NHL referee makes semifinals of US Amateur Four-Ball golf

Garrett Rank watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 22, 2016 in Oakville, Canada.
Garrett Rank watches his tee shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 22, 2016 in Oakville, Canada. Getty Images

Garrett Rank has grown an affinity for Pinehurst golf courses, in part, because of the Carolina Hurricanes.

To be more specific, because of his job, which involves the Hurricanes.

Rank is an NHL referee. The 2016-17 season was his first as a fulltime ref in the league, and he said some Canes games in Raleigh allowed him the time to slip down to Pinehurst for a few rounds of golf.

“I never play on game days but I had a few trips start and end here in North Carolina,” Rank said. “It was just a matter of taking a couple of extra days off to play golf in the winter.”

Rank, who did not have any Stanley Cup playoff duties in his first year, has returned for more Pinehurst golf, this time to compete in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. Playing with Patrick Christovich of New Orleans, the team reached the match-play semifinals for the second straight year in the tournament.

Rank and Christovich opened match play Monday on Pinehurst No. 2 with a 1-up victory over Akshay Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky, the teenagers from Wake Forest. Then came two close matches Tuesday, as Rank and Christovich edged Matt Naumec and Billy Walthouse 2-and-1 in the round of 16, and took a 2-up victory over former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey of Greensboro and Todd Mitchell in the quarterfinals.

Referee Garrett Rank gets ready for a game between the Oilers and the Maple Leafs in November. Claus Andersen Getty Images

In Wednesday’s semifinals. Rank and Christovich were beaten by Clark Collier and Kyle Hudelson in a match that went 19 holes.

Rank, 29, grew up in a hockey family in Elmira, Ont., and often tagged along as his father, Rich, refereed local hockey games. He played right wing and center as a junior and said while he was a strong skater, his skill level was only average.

“If I had better hands I probably would have played for a living,” he said.

Nor did Rank play much junior golf. It wasn’t until later that he began spending time on his game and competing in tournaments, earning a golf scholarship at the University of Waterloo.

Rank reached the final of the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur and has won the Canadian Mid-Amateur the past three years, gaining exemptions into the RBC Canadian Open, a PGA Tour event.

Rank missed the cut in 2015 but used a first-round 69 last year to survive the 36-hole cut and hopes to repeat it again this summer.

“It was really neat to play the weekend on the PGA Tour and kind of get a taste of that lifestyle,” he said.

He also made a big move up in hockey. After splitting time in the American Hockey League and NHL, he said he worked 75 NHL games this past season.

“A ton of travel,” he said, smiling. “There are no home games for us, really. We’re in an airplane or at an airport every other day. It was a long season but a great experience.”

Early in the season, Rask felt the sting of a slapshot by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

“Hit the post, hit the glass and then hit me in the face,” he said. “It didn’t feel good but it was just a bump. I just carried on, basically.”

There have been tougher times. Rank was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but said the treatments were successful and he has since been cancer-free. His father passed away in January 2014, before Garrett was able to referee an NHL game.

Rank smiled again when asked if, given the choice, he’d rather have a PGA Tour card or play in the NHL. A tour card, he said, would be hard to pass on.

Then again, being a full-time referee in the NHL is a nice gig, too.

“One of the coolest jobs in the world,” Rank said.

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip