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U.S. Senior Open: A special day for Mark Gardiner

COMMENTARY — Military Appreciation Day at Oak Tree National had special significance for Gardiner, who qualified for this week’s tournament after retiring from the Air Force.
by Jenni Carlson Published: July 8, 2014

EDMOND — Mark Gardiner walked onto the ninth green with his putter in hand, but he wasn’t focused on his next shot.

He made a beeline to Sarah Farr.

He’d never met her before, but during military appreciation day at the U.S. Senior Open, he knew many of the folks working around Oak Tree National were military members. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to say thanks.

“The military gets plenty of recognition,” said Gardiner, who learned that Farr is a senior airman at Tinker Air Force Base, “but too much is never enough for what they do, for what we do on a daily basis.”

Yes, we.

Gardiner spent 26 years in the Air Force, following in his dad’s footsteps and enlisting in the military. He served with his wife, who joined on the same day as he did and is still active duty. He became a chief, reaching the highest enlisted rank that there is.

“I’m red, white and blue as far as it goes,” Gardiner said.

This week, Gardiner finds himself surrounded by the red, white and blue of the USGA. Three years after retiring from the Air Force, he is playing in the U.S. Senior Open.

You’ll find no golfer in the 156-player field who’s happier to be here.

Tuesday afternoon as Gardiner was introduced at his press conference — his press conference — he beamed as his name and U.S. Senior Open were mentioned in the same sentence. He looked to the back of the media center where his wife, Michelle, and best buddy/caddie Tim Klepper stood, and he shook his head in disbelief.

“I cry at good diaper commercials, and this is certainly a pinch-me moment,” Gardiner said. “I’m blown away.

“I mean, this is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Gardiner began playing golf when he was 18, and once he entered the Air Force, the sport became his hobby. His escape. His release.

He played so often that friends joked that all he did in the military was golf.

Gardiner made the Air Force’s golf team for the first time in 1995, though he suspects he would’ve made it earlier had he not been stationed in faraway places during the selection process. Roughly two dozen servicemen are invited to a 72-hole tournament, and the top four go on to the Armed Forced Golf Championship.

He represented the Air Force 13 times in that tournament, then was selected to the U.S. Armed Forces team 12 times.

With the U.S. team, he played in the World Military Golf Championship against service members from all over the globe. He played against a general from Uganda, truck drivers from Pakistan and soldier-golfers from Germany.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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