LACC golf director gets experience of a lifetime

LOS ANGELES -- Tom Gardner, director of golf at Los Angeles Country Club, got to play in the U.S. Open on Saturday, almost bouncing 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 boater's hat and near-constant smile, was the marker in the tournament. A marker is a non-competitive player who rounds out the field when an odd number of players makes the cut. He doesn't keep a card -- except maybe as a souvenir -- and sometimes doesn't even finish every hole, although Gardner did. He was playing with Ryan Fox of New Zealand.

"I was very cognizant not to get in Ryan's way or throw off his rhythm," Gardner said. "We had a great time."

That might be understating it. Gardner was walking on a cloud.

"To be able to say that I got to play a U.S. Open setup on the weekend and see what it's like," he said, "and see the energy of the crowd and see the pins and the firmness and the rough and everything that goes along with it, it's ... I can't really describe it."

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

"Obviously we all dream to play 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 something really special."

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

Paul Barjon of France needed to play the final three holes Friday at even par or better to make the cut -- thereby eliminating the need for Gardner.

Barjon parred No. 16, then birdied 17.

"At that point, I go, 'I'm out of here,' " said Gardner, who had been monitoring scores on his phone from behind the 18th green. "I was meeting my wife for a cocktail party."

He went to the locker room, changed, said goodbye to his friends at the club and hopped in his car.

So he wasn't there to see Barjon take a double bogey on 18, slicing his drive into the woods, blasting out of a greenside bunker, then lipping out 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 birdied 17.' He goes, '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."

Saturday morning, Gardner got the star treatment -- or at least he got a smattering of cheers and shouts of "Let's go, Tommy" wherever he went on the course.

He crushed his drive on No. 1, hitting 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 keep a card.

"Best way to play golf," he said.

As of Saturday evening, no one had withdrawn. There was still an odd number of competitors for today.

Tee it up again, Tom.

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