NHL referee qualifies for U.S. Open
Garrett Rank goes from the ice to Shinnecock Hills after shooting 71-71 at sectional qualifier
June 11, 2018
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- June 11, 2018
- Garrett Rank called 73 regular season NHL games and three playoff games in the 2017-2018 season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
ROSWELL, Ga. – Garrett Rank doesn’t think too much into his pregame routine.
The 30-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, recently completed his second full season as a National Hockey League referee, traveling across North America – everywhere from western Canada to south Florida – as he strives to maintain equity on the ice.
Rank called 73 regular season and three playoff games in the 2017-18 season, and he prefers to keep preparations simple.
A mid-day meeting, where he and his fellow officials (each game is staffed by two referees and two linesmen) discuss past history between the two teams and any other pertinent factors.
Lunch with the crew. Afternoon nap. Arrive at the rink about 90 minutes before puck drop, “run around, play games and get ready.”
Next week, though, Rank will have to adopt a new type of pregame ritual. He successfully advanced through last Monday’s 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier, posting rounds of 71-71 at a demanding Ansley GC (Settindown) course to match Michael Hebert’s 2-under medalist total, with Roberto Castro earning the site’s third and final spot.
Hebert and Castro both compete full-time on the Web.com Tour. Rank’s career is structured a bit differently, but he considers himself lucky in that his stable of connections from the golf and hockey worlds have allowed him to play some venerable venues.
During the 2017-18 NHL season, he played four rounds of golf, but he made them count. Among them: Medalist GC in south Florida, when officiating a Florida Panthers game. Concession GC near Tampa, when working a Tampa Bay Lightning game. Whisper Rock GC in Scottsdale, when refereeing the Arizona Coyotes.
“It’s hard to travel with the clubs,” said Rank, who played Medalist alongside TOUR pro Dominic Bozzelli. “I rent a set, or I play out of someone else’s bag whenever I can. I’m really lucky that golf and hockey have opened a lot of doors, help make a lot of connections.”Garrett Rank was all smiles after qualifying for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. (Kevin Prise/PGA TOUR)
Rank played golf and hockey growing up, and although he considered himself above-average at hockey, he knew he wouldn’t make a living playing it.
He began officiating at age 15, working tyke games, ages 7 and under, “just to make 20 bucks here and there.”
Through his time at the University of Waterloo, where he played on a golf scholarship, and post-grad, where he played on the Golf Canada national team alongside the likes of TOUR pros Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners, he kept his options open.
He worked five years as a referee in the Ontario Hockey League, then two years in the American Hockey League, golf’s equivalent of the Web.com Tour, where he was highly regarded enough to earn Calder Cup Finals (championship series) assignments.
“I was competing against those guys (Hughes, Conners, etc.), and playing at a high level in the amateur game,” said Rank, who was promoted to full-time NHL official in the summer of 2016. “I said to myself, ‘If golf works out, or hockey works out … whatever works out first, is what I’m going to do.’ Then the NHL saw that my golf was going well; they’re like, ‘We’ve got to make a decision on this kid soon.’ They offered me a contract, and I wasn’t turning it down.”
He wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Open, either.
Rank signs up every year, estimating he has advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying four or five times. One year in Springfield, Ohio, he felt he was close … before he glanced at a scoreboard.
“I was at 6 under, then I looked at the leaderboard with four or five holes to go, and I saw Brice Garnett at 12 under, and another guy at 11,” Rank said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s too good for me.’”
He points to his ability to grind out pars as a strength of his game, a trait that served him well at Ansley GC, with two consecutive 1-under rounds enough to earn a spot at Shinnecock Hills.
A familiar presence on the bag didn’t hurt, either, as fellow NHL referee Dan O’Rourke looped for all 36 holes Monday.
The duo worked a few games together this past season, and Rank credited O’Rourke as a calming force, helping him ‘stay in the present’ on a day where he weathered two bogeys with five birdies and two eagles, including a hole-out on the par-4 eighth on his first 18.
“He’s like, ‘I’ve got to deal with my 21-year-old son every day, so dealing with you is no issue,’” Rank said with a smile. “We shared some laughs. A veteran presence, someone I look up to, and a very polished official … it was cool to have him on the bag.”Garrett Rank is an accomplished golfer despite a heavy travel schedule as an NHL referee. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Rank said he doesn’t deal with nerves too much – “it’s just part of who you are, and what you do” – whether on the ice or the course. Tournament golf, in fact, is where he rises to the occasion.
He says that if he’s trying to play a fun round of golf with his buddies, he’ll shoot 75 ‘all day long.’ Yet he won three straight Canadian Mid-Amateur titles, finished runner-up at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur (1 up to Nathan Smith), and fared well enough Monday to earn a spot in his first U.S. Open.
Rank doesn’t expect to be completely nerve-free when he takes the tee at Shinnecock Hills, but after going through two full seasons an an official at the NHL level, he’s confident the experience will serve him well – regardless of what transpires on the course.
“The pressure of being in the mix and trying, having thousands or millions watching your game, analyzing your call and making fun of you … at the end of the day, we’re humans out there,” Rank said. “We’re trying as hard as we can. We’re not trying to screw your team on purpose. Sometimes you feel that way; it’s hard. The game is getting is a lot faster, and mistakes are going to happen, calls are going to be missed.
“In terms of the action or being there, you’ve got to move on from a bad call or a bad shot. The decisiveness of making a call and sticking with it, or choosing to hit a certain shot and then hitting it, and accepting the results … I think that plays very similar.”
As for his routine before a round of golf, Rank keeps it simple as well.
Show up about an hour before tee time. Hit balls, putt, chip. Step on the first tee and play.
The U.S. Open might be far from routine, but he’ll be ready for it.
“Everyone back home in Elmira will be really proud and jazzed up,” said Rank inside the clubhouse at Ansley GC, taking a seat after a long day’s walk. “My brother was jacked, and my mom was crying on the phone. It’s cool to see that, and cool to represent the NHL, the hockey officials that are still out working the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I’ve been at this amateur game for a long time. To play with the world’s best at the U.S. Open, it’s really humbling. I’m really proud, and really honored.”