Casey Martin: Competitive people, when you put them in a situation where there's a winner, they're gonna wanna win.
I'm Casey Martin. I'm the golf coach at the University of Oregon.
When I look back, I had success, was able to make it to the PGA Tour, but I think my coaching has evolved out of some of my failure as a player. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better to maximize my abilities?
I didn't challenge myself enough on a daily basis to accomplish some kind of goal or get something done. I would go practice, but it wasn't as focused as it should have been. It wasn't as competitive as it should have been. It wasn't as intense as it should have been. I hit balls, worked on my swing, and went to compete. Looking back on my experiences at Stanford and putting a bunch of stuff together with some of my failures, I designed a program that was going to be competitive. Just a little different to try to find out who's got that extra stuff, to get ready for the heat.
"Alright, boys. You guys know what we do here. A lot of short game, a lot of competitive practice, and that's what we're gonna do again today. So, party's over. Nail down your distances. Nail that down."
Ideally, practice would be harder than a tournament and there would be more pressure, and you'd feel more angst so that when you get to the tournament, it's like, "Hey, I'm ready for this. This is easy."
"If you feel like you wanna hit to the flag, then back up to your number. But dominate your nine o'clockers, 'kay?"
Edwin Yi: Coach prepares us in the best way he can because he's been through it, he's experienced the PGA Tour and he knows what it takes to win.
Casey Martin: "Everyone's chipped up. It's a big day. There'll be three games."
Back maybe in 2010, I gave everybody chips at the start of a quarter and said, "We're gonna have this quarter-long process where we compete for everything, and at the end of the day the guy's gonna get all the chips, and everyone's gonna bust out, and there's gonna be a winner." They just wanted to beat each other, and that's what I love.
"Second round, it was Parker. I'm gonna put it right there."
I always think maybe it's run its course and guys don't wanna do it, but then when we start doing it, guys wanna win. And I see the juice, so to speak, and guys wanna try to beat each other. And they don't like giving up their chips, and they love getting the chips at the end of practice when they do well. And it's fun, but very competitive. It's working, so we just continue to do it.
The experience that those kids had in 2016, winning—they will have that for the rest of their life. I love being a part of that. That means a lot to me.
Obviously, I want them to be great at golf, but at the same time not to take the shortcuts as a human being, to do it the right way.
Edwin Yi: For me, he's a mentor, my second father figure in a way.
Casey Martin: "Hey guys, text us updated chip count, would ya? Just so that we know what we gotta deal with. Did anybody bust out today?"
Putting precision into practice.
Successful NCAA coach Casey Martin's approach to victory.
Mention Casey Martin, and the first things that come to most people's minds are the golfer's lifelong struggles with Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, a congenital circulatory disorder that affects his right leg, and the successful battle he waged against the PGA Tour nearly two decades ago to use a cart during competition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That fight, which the Eugene, Oregon native took all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, thrust him into the national spotlight in 2001, with some observers praising Martin for taking such a heroic stand as others made the man out to be a villain.
Now 46 years old, the 6' 2 Martin also achieved a modicum of acclaim back then for being a pretty good stick. A two-time All-American at Stanford University, he was a member of the squad that won the NCAA Championship in 1994. After graduating in 1995 with a degree in Economics, Martin turned professional and began competing on what is now the Web.com Tour. He won once on that circuit, in 1998, and two years later earned his PGA Tour card. All told, he played in a total of 43 PGA Tour events, with his best showings being a T-17 in the 2000 Tucson Open and tying for 23rd place in the 1998 U.S. Open, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. His profile was further elevated that same year when the Golf Writers Association of America bestowed upon him its prestigious Ben Hogan Award, which is given annually to the player who remains active in golf despite a physical handicap.
These days, however, Casey Martin is best known for being one of the top college golf coaches in the land, and this fall he begins his 13th season as the head coach of the University of Oregon men's team. During that time, he has turned a once-sleepy program into a national powerhouse, guiding the Ducks in 2016 to its first-ever NCAA team title in that sport and helping sophomore Aaron Wise win individual honors. The following season, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Martin led his team to a runner-up finish in 2017 NCAAs as Oregon also won its first outright Pac-12 championship since 1959, with one of his players, Wyndham Clark, taking the individual conference title. Not surprisingly, Martin and some of his golfers have been recognized for those strong performances. Golfweek named him its Coach of the Year in 2017 and also honored Clark as the National Player of the Year. In addition, another Fighting Duck, Norman Xiong, received the Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award from the NCAA.
