Rank leads by 6 after 54 holes of Players Amateur

Sunday, July 13, 2014

BLUFFTON, S.C. –– For those who scoff at the idea of golf as an endurance sport, consider the life of Garrett Rank.

The Players Amateur has been a rare U.S. stopover for Rank, a 26-year-old Canadian amateur who, in early life, spent more time in ice skates than FootJoys. The dates of this event normally conflict with the Provincial Amateur back home. Perhaps that’s why Rank, with a six-shot lead through 54 holes, seems like such a surprise.

The past 24 hours at Berkeley Hall have made Rank something of an amateur-golf celebrity. The Canadian National Team member made 10 seemingly easy birdies on Friday – and no bogeys – for a course-record 62 that gave him a five-shot lead at the halfway point of the tournament. Rank slept easily on the lead, used a Saturday-morning thunderstorm, and subsequent delay of play, to do some paperwork, catch up on Twitter and get in a quick workout.

Down time is few and far between for Rank, the rare amateur journeyman who seems to have hit his stride.

Rank began Players week with a 36-hole qualifier for the U.S. Amateur. He tied for medalist honors at that event, played at The Federal Club in Glen Allen, Va., to qualify for his second U.S. Amateur – he last played in 2011. Flash forward to Players practice rounds followed by 72 holes in the steamy Deep South. Rank, however, is still going strong.

The Sunday-Monday turnaround could be the real kicker. Rank will draw the final tee time on Sunday as a quartet of young players try to catch and exceed his pace. Upon finishing this tournament, Rank must immediately hop a plane to Wichita, Kan., by way of a very short layover in Chicago, so he can make his 8:20 a.m. tee time Monday at the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kan.

“I’m an athlete,” Rank said with a shrug after laying out those logistics for a crew of stunned reporters.

Rank was the stroke-play medalist at the Public Links a year ago, and with his game on track, has a potetially long week ahead after he departs South Carolina. If there’s one thing Rank has proven at Berkeley Hall, however, it’s a tendency to stay unflustered. Besides, this is normal for Rank, who spends his winters officiating ice hockey and his summers playing the North American amateur-golf circuit.

“I went a little crazy last year,” he said.

The day after a course and personal record can be tough, but Rank made the turn Saturday in 3-under. His only bogey came at the par-3 16th, and it was his first bogey since the fifth hole in Round 1. Rank finished the day with 2-under 70, and is 13 under for the tournament.

“On the front nine, I probably got as much out of the round as I could,” he said.

Only 18 holes stand between Rank and the RBC Heritage exemption given to the winner of this event. For a 26-year-old amateur looking to see what the PGA Tour is all about, it’s a very tempting prize. At this rate, there’s a possibility Rank may have drawn the attention of Canadian Open tournament directors, too. That tournament falls at the end of the month.

Come Sunday, Rank’s closest pursuers will include Florida State’s Jack Maguire, Oklahoma State’s Zach Olsen, Virginia Tech’s Scott Vincent and Vanderbilt’s Hunter Stewart, the defending champion.

Give Maguire the most credit for making up ground on Saturday with an 8-under 64, the round of the day. Maguire shot 62 at the USF Invitational this spring, and it gave him a new perspective on scoring. Rather than rein it in when he gets to 7 or 8 under, Maguire hits the throttle because there’s nothing to protect anymore. Maguire wants to get to 11 under.

“I put myself in good position off the tee which allowed me to go for some greens,” he said of his round at Berkeley Hall.

Maguire had eight birdies and no bogeys on a day where a lot of things just went right. He also had the wrong ball – in a sense, anyway.

Maguire’s older brother M.J., a senior at North Florida, also is in the Players field and Jack grabbed a sleeve of UNF balls before teeing off instead of Florida State balls. It could be the start of a new tradition.