Full-time NHL referee Garrett Rank won the 2019 Western Amateur
path to becoming one of the top mid-amateur golfers in the world started where all little boys’ dreams begin if they grew up in Canada – the hockey rink.
Rank’s story, one that has taken him from a modest ice rink in his small hometown to the raucous environment of Madison Square Garden with a stopover at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in between, is now somewhat familiar, but no less fascinating.
Growing up in Elmira, Ontario, which is located about an hour and a half west of Toronto, Rank was practically born with skates on. He didn’t take up golf until the age of 10, when he and his older brother, Kyle, would spend the long Canadian summer days hanging out at the local course.
“My parents knew it was a safe place for us to hang out and stay out of trouble,” said Rank. “I was there from 8 to 8 every day.”
It was at the age of 14 when Rank first picked up a whistle as a referee, following in the path of his late father Rich, who was somewhat of a local legend in the Elmira hockey community. He climbed the ladder to work games in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, Junior B games with the Ontario Hockey Association, and at the age of 21, started working major junior hockey on the Ontario Hockey League.
As a player, he rose through the junior ranks in both hockey and golf and eventually earned a scholarship in both sports at the University of Waterloo.
Then life intervened.
In January of 2011, midway through his third year at Waterloo, Rank was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Following surgery and subsequent treatments, Rank was cancer-free but his hockey career was over.
“For me, it happened so fast,” he recalls. “I (received the diagnosis) on a Friday, and Monday morning I was having surgery. I didn’t have a lot of time for it to sink in or dwell on the fact that I had cancer. It was more just like, ‘OK, I’ve got this thing and we’re going to get rid of it and then we’re going to carry on with my life.’”
Carrying on with life meant focusing on officiating and golf. Rank played his way onto Canada’s National Team and in 2012, was runner-up to Nathan Smith
at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur held at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago. In 2014, he won his first
of two consecutive
Canadian Mid-Amateur Championships and in 2019, Rank became the first Canadian to win the Western Amateur Championship
in 42 years and the first mid-amateur to win the title since 1997.
He has competed in 23 USGA championships, including three U.S. Mid-Amateurs, nine U.S. Amateurs, and the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
On the ice, Rank was promoted to the NHL in January of 2015 and now has officiated over 400 games.
If Miguel Angel Jimenez didn’t already have dibs on being “the most interesting golfer in the world,” that moniker just might belong to Garrett Rank.
In our latest installment of “A Quick Nine,” Garrett talks about his parallel paths in hockey and golf, growing up in Elmira, and how he stays sharp during the off-season while bouncing around the country as an NHL referee.
A Quick Nine with Garrett Rank
Why do hockey players – and of course officials -- make such good golfers?
The slap shot is very similar to the golf swing. I notice a lot of hockey players have the same motion through the ball and the hand-eye coordination involved is very similar. In Canada, the seasons hardly overlap, and it is a fairly lower impact, lower injury risk sport. contact sport which makes it attractive for hockey players.
What was your introduction to golf growing up in Elmira, Ontario?
My father and older brother both played. My brother is a very good player himself, so it helped to tag along with them at a young age before finally working at the Elmira Golf Club for a number of years. My parents used to joke that the membership was a lower cost than babysitting. It was an all-day hang, whether on the course, working with buddies on the chipping and putting green losing your lunch money.
Did you ever have any thoughts of turning professional?
I gained a lot of experience from participating on Golf Canada’s National Golf team and from athletics at the University of Waterloo. Leaving school, I didn’t think my game stacked up very well. I’ve improved dramatically since then, but I have no regrets. I’ve been fortunate enough to play in some big events on all sorts of levels. Ultimately, I didn’t have enough self-belief at a younger age, which stems from success and that didn’t happen for me until I had a full-time job.
How do you stay sharp during hockey season?
I won’t touch a club until Christmas. I have to pack so much golf into the summer months that my body and brain need to unwind. I’ll use a simulator and launch monitor to get some work done technically and I’ll try to play 5-10 times while traveling to some warmer climates during the season. I always grew up a two-sport athlete. I’m so excited to get back on the course in April and I don’t know if I would feel the same way playing all year round.
What’s been the top highlight of your amateur career?
Winning the Western Amateur in 2019 has been my top highlight. I had put in so much time and energy trying to reach my summit in golf that year and it is was really rewarding to finally get there. I didn’t know what I was chasing for all these years but I had come close in a number of situations and it was exhilarating to finally net a big one.
Royal Melbourne, I love the bunkering there. Royal County Down, the front nine was incredible and anywhere in Chicago because I’ve had some success there and really love the courses. Of course, Elmira Golf Club for its memories and nostalgia.
What’s your routine during the summer?
I try and use April and May to get back into the swing of things and then June, July and August are filled with anywhere from 7-10 tournaments. I’m an absolute golf nerd and addicted to the game so I wouldn’t want it any other way. I spend my practice time out at Westmount Golf & Country Club and it is incredible. The members are great and the course is pure. During tournament weeks I’ll play a practice round and try and rest as much as possible leading up to stay fresh. I’ve also met a lot of great families at tournaments I play every year so it is great to visit with them. Playing a similar schedule each summer, you become aware of the nuances of each course.
What’s the one part of your game you are always working on?
Your short game can never be tidy enough and your mind never sharp enough. I’ve done some really solid work on my short game the last 3-4 years to try and make it bulletproof and you can really save a bunch of shots or make something out of a round when you don’t have your best stuff. I’ve also matured and learned from past experiences to try and be better mentally with my emotions, decision making and self-belief. It’s a free way to improve your skills dramatically with a good head.
Which NHL players would be at the top of your list as four-ball partners?
I know a lot of the guys are really good at golf and we always have funny conversations about it on the ice but ultimately none of them want to be paired with the ref.