Rank: From APL to NHL? July 13, 2010 By Stuart Hall

Garrett Rank, an aspiring NHL referee, advanced to the second round of match play with a 5-and-4 win over Cody Paladino Wednesday. (USGA/Robert Walker)
Greensboro, N.C. — The question has become hackneyed for Canadian hockey players who also golf.

Probably 10 times a summer, said Garrett Rank on the number of Happy Gilmore wisecracks. The more common reference you get to hockey, though, is people talking about a slap shot or ‘I’m surprised you’re not taking a slap shot at the ball.’

Rank, 22, of Elmira, Canada, forechecked Cody Paladino, 5 and 4, in the first round of match play at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship Wednesday at Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center.

Rank, who shot a 4-over 146 in stroke play, will meet Brent Martin, 23, of La Plata, Md., in the second round of match play Thursday morning. Martin defeated Thomas Welk, 3 and 2.

It was still a grind out there, said Rank, a rising junior at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. I got off to a good start and then I didn’t want to give him any easy holes coming in. I played well, a little better than I did in the [stroke play]. It was good to get a feel for the course, and you’re more comfortable the more rounds you play.

While Rank hopes to win his way through to Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final, his biggest nemesis may not come from the bracket but from the turf. Bryan Park’s Bermuda grass rough has been cause for consternation.

On Monday, Rank admitted to leaving a couple of chips in the rough for a second swipe. He has since discovered to treat such shots like sand shots if the ball is lying down.

What Rank has mastered, though, are the greens that are far different than the bouncy poa he is accustomed to back home. If you get the ball rolling on the right line, then you’re going to make some putts, he said.

Like most twenty-somethings in this week’s field, Rank eventually wants to test his mettle as a professional golfer. But he may have to wait should a different vocation play out — that of being a National Hockey League referee.

You can golf the rest of your life, but you only get one chance to become an NHL referee, so if I were given that opportunity, I’d probably take it and then play golf down the road, he said.

Rank was a two-year walk-on hockey player at Waterloo and wanted to stay involved in the game. At 6-foot-1, 192 pounds with good skating skills and knowledge of the game, he is viewed as a strong referee prospect.

Rank, whose older brother Kyle plays for the American Hockey League’s Portland franchise, cut his teeth refereeing local junior hockey and this year received an invitation to referee in the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella organization for the country’s three major junior hockey leagues and the source for the majority of NHL players. A promotion to the AHL would precede the final move to the NHL.

I decided to give it a shot and I’ve been doing well, said Rank of the transition. If you’ve played you get a little more respect. The players know that you have a feel for the game and know what’s going on out there.

But Rank admits to hearing the occasional heckle.

It’s more like all of the time, but you have to have the attitude and mentality not to worry about that, he said. There are times, though, when you want to up and drive someone, but you have to refrain from doing that.

That’s good news for Rank’s remaining match play opponents.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.