Competitive spirit returns for Casey Martin
SAN FRANCISCO -- The margin for error was probably too narrow for someone who hasn't played competitive golf in six years.
Shaved greens, deep rough, fairways lined with trees and fans and Casey Martin back among his peers of professional golf. For much of the past two days, he played like he belonged.
He finished with a better score through two rounds than the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, Luke Donald.
He nearly finished the weekend playing two more rounds at The Olympic Club.
Martin closed the chapter on the most inspirational story of the U.S. Open Friday with a second-round 75 that put him 5-over for the day and 9-over for the tournament.
The cut line was 8-over, though with scores rising as the course dried out during the day, there was a chance that Martin might have been playing another couple of days before returning to his duties as the University of Oregon golf coach.
With Oregon football coach Chip Kelly following him in the gallery, a large contingent of fans wearing their Ducks gear and plenty more offering him their hearty support, Martin got off to a strong start early at Olympic on Friday morning and then struggled down the stretch.
Martin, who returned to Olympic for a full-circle experience after his inspirational performance on this course back in 1998, had four bogeys on the back nine Friday, including one at the par-3 No. 8 to close his round and cost him a chance at two more rounds.
"I would like to have made that last putt, I know that," Martin said. "I know that 8 (over par) was probably for sure and 9 is probably going to be odd man out."
Martin struggled with the putting, missing some putts that might have turned into birdies.
"I hit a lot of putts that looked good," Martin said. "The speed didn't quite match and I was on the edges for a lot of 20-, 30-footers and never really got one to drop and I really needed a couple to go in."
Martin said the most difficult adjustment wasn't physical. His right leg, damaged by a birth defect that reduces circulation, held up well enough, though he admitted to some pain even as he was able to use a cart on the course. It was mental.
On Thursday, he admitted he was nervous. On Friday, it was about thinking his way through the round and it was tougher than he remembers.
"It was the thought process, getting used to a routine of what you think about on every shot," Martin said. "I was hearing voices out there at times because there's so many 'Is this the right club?' (decisions). The biggest thing is actually just thinking like a great player. That's the challenge when you haven't done it and you have some bad shots that creep in there. That certainly was rusty."
Martin, who hadn't played competitive golf since a Nationwide Tour event in Eugene, Ore., in 2006 (this was his first major appearance in 14 years) hadn't counted on qualifying to play here in the first place. He didn't count on making the cut here.
But to come this close makes him want more. The 40-year-old said he will try to qualify again.
"I played well, not great, I never really felt like I was doing well," Martin said. "I didn't have any heroic shots out there."
Martin said he was heartened by the support he received from the crowds.
"It's flattering to be here, to get attention like this, and as a competitor I'm disappointed right now," Martin said. "But these are experiences that don't come around very often, so it's a special week."
While Martin was waiting to see if he would make the cut, he made his way over to the first tee to talk with college teammate Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Martin's weekend was cut short, and he now will return to Oregon to start recruiting for his Ducks men's golf team.
His appearance here might not hurt, right?
"I hope not," Martin said. "We'll see. The rain hurts the recruiting."