Sometimes life and sports intersect like they did on Tuesday — U.S. Senior Open Military Appreciation Day — at Oak Tree National.
Mark Gardiner started playing golf when he was 18 years old, a little later than a lot of the players out here. He’s been gearing up for three years for the championship.
During an afternoon press conference, USGA representative Mike Trostel said Gardiner, who is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, shot a 70 for the only spot at the St. Louis sectional qualifier.
Gardiner also comes from a military family. He is a retired chief master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force for 26 and a half years. Both his wife Michelle and his son Jamie are serving in active duty in the U.S. Air Force, and his caddie this week and good friend Tim Klepper is a retired Air Force master sergeant.
Gardiner, who lives in Illinois, was asked how he feels about the tournament having a day dedicated to appreciating the Armed Forces.
“I’m red, white and blue,” Gardiner said. “That’s as far as it goes. I’m it. I’m all about the military. When I saw it was at Oak Tree and Tinker Air Force Base just down the road, I knew there would be some military folks here, which is nice. There’s some comfort in that. It’s different.”
Gardiner said he’s honored to represent the Armed Forces, and it’s great that the military is treated as good as they are and they get in for free for the second day of practice rounds at Oak Tree National.
“That’s a great honor to them,” he said.
When Gardiner retired from the Air Force three years ago, this was the one tournament that he and his wife wanted to work toward because it only takes one round.
“It’s quite a show,” Gardiner said. “I’m very honored to be here. I’ve been treated amazing. I mean, this is beyond my wildest dreams, and I hope that the rest of the week continues in that way and I walk out of here with a tear in my eye.”
When Trostel asked Gardiner about his goals for the week, the golfer said he’s hitting the ball good, but a lot of players strike it well during practice rounds, which end Wednesday. The key, he said, is keeping a loose, long, fluid swing.
Gardiner said he’s had a very good year from an amateur’s perspective, and he’s confident, but this is a different stage.
“I’ve got a good draw with the guys that I am playing with,” he said. “I don’t have any big-name guys, so I don’t have a bunch of crowd dust in my way. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m playing good. The speeds of the greens as of the last couple days aren’t unmanageable. Keep it under 90, I’ll be pretty happy.”
On the 9th hole, when Gardiner saw an American flag on the flagpole, he figured the woman tending the flag stick was probably a military member. He said while he was a chief in the Air Force, a top enlisted rank, he developed the utmost in respect for the unlisted corps.
Gardiner said it’s important for the military to be recognized. He went to the woman and spent a moment with her. He said her volunteer job may not seem admirable, but it is to him.
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