Friday, June 01, 2001

Verplank has case for cart

        DUBLIN — Scott Verplank could make a case for a cart. He plays the PGA Tour with an insulin pump, and some days his walking is hard work.

        “Being diabetic, you have foot problems,” Verplank said Thursday. “That's a pretty major problem. I have not had horrible problems, but I may be dumb. The doctor is saying, "Yeah, you've got to take care of your feet real good.' (But) Golf shoes are horrible to walk in.”

        Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Casey Martin's right to ride, it is possible other professional golfers with physical infirmities may seek similar allowances. Verplank, particularly, may be entitled. He is not, however, interested.

        “In some respects, I'm disabled,” he
said after the opening round of the Memorial Tournament. “However, I don't feel that way, and I've always had the attitude that you play the cards you are dealt. If my health is bad enough where I can't play out here, I'll do something else.”

Unrealized potential?

        Verplank was healthy enough Thursday to shoot a 6-under-par 66 at Muirfield Village. This gave him a share of the first-round lead with former Ohio State golfer Chris Smith and a forum for his opinions on jurisprudence.

        Consistent with the conflicted attitudes of many touring pros, Verplank sympathizes with Martin's compelling plight but resents what he considers the Supreme Court's intrusion into PGA rules-making. Rather than make an exception for Martin, golf's various governing bodies chose to make a martyr of him.

        “I firmly believe that we should have the right to make our own rules,” Verplank said. “However, it would not have bothered me one bit if he would have dropped the lawsuit and we would have given him a cart. ... I would not have had a real problem with saying this is the one and only situation that's like that.”

        Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, the congenital circulatory disorder that afflicts Martin, probably is more debilitating than Verplank's diabetes. Yet assessing the severity of different disabilities is a tricky proposition and a potential minefield. Though Verplank has no plans to petition the Tour for cart privileges — adopting the insulin pump in 1999 has regulated his medication and improved his play — he does not rule out riding at some later date.

        Today, Verplank is a purist. Tomorrow, he might be a pragmatist.

        “In the right conditions, there's no question a cart would be an advantage to me,” he said. “Particularly in some of these places where we play that are hard walking or really hot ...

        “Barring any other injuries, I could probably add two, three or four more years of really good playing to my career from riding in a cart — just simply from the wear and tear.”

        With more than $6 million in career earnings, the 36-year-old Verplank would seem a poor candidate for pity. He has won three tournaments despite diabetes, most recently last year's Reno-Tahoe Open. Yet Verplank once had grounds to expect greatness.

        Four times a college All-American at Oklahoma State, winner of the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur, Verplank became the first amateur in 29 years to win a PGA Tour event in the 1985 Western Open.

        His subsequent record suggests unrealized potential. It begs the question of what a cart might have meant.

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