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Casey Martin suit against PGA gets underway today

Since he won a tournament on the Nike Tour while riding a cart, disabled golfer Casey Martin has been all over TV, become a part of Nike's "I Can" campaign and appeared at the U.S. Capitol with Bob Dole.

Monday he gets down to business in U.S. District Court.A federal magistrate begins hearing three or four days of testimony before deciding whether the Americans with Disabilities Act should force the PGA Tour to grant Martin the right to ride instead of walk in the professional golf tournaments it sponsors.

The PGA Tour lost a bid last week to have the case thrown out of court on grounds the disabilities act does not apply.

U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin ruled the PGA Tour is a commercial enterprise, not a private club that would be exempt from the act. He also found that golf courses used for tournaments by the PGA Tour are places of "public accommodation" under the act, even inside the ropes that exclude spectators.

Lawyer William Wiswall will lead off for Martin by calling expert witnesses to testify about his medical condition.

"Casey's condition is debilitating and prevents him from running or engaging in other aerobic exercise to increase his lung capacity and cardiovascular strength, and therefore he has less stamina and is more susceptible to fatigue than other golfers," Wiswall said.

Martin was born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome. He does not have the vein that runs along the bone in his lower right leg. Instead, blood flows back to his heart through a jumble of veins near the surface. The condition makes it painful for him to walk and could ultimately lead to amputation.

"The purpose of the ADA is to have people bend the rules to accommodate the disabled. All we want is a little bend here, not a break," Wiswall said.

Martin himself will take the witness stand, Wiswall said. Other evidence will relate to the rules of golf and the way the PGA Tour runs tournaments.

"A secondary issue of all this is that image of a player that is attempted to be portrayed by the PGA Tour as that athlete walking down the fairway to victory on the 18th hole," Wiswall said. "They do not want what are known in England as `buggies' going down the fairway."

PGA Tour lawyer William Maledon's case focuses on the idea that walking is an essential part of tournament golf.

"It is something that is put into the rules of the competition intentionally to add to the competition the additional element of being able to prevail under conditions of fatigue and stress brought about by walking the course for four days straight," which can add up to 20 to 30 miles, Maledon said.