NHL referee returns to pro golf at Windsor Championship
July 03, 2018
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Garrett Rank will make his second Mackenzie Tour start this week at the Windsor Championship. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
A few weeks ago, Jason Day wanted to talk to Garrett Rank.
Rank, a full-time NHL referee, had qualified for the U.S. Open and was slated to make his first ever appearance at Shinnecock. Meanwhile, Day, a noted Columbus Blue Jackets fan who was making his eighth U.S. Open appearance, had heard about Rank’s story and was eager to chat.
They did - just outside of a compound FOX Sports had set up for its broadcasts that week. Rank says seeing Day go out of his way during his preparation for the second major of the year was one of the week's many highlights for the 30-year-old.
“He’s a really big name in golf but was super chill and loves the game of hockey,” says Rank. “At the end of the day, they are in the spotlight, but they’re real people as well.”
Rank is in the field this week at the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada’s Windsor Championship on a sponsor exemption. It’s his second Mackenzie Tour event after The Players Cup in 2015 – where he missed the cut despite a second round 71.
He’s also played the RBC Canadian Open three times, so he’s not a total stranger to teeing it up with the pros.
The former Canadian Mid-Amateur Champion began playing golf and hockey at a young age, winning almost everything while at the University of Waterloo, where he earned a degree in Economics and his refereeing career blossomed. He was a part of Golf Canada’s national team for a number of years but remained an amateur instead of turning professional.
He was hired by the NHL not long after graduating from school and became a full-time referee with the league in 2015 and at 27 years old, he was the league’s youngest. He donned the stripes for 73 games this past season.
This, after Rank also survived a testicular cancer scare in 2011, has made him one of the most fascinating stories in golf.
Although he played just four rounds during the NHL’s season, Rank has already made a big splash on the golf side of things this summer. After qualifying for the U.S. Open, he played the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship the following week and won that event by 10 shots.
He says he left the U.S. Open with lots of confidence, knowing that his game could stack up against the professionals – although he mostly plays in tournaments against fellow amateurs – which, he says, should serve him well this week in Windsor.
“I’ve been playing really well the last month,” says Rank. “I’m going to go out and play two rounds of golf and if it’s good enough, play two more rounds and if it’s not, I’ll get ready for the following week. I don’t want to have any expectations, just go out and have fun, relish the opportunity to play with professionals again and see where we’re at, at the end of the week.”
In terms of preparing for this week, Rank says seeing the professionals up close at the U.S. Open made him realize where some of his shortfalls were in his own game.
He says although some of the guys hit the ball a lot farther than he does, his good shots were as good as theirs. The big differentiator was with respect to consistency. He says being paired with four-time PGA TOUR winner Aaron Baddeley was eye-opening for him in terms of working on making his game that much more steady.
“It was neat to watch him dissect the course, because he wasn’t overpowering it, he was just hitting it in the fairways, hitting the middle of the green, and two-putting. For the most part he was just so consistent… it was amazing,” says Rank. “I know the level I can play at, and to watch those guys play at their level and see how good they are, it’s pretty cool.”
Although Ambassador Golf Club hosted the Ontario Amateur last year, Rank was not in the field. So, he’s coming into this week as fresh as almost everyone else.
“I wish I would have played four rounds at the Ontario Amateur and had some experience out there… but looking at the U.S. Open the course changed so much from the practice round to the start on Thursday that it could be a good thing just to go out on Wednesday and play one practice round and go play a game of golf on Thursday,” he says.
Rank admits he put too much pressure on himself to try to make the cut at the U.S. Open, so this week on the Mackenzie Tour he’s just going to relish the opportunity to tee it up next to the professionals once again as he prepares for what should be a busy summer.
Rank is going to play in the Ontario Amateur this month and will try to Monday Qualify for the RBC Canadian Open if he does not get an exemption. He’ll play the Canadian Amateur, the U.S. Amateur, and the Canadian Mid-Amateur in August before his NHL training camp starts the first week of September.
Although missing the cut was a tough finish to what was an otherwise exciting week at the U.S. Open, he says he received innumerable messages from guys wishing him well.
“Current players, former players, a couple of general managers, all my teammates on the officiating staff… the hockey community is so great,” he says. “Even though you’re trying to run a guy through the boards for 60 minutes every night, all the guys are in a close community.”
Rank won’t have to worry about getting run over this week on the Mackenzie Tour, but you can bet there will be some talk of what he does on the ice.
And Rank will be excited to show the guys what he can do on the golf course, too.