U.S. MID-AMATEUR
Pro Hockey Referee Pulling Rank at Mid-Amateur September 11, 2012 | Lake Forest, Ill. By David Shefter, USGA

Garrett Rank still isn't sure if he wants to pursue golf or hockey refereeing as a vocation. (Chris Keane/USGA)

As a professional referee in the Ontario Hockey League, Garrett Rank receives plenty of verbal shots from irate coaches and players.

The OHL is Canada’s premier junior league, a stepping stone for players who aspire to the National Hockey League. Tensions can occasionally run high, and Rank has learned to be patient and have thick skin.

Those characteristics also translate well for Rank’s other passion: golf. Knowing how to temper adversity can sometimes be the difference between going home early or hoisting the trophy.

At this week’s U.S Mid-Amateur, the youngest competitor in the field – Rank turned 25 three days before the start of the national championship for golfers 25 and older – is showing how staying calm under fire can pay off.

The 2012 University of Waterloo graduate moved into the semifinals on Wednesday morning with a 3-and-2 defeat of Matthew Mattare, 26, of New York. He later defeated Todd White, 44, of Spartanburg, S.C., 1 up, in the semifinals. 

One more win and Rank could find himself at a crossroads. Does he pursue a professional golf career or work toward possibly becoming an NHL referee?

As a 25-year-old who just graduated from school, it’s a pretty good decision to have, said Rank, who at 6-foot-2½ looks like he could play hockey.

Rank was a two-sport athlete at Waterloo for two years, in hockey and golf. When a friend suggested becoming a referee, he took up the offer. He moved quickly through the junior hockey system to where he now officiates 50 OHL games a season. He also typically works a handful of Junior B, C and D games, which keeps him busy several nights every week.

But he also loves golf. Having already competed in a handful of USGA championships, including this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links, Rank is now on the verge of becoming the first foreign-born Mid-Amateur champion in the event’s 32 playings.

Earlier this summer, he advanced to the sectional qualifying stage for the U.S. Open and nearly advanced out of the Springfield, Ohio, site. He also nearly qualified for the RBC Canadian Open.

"I have aspirations of playing professional golf and would love to play the PGA Tour," he said. "But by the same token, I have been to some NHL developmental camps for referees. The problem is you can’t achieve something like that with only 75 percent of your eggs in one basket."

Rank still plans to referee OHL games this year. In fact, he is scheduled to officiate a game on Friday night, the day after the Mid-Amateur concludes. The good news is the OHL won’t have a lockout, which is where the NHL is apparently headed in the coming days.

If Rank happens to win two more matches at the Mid-Amateur, he will likely get an invitation to next April’s Masters Tournament. Other major amateur invites would also be in the offing, as well as exemptions into next year’s APL and U.S. Amateur.

In January of 2011, Rank was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Fortunately, his doctors caught the tumor in its early stages and following surgery, he was back playing golf by late spring.

"I thought I had the world in my hands," said Rank. "I was doing well academically and athletically. I didn’t have to have too many treatments. I was dead on my back for six to eight weeks. I am not totally in the clear. But fortunately enough, I am far enough along that the re-occurrence of it is highly unlikely."

Until he faced White, Rank had yet to play past the 16th hole in any of his matches at Conway Farms, including a pair of romps on Tuesday when he needed only 27 holes to reach the quarterfinals.

He was tested by Mattare, who overcame an early two-hole deficit to square the match at the 12th hole. Rank never blinked. He rolled in a clutch 5-footer for par at No. 13 to halve the hole, then reached the par-5 14th in two shots. Two putts later, the second from 7 feet, he regained the lead for good. At No. 15, Rank knocked his wedge approach to 10 feet and rolled in the birdie putt for a 2-up lead. When Mattare failed to convert a 6-foot par putt at the 16th hole, the match was over.

"The two putts that made the difference were the ones I missed on 14 (5 feet) and 16," said Mattare. "Down the stretch, he made three huge putts in a row at 13, 14 and 15 that won the match."

Added Rank: "I’m used to high-pressure situations. You definitely get nerves officiating. There are big moments and you draw off those. It definitely can’t be of harm to the golf game."

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.