With record 62, Rank rises to Players Am lead

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Live scoring

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BLUFFTON, S.C. – Given the opportunity, Garrett Rank would only take back one shot from a nearly perfect Friday morning at Berkeley Hall Golf Club.

Rank, a 26-year-old Canadian amateur, missed a 5-footer at the 12th hole, which was truly the only blemish on a 10-under 62 that sent him to the top of the Players Amateur leaderboard after two rounds. Still, Rank didn’t seem too upset about it – he had a wide grin from the time he stepped off the 18th green to the time he finished nearly 20 minutes of rapid-fire questioning from assembled media. Then Rank disappeared into the polished hallways of Berkeley Hall’s clubhouse.

At 11-under 133 for 36 holes, Rank leads by five shots. Still, the majority of Rank’s 10 birdies around Berkeley Hall went unseen. Rank teed off early on an overcast morning, carried his own bag despite the allowance of caddies at this tournament, and he moved quickly. He believes that playing at a good pace helps his game. So he took no extra time over putts – 40 feet or 5 feet – tended to the flag on nearly every hole and took deep strides down the fairways.

Forgive the fans stationed comfortably in lawn chairs around Berkeley Hall’s fairways for not picking up said seats and racing to Rank’s gallery. When he dropped a 40-putt birdie putt at No. 15 to get to 9 under, he gained attention. A final birdie at No. 17 got Rank to 10 under and one below the course record, and brought a crowd to No. 18 to watch him finish.

“My ballstriking was really good today,” Rank said. “I’m a really good putter, I think, and today, I made everything I should have.”

A member of the Canadian National Golf Team, Rank is the rare amateur journeyman. This is his first turn at the Players Amateur, but mostly just because it generally conflicts with the Provincial Amateur back home. Rank saw the opportunity for a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage (given to the Players winner), and took the bait.

“I thought I would get more out of playing well here than playing well back home,” he said.

This lifestyle is possible, in part, because of his spot on the Canadian team. Rank picks his tournament – essentially, every tournament he can get into – and takes off from one spot to the next, often traveling alone.

“Right now I just don’t want to leave the top of amateur golf, playing all these great events and all these really good courses to join the jungle of mini-tour golf,” he said of shucking his amateur status.

Canadian teammate Adam Svensson, a junior at Barry University, keeps a similarly busy schedule. Upon finding out about Rank’s round late in the afternoon, Svensson wasn’t surprised. He sums up Rank’s moxie with a familiar statement.

“He’s a hockey player,” Svensson said. It seems synonymous with “tough guy.”

Rank, for much of his life, was better known for his slap shot and strong skating than smooth iron play. Hockey was his primary sport growing up, while golf was just a good hobby for the off-season. In 2011, however, Rank was diagnosed and treated for testicular cancer. During that stretch, health issues kept him off the ice and effectively ended a competitive hockey career. Suddenly, Rank was more interested in golf.

Cancer served as a good bit of perspective for Rank, who no longer beats himself up over a bogey. Rank is now not only cancer-free, but has cut down check-ups with his doctor from bi-monthly to annually. Rank got a clean bill of health at a check-up a few weeks before the Players Amateur.

Rank slides below the radar so easily, perhaps, because of that easygoing nature. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Rank has found success at the mid-amateur level in U.S. tournaments. In 2012, he beat U.S. Walker Cup player Todd White in the semifinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, only to lose to another Walker Cupper, Nathan Smith, in the final.

Rank, the medalist at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2013, already has qualified for next month’s U.S. Amateur. And so the road continues. Rank is keeping an eye out for that sign that it’s time to turn professional, but there is no rush.

In January, Rank was hired as a hockey referee by the AHL. It’s a wintertime hobby for the athletic Canadian, but come spring, the ref bag goes in the closet and the sticks come out. Rank played the Birmingham Amateur in May and has spent just a few days at home since. Last month, he nearly won the Monroe Invitational before dropping to a tie for third with a lackluster, even-par 72 in the final round.

“I didn’t have a very polished last round but I’ve been playing really well all summer, hanging around the lead,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard on my game the past few years with the Golf Canada program.”

Perhaps Rank might have been professional by now had he gone on this rigorous a junior-golf tour as a youngster. As it was, Rank’s name was picked up by a handful of small universities in Florida after he played the Optimist International in high school. It just didn’t make sense for him to play golf in the U.S.

“I was big into hockey at the time, too,” Rank said.

Rank wouldn’t trade his days on the golf and hockey rosters at the University of Waterloo in Ontario – where he stayed for five years on his way to a masters degree in business finance. For one thing, it gave him an opportunity to work on a slap shot that gracefully morphed to an arcing iron shot.

It also gives him a back-up in case an amateur career doesn’t morph into a professional one. To Rank, however, it already feels quite professional.

“I can’t beat the route that I’m going right now,” he said. “I’m pretty much playing a professional schedule and traveling week to week. I don’t see it being much different than mini-tour golf.”