Casey Martin inspires Oregon golfers

Casey Martin at Tuesday's practice round (Photo courtesy Steve Gibbons/USGA)

By Haley Hirai, Oregon student correspondent

Casey Martin proudly sported a bright Oregon polo and hat during his U.S. Open practice round on Tuesday. Oregon football head coach Chip Kelly will pick out his outfits once the tournament starts.

Martin is Oregon's head golf coach. His unexpected return to the Open tournament this week is among the most visible stories of the entire tournament - and not just because of his colorful gear.

It's also a chance for his fans, including the student-athletes he coaches, to cheer him on.   

Martin, 40, made history in 1997 after successfully suing the PGA Tour for the right to ride in a cart on the course due to Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a rare and painful circulatory disorder in his right leg.

A native of Eugene, Ore. and lifelong Duck fan, Martin abandoned his competitive career and accepted the Oregon head coaching job in 2006 and has since led the Ducks to four appearances in the NCAA Championships. He was named 2010's Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

"I don't regret it at all. It was the right decision for me," Martin said during a Tuesday press conference at Olympic. "I love what I'm doing and we have had a lot of success. It's been kind of a magical time for Oregon athletics so I'm really grateful I got to be there. And I intend to be there for a long time."

Martin's team followed his dramatic U.S. Open qualifier in Creswell, Ore., through hole-by-hole live stats and Twitter updates, and have been excitedly texting him ever since. It is usually Martin who lives vicariously through his young team, but his ducklings are rooting for their beloved coach this time around. 

"I just had a feeling it was going to happen," freshman Noah Sheikh says. "Before all of this happened, I thought he could very easily win the qualifier. There is just something great in this story."

A native of Woodside, Calif., about half an hour south of San Francisco, Sheikh was able to watch Martin's practice round with Tiger Woods on Tuesday and plans to be at the Olympic Club again on Friday and Saturday supporting his coach.

Recent Oregon graduate Jack Paton, who just began his professional career on the Canadian Tour, also is following Martin's every move on TV and the Internet. The U.S. Open will be broadcast on NBC and ESPN beginning Thursday.

"A lot of what makes Casey great has to do with attitude, not just on the course, but off the course too," Paton says. "Casey teaches us to accept the good and the bad. Every round, you hit bad shots. It's overcoming it with a good attitude that's the most important thing."

As a man who has overcome so much in his life and career, Martin hopes that his team sees that anything is possible and keeps pursuing their own dreams.

"They see me play. They know I'm not perfect, but if I can get to the U.S. Open, then any one of them can. If I can get to this point, the guys on my team can do anything too," Martin said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

To Martin's players, now sprinkled throughout the country, this week is more than a storyline to follow on TV. Martin is their mentor, their friend, and now they are pulling for him just as he has always been there for them.

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