LACC director of golf gets the US Open experience of a lifetime

Tom Gardner, director of golf at the Los Angeles Country Club, came to play in the US Open on Saturday, practically jumping down the fairways to the cheers of his many supporters behind the ropes.

His scorecard meant nothing. The experience meant everything.

Gardner, with his familiar sailor hat and almost constant smile, was the marker of the tournament. A marker is a non-competing player who rounds the field when an odd number of players make the cut. He doesn’t have a card — except maybe as a souvenir — and sometimes he doesn’t even finish every hole, even though Gardner did. He played with Ryan Fox from New Zealand.

“I was very conscious of not getting in Ryan’s way or throwing off his rhythm,” Gardner said. “We had a great time.”

That might be an understatement. Gardner walked on a cloud.

“To be able to say I’m going to play a US Open setup this weekend and see what it’s like,” he said, “and see the energy of the crowd and see the sticks and the toughness and the roughness and all that belongs to. along with that it’s … I can’t really describe it.”

His caddy was Rory Sweeney, head professional at the club, and the two were finding that the numbers worked out to get them on the course. Both had made unsuccessful attempts to make it through US Open qualifying.

“Obviously we all dream of playing in one of these,” said Sweeney, who grew up on the west coast of Ireland, “and to share it with one of my best mates is really special.”

Gardner, who had been told a week earlier that he would get the nod if the numbers worked out, was confident on Friday night that an even number of players would make the cut and that there would be no marker.

Paul Barjon of France had to play the final three holes Friday in even par or better to make the cut — eliminating the need for Gardner.

Barjon parred No. 16, then birdied 17.

“At that point I’m like, ‘I’m out of here,'” said Gardner, who had been monitoring scores on his phone behind the 18th green. “I met my wife at a cocktail party.”

He went to the dressing room, changed, said goodbye to his friends at the club and jumped into his car.

So he wasn’t there to see Barjon double bogey 18, carve his drive into the woods, blast out of a greenside bunker and then lip a 10-foot bogey putt.

Suddenly, breaking news: Gardner was golden.

“I get a text from a member and he said, ‘You’re in,'” he said. “I immediately called him, I said, ‘No, I’m not. This guy got 17.’ He says: “No, he doubled 18.” All of a sudden I started getting a lot of text messages and a lot of emails and the club sent out an email to the membership.”

On Saturday morning, Gardner got the star treatment — or at least he got a whiff of cheers and shouts of “Let’s go, Tommy” wherever he went on the course.

He crushed his drive on No. 1 and hit it 285 yards down the middle. He holed a par putt of at least 30 feet on No. 10, right next to the members’ tent. More cheers. And he hit a beautiful tee shot on the par-three 15th, narrowly missing his birdie putt.

All that, and he didn’t have to hold a card.

“The best way to play golf,” he said.

By Saturday evening, no one had resigned. There was still an odd number of competitors for Sunday.

Look it up again, Tom.

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