Casey Martin of the United States hits a chip shot...

Casey Martin of the United States hits a chip shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club . (June 11, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO -- The right leg that made Casey Martin more famous than he ever wanted to be still hurts, and it is not going to get any better. He still cannot get around a course without a motorized cart -- the sort of vehicle that he had to go to court to use, the sort in which he made history 14 years ago as the only golfer ever to ride in one while playing the U.S. Open.

"When I wake up, I feel it. When I get out of the golf cart, I feel it. I'm not complaining, it's hanging in there. But I'm not going to be running a marathon, either," he said Monday. "My leg just feels very old."

Still, his leg is half the story this week. The other half is what he sees as an unseen hand. There was just something that helped Martin, now a 40-year-old golf coach at the University of Oregon who has not played competitively in six years, qualify again for the U.S. Open.

"For me to be here, it's kind of surreal," he said, reflecting on the sectional qualifier in Oregon last week, when things broke just the right way.

It was amazing that he was able to play well enough to contend, and then something else happened. Having apparently lost a ball off the tee, he moved his cart just a little to look in a different spot, and his caddie found the ball.

No, his caddie didn't drop one from his pocket. It was the original ball, and Martin proceeded to chip in for birdie. "And that's kind of when I thought, 'OK, maybe something greater than just myself is going on here.' It really was kind of a magical day for me to get here," he said Monday at the Olympic Club, where he played so well in the 1998 Open, limping to and from his controversial cart and still finishing tied for 23rd.

He is back at Olympic, source of what he called "a wonderful experience." Just as he did in 1998, his only other Open appearance, he will play a practice round with his old Stanford teammate Tiger Woods, and maybe let his buddy try to win back the $192 that Martin once took from him in a putting contest.

Martin is back in the tournament that has been called golf's most grueling test. "For the greatest players in the game, it's a challenge, let alone for a disabled 40-year-old golf coach," he said. "But it's also a thrill."

The thrill was there Monday, even as he winced from the rare circulatory disorder, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, which prohibits him from walking very far. The condition caused him to sue the PGA Tour so he could use a cart. He won, and other organizations such as the U.S. Golf Association abided by the decision. But there were hard feelings among golfers who insisted that walking is an intrinsic part of playing.

That is what seems different now. This time, Martin is no controversial figure. He is the one who heard something like this all over the course Monday: "Good luck this week, Casey!" A spectator whose hat was covered with autographs asked Martin to sign a souvenir flag, then said to no one in particular, "That was the signature I wanted."

"I kind of see a reconciling taking place here, which is very, very satisfying to me as a father," said his dad, King, who just smiled and nodded when Martin sank a flop shot from the rough on No. 8 Monday -- a little like the famous one Woods made at the Memorial eight days earlier.

The golfer's leg hurts, but his heart is full. "I trust that God has a purpose for me to be here and I'm thankful for that," Casey Martin said. "I don't know what that is, but I'm grateful to be here and see what's in store."

More golf news

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months