March 4, 2021

At rink or on links, golfer and NHL ref Garrett Rank unique in sports

4 min read
The Garrett Rank story continues to be one of the coolest in all of golf,...

The Garrett Rank story continues to be one of the coolest in all of golf, and this week he’ll add another chapter to it.

Rank, from Elmira, Ont., will compete on the Korn Ferry Tour at the Evans Scholars Invitational starting Thursday just outside Chicago.

But while he’ll be one of six Canadians in the field of golf’s triple-A circuit, Rank is the only one with another full-time job: he’s an NHL referee.

“A couple of guys have come up to me this week and have said, ‘Hey, are you still umpiring hockey?’ or whatever they call it,” Rank told Sportsnet with a laugh.

“I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces on the driving range and the putting green already this week.”

They’re familiar because Rank, 32, has been competing at a high level in golf for nearing two decades, very nearly turning professional himself in the early 2010s.

A laundry list of Rank’s personal and professional achievements reads like this: He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his second year of university and beat it (he now has a clean bill of health) and in 2012 he finished runner-up at the U.S. Mid-Amateur (the winner would have earned a spot in the Masters). Since then he’s won the Canadian Mid-Amateur, nearly won the Canadian Amateur, represented Canada at the Pan-Am Games, qualified for the U.S. Open, and last year he won the prestigious Western Amateur (first contested in 1899, past winners of the event include Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods). That win earned him a spot in this week’s Korn Ferry Tour event.

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Rank is Canada’s highest-ranked amateur golfer, male or female, by a large margin.

Talking to Rank, who plays a hefty golf schedule in the summer months when the NHL takes its usual break, you think you’re speaking to a professional golfer, and not someone who skates with the best in the world nearly 100 times a season.

“I play and practice and compete as much as these guys do but at a different level and on a different stage,” said Rank. “I’m just addicted to golf. I love playing. I love competing. I’ve secretly worked on my game… I haven’t declared myself a professional but I work at my game like a pro does and just try to play in as many as these events as I can.”

Rank was not chosen as one of the referees for the bubbles in either Edmonton or Toronto as it came down to seniority and performance. Rank instead went to the U.S. in July to play three big amateur events tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. He returned to Canada and quarantined for 14 days before ramping back up for almost a week and playing the Canada Life Series (a group of tournaments associated with the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada).

There was no Canadian Amateur or Canadian Mid-Am this summer due to COVID-19.

The good thing for Rank is that during his two-week quarantine, he had something to do – there was a lot of hockey he could watch.

“It’s tough to watch a hockey game without watching the referees,” said Rank with a laugh. “It was the best and only thing to do. I did watch a ton of hockey and it’s been great to follow along and it’s been really good that they’ve been able to pull this off in a good way. It’s been fun to watch.”

On the course, Rank said his game feels good. He feels comfortable with the conditions this week in Chicago – windy and a little wet – as both the Canada Life Series event he played at TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley and the U.S. Amateur on the Oregon coast was comparable. Having competitive reps in those conditions, he said, would be helpful.

But Rank said he knows his window for good finishes at some of these big events is starting to get smaller.

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His 32nd birthday was earlier this month and although he can keep up with the younger guys, given his conditioning and fitness regime, there’s no defeating Father Time. He still has some ambitious goals in the sport, he said, like trying for a top-25 or top-10 result in a professional event, getting into the Masters, qualifying for another U.S. Open and winning the Canadian Amateur.

“I just keep working at my game, seeing how good I can get, trying to improve here and there,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a job where I have a couple of months off to play and compete in these tournaments and do the best I can.”

As far as that other job is concerned? Rank said he’s not sure what’s going to happen next as the 2019-20 NHL season inches to its conclusion.

The referees usually have a training camp before the season starts, just like the players. They go through a fitness test and physical and then get on the ice after doing video work to do skating and positioning drills. They’ll work exhibition games and Rank will usually rent ice to do his own work (“Your lungs burn the first couple of weeks of the season,” he admits) but that is still up in the air.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they decide to do. Whether they go with more bubbles for the restart or if they play games in the arenas with no fans or what happens,” said Rank. “It’ll be different for sure but it’s what we’re dealing with these days.”

Regardless of what comes next in the rink, Rank is enjoying his other life on the links.

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