Cleat Geeks

Cancer Survivor, NHL Referee, & Now PGA Golfer

From the rink to the links, Garrett Rank is trading his skates for golf spikes next weekend.
Rank, a survivor of testicular cancer and full-time NHL referee who officiated three postseason and 73 regular-season games this year, qualified for the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock after tying for first at a regional qualifying tournament.

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Photo by; Sports Illustrated

“I’m just really proud of all the hard work and the dedication and time you put into the game. There will be a lot of really proud people back in Elmira (Canada),” said Rank, 30, who was the runner-up in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “I just can’t thank people at home enough. My dad passed away a few years ago, and he’d be really jazzed to be there.”

With fellow NHL referee Daniel O’Rourke on the bag, Rank shot back-to-back 71s, finishing at two-under par at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course. Rank’s card featured two eagles in his first eight holes, guiding him to share medalist honors with Michael Hebert.

“We liked how he carried himself as a referee,” NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom told Bob McKenzie of TSN in 2015, as Rank prepared to make the jump to hockey’s top league. “Some guys are naturally inclined to be refs and Garrett seems to have that quality. You can see he’s accustomed to pressure, how he’s handled it as a golfer. I don’t think missing a hooking call in a hockey game can be as difficult as coming back from missing a three-foot putt in golf for a championship. There’s a real laid-back confidence to Garrett.”

Like many Canadian kids, Rank grew up playing hockey, reaching the Junior B level. Encouraged by his referee father Rich, he received his certification as an official as a teenager in order to earn spending money while he pursued his twin passions — hockey and golf.

Garrett’s talent on the links became apparent early enough to earn him a scholarship to the University of Waterloo. He won back-to-back Ontario University Athletics individual golf titles in 2010 and 2011 and was named Waterloo’s athlete of the year in 2012.

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While he was at university, he continued refereeing. He also joined the varsity hockey team as a walk-on but stopped playing after spending several months recovering from testicular cancer in 2011.

“I thought I had the world in my hands,” he said in 2012. “I was doing well academically and athletically.”

Doctors caught the tumor early and were able to remove it surgically. “I didn’t have to have too many treatments,” Rank added. “I was dead on my back for six to eight weeks.”

Within a few months, he was back to playing golf.

In 2012, he made Golf Canada’s national team and was runner-up at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship — as well as refereeing 50 major junior games in the Ontario Hockey League and a handful of additional lower-level junior games.

After three seasons as an OHL official, Rank was hired into the NHL’s minor league program. He worked his first NHL game at age 27 on January 15, 2015, and finished with three NHL assignments in the 2014-15 season. That grew to 31 games in 2015-16 before he was promoted to full-time status during the summer of 2016.

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As he climbed the officiating ranks, Rank also continued to impress with his golf game. He won the Canadian Mid-Amateur championship twice, represented Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games and played three RBC Canadian Opens. In 2016, he holed an eagle putt on 18 to open with a first-round 69, went on to make the cut and finished in a tie for 77th place.

Golf and hockey have long gone hand in hand. Superstars like Mario Lemieux are known for their prowess on the links and former players Dan Quinn and Grant Fuhr both have profile pages on the PGA website. These days, Wayne Gretzky watches and advises his daughter’s partner and the father of her two children, Dustin Johnson.

As well as possessing the physiological traits that make hockey players good golfers, Rank’s approach to officiating may also help him process high-stress moments on the links. We will soon find out as the 108th U.S. Open takes place from June 14-17 at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Shinnecock Hills, New York as he will be in the field. He has truly gone from the Rink to the Links and beat cancer in the process.

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