Fairways and Freedom: Military Appreciation Day at the U.S. Senior Open

After more than 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, Mark Gardiner is enjoying a completely different experience as a U.S. Senior Open rookie. (USGA/Fred Vuich)
By Jonathan Wilhelm, USGA
July 8, 2014

EDMOND, Okla. – A half-step at a time, the Stars and Stripes were paraded toward the players and fans gathered at the first tee at Oak Tree National. The Governor’s Honor Guard from the Oklahoma City National Guard moved in unison to the rhythmic count guiding their progress. Facing east into the rising sun, the colors were presented and a beautiful rendition of the national anthem was performed by Ashten Vincent, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Barry Vincent.

These proceedings on Military Day, the second day of practice ahead of the 35th U.S. Senior Open, served to honor those heroes who defend our freedoms.

2014 U.S. Senior Open
Video: Military Appreciation Day
Photos: Military Appreciation Day

One of those heroes, Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Mark Gardiner, also happens to be a qualifier in the 156-player Senior Open field. Gardiner, a 50-year-old amateur, carded a 70 in the St. Louis, Mo., sectional qualifier to earn a spot in the championship.

With 26½ years of active service under his belt, Gardiner continues a family military tradition. His father served, he met his wife Michelle while he served, and his oldest son, Jamie, is five years into what Mark foresees as a lifelong career in the armed forces.

Senior Open: Oak Tree National Dye's Way

Notebook: Champions Return to Oak Tree

“My dad was in the service, my wife’s father was in the service,” said Gardiner. “My son is in the service. I’m red, white and blue. 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.”

Gardiner was introduced to golf at the age of 19 when his mother took a job at Fort Lewis Golf Course in Washington state; the rest, Gardiner hopes, is history in the making.

“I’m blown away. I’m honored to be here. This is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Gardiner, who is no stranger to competitive success as an amateur golfer. Owning 22 tournament wins, many of which he has successfully defended in his home state of Illinois, Gardiner is familiar with the preparation and execution necessary for championship success. Most notable, though, may be his four Armed Forces Golf victories..

Through his military golf career, Gardiner has been able to play in more than a dozen countries, and he has an evening’s worth of stories about high-ranking officials and other prominent people he has met across the globe through the game. Golf has been good to Gardiner, who was in disbelief when he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open.

Gardiner is reveling in his U.S. Senior Open experience while giving the course and the competition the respect they’re due. “I didn’t know it was one of the toughest courses in the United States when I signed up, but I didn’t care if it was a nine-hole country course at home – I’m in the U.S. Senior Open,” said Gardiner with a smile. “There’s nothing I’ve ever played that is like Oak Tree National. As long as I can keep a loose, fluid swing, I think I can do well.”

“Do I think I can hit it like these guys? Certainly. But so does every amateur,” said Gardiner. “But I’m a realist. What’s a good score? I don’t know. It may be 10 shots behind Colin Montgomerie. Keep it under 90 and I’ll be pretty happy. I’m going to grind it out and make the most of an opportunity.”

And while golf is a collection of memories, his true passion is for the country that made all of those memories possible. “I’m honored to be here and represent the armed forces and it’s great that the military is treated the way they are. Too much is never enough [recognition] for the men and women of our military. The USGA and the military are a great team.”

During his practice round, Gardiner went out of his way to thank the service men and women who volunteered their time.

Afterward he said, “For them to come out here maybe on a day off and spend four hours standing in the sun just removing a flagpole for a couple of golfers, it may not seem admirable, but it is to me."

Jonathan Wilhelm is the USGA's social media specialist. Email him at jwilhelm@usga.org.


Follow the USGA
Become a Facebook Fan of the USGAFollow us on Twitter @usopengolf
World Amateur Golf Ranking
WAGR Counting Event
Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment

AmEx image