Casey Martin, Slippery Slopes, and Boiling Frogs
June 10, 2012, 01:51 AM
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Three years ago, I blogged about how the culture of the bond rating companies, such as Warren Buffett`s Moody`s, had been very slowly corrupted by the logic of the conflict of interest that went back to the 1970s by which they stopped being paid by buyers of securities and started being paid by issuers. This logical problem didn`t become a terrible real world problem until the 2000s with the mortgage-backed securities disaster. I drew an example from golf:

Casey Martin, who was born with a terrible birth defect that crippled one of his legs, leaving him in recurrent pain, starred on Stanford`s famous 1995 college golf team along with the full-blooded Navajo Notah Begay, who went on to win four times on the PGA tour before alcohol brought him down, and with Eldrick Woods Jr., who, last time I heard, remains employed in a golfing capacity.

Despite his disability, Martin enjoyed enough success on the minor league Nike tour to qualify for the PGA tour in 2000. His lawsuit under the Americans with Disability Act to be allowed to use a golf cart on the PGA tour went all the way to the Supreme Court, where he won in 2001.

Martin`s was not a popular victory with players, with both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer protesting that it would open the door to other players getting a note from their doctor to be chauffeured about the course.

It was easy to imagine a player with a bad back like Fred Couples trying to get permission for a cart, and then the whole thing descending into carts everywhere.

And yet, eight years later, the PGA Tour hasn`t slid down the slippery slope. So far, as far as I can tell, a cart has only been used once by somebody other than the severely unlucky Martin: Erik Compton rode in one tournament last fall because he had gotten his second heart transplant only a few months before.

Essentially, golf has a fairly healthy culture of sportsmanship where top players don`t want to be seen as abusing loopholes. So, it hasn`t been hard so far to restrict cart-riding to rare human-interest stories like Martin and Compton.

 

As dearieme commented at the time:

This accords with my observation that conservatives are very shrewd at seeing the direction of social change but prone to overestimating its speed. That`s because they overlook how conservative people can be, which is pleasingly paradoxical.

Golf has a highly conservative culture, basically one of "What would Old Tom Morris do?" 

It was fortunate that its origin culture was Scottish rather than English because it avoided most of the hypocrisy and cheating over amateurism that plagued tennis up to 1968 (when Wimbledon finally admitted professionals) and the Olympics even later. The Scots had a somewhat less classbound society than the English, so if a man wanted to make his living from golf, as Morris did at St. Andrews in the mid-19th Century, that was honorable. It was more honorable to be an amateur, like Bobby Jones in the 1920s, and they had their own Amateur tournaments, but the amateurs did not see themselves as tainted by striving against the professionals in the Open tournaments. 

By the way, the partially crippled Casey Martin, unsurprisingly, couldn`t play well enough to stay on the PGA tour. Six years ago, he retired and became the golf coach at the U. of Oregon. A week ago, at age 40, he qualified for next week`s U.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco.