. So, I dont regret it even though it was a tough time.
CB: What is the status of your leg?
CM: You know, when I stopped playing, really stopped pursuing professional golf full time back in 2004, 2005, I really thought my leg would start getting better as I wasnt on it as much with all the practicing and what not. And what happened is that after the first couple of years of not playing, my leg actually got a lot worse. I was really pulling my hair out because I couldnt move well and I was really struggling. There have been some pretty low moments in that regard and I have looked in to many different avenues over the years including the dramatic step of a prosthetic leg. But actually, the last six months things have really backed off. Ive had a nice little run here where I havent been in a lot of pain. I dont know why. I cant put my finger on it. So, a lot of that intensity I was going through about what to do has been kind of put on the back burner for a while. But, its still something that I deal with that I know I wont have my leg forever and Im at peace with that. But, Im going to hang on as long as I can to be sure.
CB: Whats going on with your golf game right now?
CM: I play with the guys on my team. I played yesterday. I dont play enough to get in a really great rhythm from one day to the next. I hit some balls, and I play with the team and have a lot of fun talking trash with the kids. So, Im out there. My game interestingly is not really that far off. It would take a good couple of weeks of playing every day to get back the rhythm I need to play well, but really, the game isnt that bad.
CB: What do you make of the state of the PGA Tour? Tiger Wood's absence for one, his return, and players like Anthony Kim, Paddy Harrington, Camilo Villegas ' who are all stepping it up?
CM: First of all, the Tour needs Tiger in a big way. I mean, I cant wait to watch golf when Tiger is playing and when hes not playing theres just kind of a lack of a buzz for me. So, if Im like other people out there, and I think I am, the Tour needs him, especially in these trying economic times. I think the Tour needs their main guy out there. And I think Tiger is going to come back very strong. I think he is probably farther ahead in his readiness than he is leading on. And I think he wants to make a huge splash when he does come back. The good side of it is it has given some guys the opportunity to establish themselves ' the guys you mentioned like Kim, Harrington and Villegas. Id certainly add Sergio in there. And you know, we all want to see that Tiger and Phil duel coming down the stretch head-to-head, but, maybe a new rivalry will emerge from Tigers absence. Like Kim and Villegas or Sergio and Padraig. And thats good for golf. But lets face it, there is nothing more exciting than when Tiger is battling it out for the win and when Tiger is in the hunt Im right there.
CB: Well, Coach Martin, thanks for your time. Good luck to you and your Ducks.
CM: Casey, thanks. Its been a pleasure.