From the ice to the green

NHL ref makes U.S. Open de­but

Journal Pioneer - - SPORTS - BY TERRIN WAACK

Gar­rett Rank is trad­ing skates for spikes on a stage far larger than any­thing he has ex­pe­ri­enced. No one plays Shin­necock Hills on ice. This week is not about blue-lines and high-stick­ing. It’s about green fair­ways and lag putting. Rank’s day job ended two months ago when he fin­ished work­ing the first round of the Stan­ley Cup play­offs. That left Rank, an NHL ref­eree for the last three years, enough time to qualify for his first U.S. Open. “The re­ac­tion from the hockey com­mu­nity has been huge,” Rank said Mon­day. “I think ev­ery of­fi­cial on our staff sent me a text and con­grat­u­lated me and said they’d be fol­low­ing along and are re­ally proud of me. I even had a few phone calls ask­ing if it was me, like if that was the same Gar­rett Rank. I don’t know too many other peo­ple with the same name. But yeah, that’s me. I’m go­ing to the U.S. Open.” The fair­way isn’t re­ally an es­cape for the 30-year-old Cana­dian. Sure, it’s qui­eter. There is less sur­round­ing chaos. There are no whis­tles – any penal­ties typ­i­cally are called by the play­ers them­selves. Rank is sim­ply here to play. The in­ten­sity is no dif­fer­ent. “You have to deal with the pres­sure of mak­ing a call – or I guess the pres­sure of mak­ing a wrong call – (and) you deal with the pres­sure of mak­ing a bad shot in golf,” he said. “And you have to be re­ally de­ci­sive as well. De­ci­sive in the de­ci­sions you make about what shot you want to hit, and then ob­vi­ously you have to make a de­ci­sion in about a split sec­ond if you’re go­ing to call a penalty or not.” Rank made it to Shin­necock with a pair of 71s at Ans­ley Golf Club in Ge­or­gia, with fel­low NHL ref­eree Dan O’Rourke as his cad­die. He earned one of three spots. “What a dream come true,” Rank said. Rank’s older brother, Kyle Rank, will be on the bag at the U.S. Open. Kyle cad­died for Gar­rett two years ago at the Cana­dian Open and plays leisurely him­self. Their fa­ther, Rich Rank, was also a hockey ref­eree. So, Gar­rett Rank has been a mix of hockey and golf since he was a kid. He even played both at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo in On­tario. But then Rank was di­ag­nosed with tes­tic­u­lar can­cer in 2011, putting his ath­letic plans on hold at 22 years old. He caught it early and was de­clared can­cer-free that same year. Ul­ti­mately, he trained as a ref­eree to re­main in­volved in hockey, and that be­came his ca­reer. Golf be­came some­thing he en­joyed dur­ing free time. “Can­cer for me was kind of a bless­ing in disguise,” Rank said. “It gave me a way bet­ter ap­proach to hockey and golf and kind of changed my at­ti­tude that, hey, maybe that bad shot isn’t re­ally that bad or, hey, maybe this missed call re­ally isn’t that bad at the end of the day.” Per­spec­tive in pres­sure. Or just per­spec­tive in gen­eral. Golf doesn’t move as quickly as hockey, al­though Rank kept that in con­text. “If you’ve ever seen any ref­eree skate out there, I don’t know how fast we’re re­ally go­ing,” Rank said. “The play­ers are mov­ing fast, but we’re fairly sta­tion­ary, mov­ing in a small area.” A golf course is any­thing but small. The short­est hole at Shin­necock, the par-3 17th, is 180 yards. That’s 540 feet. A hockey rink is 200 feet long. But zoom into the player and size is ir­rel­e­vant. The strokes can trans­late no mat­ter area of play. “The slap shot is a very sim­i­lar move,” Rank said. “If you watch my ac­tion, I kind of lat­er­ally slide through it a lit­tle bit. I think the hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion in play­ing hockey, it just bodes well to the game of golf.”

AP PHOTO

New Jersey Devils cen­tre Travis Za­jac talks to ref­eree Gar­rett Rank dur­ing an NHL game in March.

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