NHL referee unexpectedly wins prestigious amateur golf tournament in Michigan

Garrett Rank, an NHL official since 2015, is the first Canadian winner of the tournament since 1977. (Twitter//@WGAChamps)

Most individuals struggle to find one thing that they’re exceptional at. That isn’t the case for Garrett Rank. The guy’s pretty darn good at two.

The 31-year-old from Elmira, Ont. is a hockey referee at the sport’s pinnacle. On top of that, he just won the Western Amateur at Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club in Benton Township, Michigan on Saturday.

As a result of his 3-and-2 victory over Daniel Wetterich in the finals, his name will be etched upon the George R. Thorne championship trophy alongside golf legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Rank is the first mid-amateur to take the title since 1997 and first Canadian-born victor since Jim Nelford in 1977.

That’s pretty impressive considering he plays the majority of his competitive golf during the NHL offseason. The fact that he hits the links far less than most of the field that he was up against didn’t hurt him throughout a difficult week, though.

The Western Amateur calls itself the “toughest test in amateur golf”. Every year, 156 ball strikers from around the world are invited to attend. 36 holes of individual stroke played over Tuesday and Wednesday reduces the field to the low 44 scores and ties. On Thursday, the survivors grind through 36 holes of individual stroke play to determine the top 16 golfers at the event.

Following the first three days, Rank found himself, um, ranked fifth overall heading into the match play portion of the competition. On Friday, he birdied the 17th and 18th holes to defeat Japan’s Hidetoshi Yoshihara 2 up. Later that day, he advanced to the semi-finals with a 2-and-1 triumph over Turk Pettit of the United States.

In Saturday morning’s semi, he held off a late surge from David Laskin of the United States to move on to the finals with a 2-and-1 win. Then, taking on Wetterich with the championship on the line, Rank never trailed against the American on his way to supremacy.

“Those guys are the who’s who of golf and to put my name on there, it will never get erased,” Rank said afterwards about joining the elite group of golfers that have won the tournament. “I’ve been chasing a major amateur title for a long time and the dream finally came true today. I’m super thrilled.”

Last summer, Rank qualified for the 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York. While he didn’t make the cut, he said the experience will be something that he’ll “...remember for the rest of my life.”

A survivor of testicular cancer following his battle with the disease in 2011, Rank has officiated 187 NHL regular season games since making his debut in January of 2015.

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