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Rinks to links: NHL official Garrett Rank discusses his winding road to U.S. Open


In the 1994 Hollywood film, “Tin Cup,” Roy McAvoy, played by Kevin Costner, waxes poetic about the U.S. Open as he begins his own preparations to qualify for the tournament.

“It’s open. Anybody with a 2-handicap or better has got a shot at it. Just got to get through a local and sectional qualifier, and unlike Doral or Colonial or AT&T, they can’t keep you out. They can’t ask you if you’re a garbage man or a bean picker … If you qualify, you’re in,” he says at one point.

What about a cancer survivor?

What about a full-time NHL referee?

If you’re Canadian Garrett Rank, you hit on those last two points.

You also hit on the first one, as Rank was co-medalist at his sectional qualifying site on June 4 to earn a spot in his first U.S. Open.

His 2-under-par score was enough to obtain a spot alongside 77 others who earned an opportunity to play in the second major of the year on the PGA Tour via 12 qualifiers around the world in early June.

Rank first began playing golf as a youngster in Elmira, Ontario – about an hour-and-a-half from downtown Toronto with a population of 12,000 – and went to the University of Waterloo near his hometown rather than accept any offers in the United States. He earned a degree in economics and was named Athlete of the Year in 2012.

His career as a referee began at age 14 when he decided working at a rink was an easier way to make $20 than flipping burgers. He kept it up during school and once he stopped playing golf at the University level, someone approached him in his town to ref the junior league.

From there, he worked his way up the ladder, eventually earning a spot in the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons. He’d sign an NHL contract in 2014, gaining some experience in the American Hockey League at its outset.

In a 2015 interview with The Canadian Press, Rank recalled how his first NHL game went, and could only laugh.

He said he had settled in pretty well, but on the game’s first goal at about the five-minute mark, a video review was called.

“They reversed our call on the ice,” Rank said. “That was pretty funny. Looking back though, it helped settle me down.”

The 2017-18 season was his second full year in the big leagues. He was on the ice for 73 games and called three playoff contests, including during the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals’ first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He managed only four rounds of golf during the hockey season, but with Rank’s pedigree – he was runner-up at the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2012 and won three consecutive Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur titles from 2014-16, losing in a playoff a year ago in a bid for an unprecedented fourth straight – he was able to return to a qualifying site he had played in four years ago and earned a spot in one of the year’s biggest golf tournaments.

“I knew it was a super hard golf course and it was that day,” Rank said in a recent telephone interview. “The greens were super fast. There was a lot of water, a lot of trouble. I knew I would have had a better shot shooting around par versus going somewhere else and trying to shoot 8- or 10-under.”

Rank has a reliable, compact swing, according to Golf Canada’s Men’s National Team head coach Derek Ingram. Ingram oversaw the Canadian golf contingent at the 2015 Pan-Am Games that included Rank and European Tour pro Austin Connelly and he continues to receive swing videos from Rank via text message. Because Rank’s swing isn’t very complicated, he says there isn’t a need for a lot of extra work.

“I love it,” said Ingram of Rank’s swing. “It’s a low-maintenance golf swing. It’s very sound.”

But despite the accolades on the course, on the ice, and from fellow golfers (“If you look up the word ‘beauty’ in the dictionary, I think there is a full-color photo of Garrett Rank there,” says Ingram) his entire life was upended in 2011 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Rank says the diagnosis was difficult to accept at that point in his life, but he didn’t allow himself to succumb to the pressure.

“I thought to myself, ‘You’re a young athlete in great shape. You’re a good kid. You never did anything to deserve this.’ I always thought of (the diagnosis) as a lie, or that it wasn’t actually true. That helped push me along,” he said.

Rank had just one procedure and has been monitoring it since then, but he now has a clean bill of health.

Ingram believes Rank’s dedication to taking care of his body separates him from other amateur-level golfers, which is part of the reason why he’s had such success despite being away from the sport for long periods during the year.

Rank said he hadn’t been to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the site of this week’s U.S. Open, prior to the tournament getting underway but did watch some of the 2004 coverage – the last time the storied layout played host – on television and has a sense of the robust scale of the course.

But Rank maintains he’s the kind of golfer who enjoys shooting around par, hitting long irons into greens and just playing steady golf.

“U.S. Open golf stacks up well for me,” he said.

Ingram agrees as he’s seen Rank play well in USGA-type events before, where par is a good score. Rank is one of the most accurate drivers of the ball he’s seen, which will be a major benefit this week with the rough grown long just off the fairway.

“He drives it straighter than most people hit their 7-iron,” said Ingram. “He’s a streaky-good putter too and I would say the course does suit his style of game very well.”

Rank is one of 20 amateurs in the field at this year’s U.S. Open, many of whom are up-and-coming golfers with long collegiate resumes who’ve qualified, or the cream of the crop from last year who earned their spots thanks to their finishes at high-level events around the world in 2017.

But Rank, an unassuming Canadian much older than most, will be right there with them this week.

His story belongs in a Hollywood film as it just seems too good to be true.

But true it is.

Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He’s also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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June 12, 2018

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