Golfer Robert Gardner: U.S. Amateur Champ, Multi-Sport Star

golfer Robert Gardner swings in the early 1900s
Robert Gardner was an American amateur golf champion whose biggest titles came in the first 15 years of the 20th century. He won two U.S. Amateur Championships. In the first of those, he set a record that stood for nearly 90 years, until it was finally broken by Tiger Woods. A multisport star, Gardner once held the world record in pole vault and won national championships in a sport similar to squash.

Full name: Robert Abbe Gardner

Date of birth: April 9, 1890

Place of birth: Hindsdale, Illinois

Date and place of death: June 21, 1956, in Lake Forest, Illinois

Also known as: Commonly referred to with his middle initial, "Robert A. Gardner," by print publications during his career. Also commonly called "Bob Gardner."

Gardner's Biggest Wins

  • 1909 U.S. Amateur
  • 1914 Chicago Open
  • 1915 U.S. Amateur
  • 1916 Chicago District Amateur
  • 1924 Chicago District Amateur
  • 1925 Chicago District Amateur

His Wins in the U.S. Amateur Championship

Gardner won the U.S. Amateur Championship twice, first in 1909 and again in 1915. The 1909 tournament was played at Chicago Golf Club, on Gardner's home turf. He was not among the pre-tournament favorites, though, because he was a 19-year-old Yale University student at the time. (Aside from prep school, college and military service, Gardner lived in the Chicago area his entire life.)

Gardner was co-medalist in the stroke-play qualifying rounds with 151 for 36 holes. In the match-play bracket, he had to beat multiple other past or future champs.

That started in Round 1 when Gardner got past Jimmy Johnston (1929 U.S. Amateur winner), 1-up. In the quarterfinals, he faced "the Old Man of Golf," 47-year-old Walter Travis, a 3-time U.S. Amateur champ and also a British Amateur winner. But Gardner beat him, 2 and 1.

Gardner won his semifinal 2-up, then, in the championship match, beat Chandler Egan (1904 and 1905 winner), 4 and 3. At age 19 years, 5 months, Gardner became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur. And that was a record he held for 85 years. It wasn't until Tiger Woods became the tournament's first 18-year-old champ in 1991 that anyone younger than Gardner won the U.S. Amateur trophy.

Gardner had an easier road for his second U.S. Amateur title in 1915. He faced only one past or future winner that year, Max Marston (1923 champ) in the first round. Gardner won that match, 1-up on the 37th hole. In the championship match, Gardner beat John Anderson, a second-time finalist, by a 5-and-4 score.

More About Robert Gardner

In addition to his two victories in the U.S. Amateur, Robert A. Gardner had several other close calls: He reached the championship match in two other U.S. Amateurs and also in one British Amateur.

Attempting to defend his 1915 title, Gardner made the finals of the 1916 U.S. Amateur. Gardner beat Max Marston in the second round, then in the third round (quarterfinals) beat a 14-year-old Bobby Jones, who was making his national debut. In the semifinals Gardner dispatched Jesse Guilford, 4 and 3. But he then lost in the title tilt to Chick Evans — who had already won the 1916 U.S. Open — 4 and 3.

Gardner entered the British Amateur only three times, first in 1920. And that year he made the finals. In the championship match, Gardner birdied the 36th hole to square against Cyril Tolley. But Tolley sank a long putt on the 37th hole to claim the trophy.

In the 1921 U.S. Amateur, Gardner had a second-round win against Tommy Armour en route to the championship match. But in that final, Guilford dominated with a 7-and-6 victory. Gardner also reached the semifinals in 1923.

Gardner was a great all-round athlete and even set a track and field world record. In 1912, during his senior year at Yale University, Gardner became the first man to vault over 13 feet. His 13-foot, 1-inch world record only stood for one week, but a world record is a world record.

He was also a great racquets player. Racquets is a little-played sport today that resembles squash and is a distant cousin of racquetball. In 1926 and 1929, Gardner teamed with Howard Linn to win the national doubles titles in racquets.

His all-around athleticism translated very well to the golf course, where a very easy-looking swing produced great power. Prior to the 1909 U.S. Amateur, Gardner won a long-drive competition staged on a rainy day with a drive of 230 yards.

"Gardner hit all shots with an ease and lack of effort that was the envy of his contemporaries," the editors of the 1975 Encyclopedia of Golf (affiliate link) wrote.

Golf Illustrated magazine, in a 1915 issue, referred to Gardner's "muscles of steel and nerves of iron," and said that his long drives of 250 to 280 yards in that year's U.S. Amateur "made Gardner appear like a Brobdingnagian golfer among Lilliputians."

In an article that appeared on Jan. 2, 1916, the New York Times wrote that Gardner was the national amateur champ because "he is one of the most consistent long hitters with the wood in the country, because he is without doubt the best long-iron-shot player in the amateur ranks, because he is a heady putter, because he is never troubled at the depth of the pits into which his ball has rolled, and because he is never beaten until the last putt rolls into the cup with a fatal click."

But Gardner actually played few tournaments outside the very biggest competitions because he was always deeply involved in a business career that started in management of a coal company after graduation from Yale in 1912.

He was, though, runner-up in the Western Amateur in Chicago in 1911, and won the 1914 Chicago Open playing against both amateurs and pros. In 1917, Gardner played several exhibition matches around Chicago to raise money for war relief efforts, and then joined the U.S. Army. He served in France during World War I as a field artillery lieutenant.

In the 1920s, Gardner was a member of Team USA in the first four Walker Cup tournaments, 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1926. All were U.S. victories, and Gardner was the playing captain in the latter three. He compiled a 3-1 record in foursomes and a 3-1 record in singles.

During the same period, Gardner was vice president of the USGA (1921-25), and served as president of the Chicago District Golf Association (1924-27).

In 1919, Gardner went to work for a brokerage firm called Mitchell, Hutchins & Co. He worked for that company the rest of his life. When he died at age 66 in 1956, he was a general partner in the firm. (The company was absorbed into PaineWebber in 1977.)

Gardner is a member of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

There was another prominent American amateur golfer named Robert Gardner who won many tournaments in the 1960s. He was Robert W. Gardner, usually referred to as Bob Gardner, and was no relation to Robert A. Gardner. Because they shared the same last name and could both be called Bob, today they are usually distinguished from one another by calling the older one Robert and the younger one Bob.

(Book titles are affiliate links; commissions earned)
Alliss, Peter. The Who's Who of Golf, 1983, Orbis Publishing.
Elliott, Len, and Kelly, Barbara. Who's Who in Golf, 1976, Arlington House Publishers.
Hillsdale Golf Club. Hillsdale Golf Club Centennial History, "Robert Gardner,"
Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. "Robert Gardner,"
New York Times. "Gardner's pole vaulting has helped him at golf," Jan. 2, 1916,
Steel, Donald, and Ryde, Peter. The Encyclopedia of Golf, 1975, The Viking Press.
United States Golf Association. Official USGA Record Book, 1895-1990, Triumph Books, 1992.
Wikipedia, "Robert Gardner (golfer),"
Yale Campus Press, "1912 team captain and elite athlete,"

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