Perhaps even more impressive than what Martin has done at Oregon is how he has been doing it. Rather than taking traditional approaches to coaching, he questioned the status quo by using his experiences as both a collegiate and professional golfer to develop unique practice routines designed to simulate the intense atmosphere his charges will have face in competition and better prepare them for tournament play. At the same time, he immersed himself in the exhausting and often tedious process of recruiting in an effort to draw not only the best in-state golfers to the U of O but also those from warmer weather climes who heretofore might have gone elsewhere to play their college golf. The results of those engagements are stronger and more seasoned teams, top to bottom, and those have led to almost unparalleled levels of success on the golf course.
Martin came to Oregon in the fall of 2005 and worked that first year as a volunteer assistant to head coach Steve Nosler. "I had been playing professionally since 1995," says Martin, who grew up just down the road from the Eugene Country Club, where the Ducks play most of their home matches, and whose father, mother and older brother all played golf for the university. "But with my leg, I had gone through a lot to compete and just wasn't making any money. Steve was a good friend and had been talking to me about coaching. He was getting ready to retire and asked me to help him out before he stepped down."
Nosler ended up retiring in the spring of 2006, and Martin took over the team. And though he was new to that line of work, he knew he wanted to do things differently.
"I had thought long and hard about helping my players not make the same mistakes I did, especially when I began playing professionally," says Martin, whose great-great-great grandfather was one of the first professors at the University of Oregon, and whose maternal and paternal grandparents were both Ducks. "A key area was practice. I practiced a lot when I was on tour, but not properly. So I developed very structure drills that were designed to test my players, to force them to compete and even to frustrate them so they were prepared for the types of things they have to face when they play tournaments. It is a lot more than just pounding 5-irons on the range and thinking that if you are hitting those shots well, your game is good and you are ready to go."
As Martin began to formulate his coaching ideas, he thought back to his days at Stanford, where he played on squads that included Tiger Woods and Notah Begay. 'When you are in college, you are part of a team," he says. "And as teammates you play and practice a lot together. At Stanford, with guys like Tiger and Notah, we were always competing against each other. In putting contests, and also in 18-hole matches. And that sort of constant competition really helped me get good."
But much of that went away when he left school and turned pro. "Suddenly, I was out there on my own all the time, and I did not have anybody to practice with," Martin recalls. "I also came to believe that the best way for me to get better was to hit more 5-irons, and as long as I was hitting those well, I would be fine. But that was not the case, and the more I looked back at my golf past, the more I realized that I played my best when I was in a good, hyper-competitive mode each and every day. That's what I wanted to bring to Oregon."
As a rule, Martin runs practices for his Ducks on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at either the Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Oregon or the Shadow Hills Country Club in nearby Junction City. And about half the time during those sessions is devoted to drills that simulate real competition. "We'll go to the short game area, for example, and set up ten up-and-down type holes, with each one being a par-2," explains the coach, who is not at all averse to raising his voice to get a point across. "We'll say that each player has to go around those ten holes in 1-over par, and if not, they have to do it again. What it does is makes them focus, and there are elements of peer pressure, too, as all your teammates are there watching. We are not running a golf academy. Rather, we are trying to work on things that will lead to their shooting lower scores. I've found that my better players thrive on that sort of pressure, and that it translates into better scores for them when they play. It also makes practice in general seem more productive, and it certainly makes the time goes by faster."
"When I look back at my career, I wish I had done more of that kind of training," Martin adds. "And if I were ever to give it a try on the Champions Tour after I turn 50, I would definitely do the same sort of thing for myself. I believe it is that effective."
Of course, coaching involves more than just running practice, and another area in which Martin has excelled is recruiting. Part of that comes from his enthusiasm for that aspect of the job, and also from the simple realization that it is easier to be a great coach if you have great players.
"It's simple sales and marketing, and I've found that I love engaging with athletes and their families, building relationships with them and trying to get the good golfers to come to Oregon," he explains. "I especially enjoyed early on that Oregon was an underdog when it came to recruiting the top, out-of-state golfers from places like California and Texas, and I liked going up against the big boys and beating them at that game."
Again, it is the competition that drives Martin, and that drives his work as the golf coach at Oregon. And by accepting the challenges that position has presented, he has enjoyed a wildly successful second act in the game as he has also given people another reason to know and appreciate who he is and all that he does in golf.