By Chris Stevenson, Rideau View Golf Insider
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — As NHL referee Garrett Rank made his way up his second-to-last hole at Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open in the first round Thursday, a fan called out, “Go, Garrett.”
Rank, 13-over-par at the time, raised his hand in acknowledgement and the fan added, “Call more slashing on Pittsburgh!”
Oh, there was plenty of slashing Thursday.
From the right rough. From the left rough. From the rough short of the fairway.
It added up to 83, still not the worst score from the morning wave (that belong to rookie English pro Scott Gregory, who had a 92).
“I’m not embarrassed by an 83, but it’s not good,” Rank, who had a smile on his face and his head held high. “If you weren’t playing from the fairway, it was next to impossible. You might as well add one or two more shots to your score on every hole. The wind. The wind didn’t help matters at all.
“You almost have to hit a perfect golf shot every time. Back home if you miss the fairway, you are usually in the rough and you just hit it on the green. If you go out to your home course and you miss the fairway you have to drop it in the knee high rough and slash it down the fairway. Then you get up to the green and every green is rolling like 12-1/2, 13 and the wind is howling. It’s just hard.
Rank had nine pars, five bogeys and four double bogeys after teeing off on the 10th hole at 7:18 with fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes and Australian Aaron Baddeley.
The 30-year-old from Elmira, ON, who was co-medalist at sectional qualifying, hit nine out of 14 fairways and if you saw the fescue that lurked two or three paces in some cases from the fairway, then you know Rank had his share of grief from the amber waves of pain.
They got him on his first hole when his shot went through the fairway. It caused him to miss the green short left in more rough. What looked like a well-executed chip crept up to the hole, did a curtsy and kept going for another 30 yards.
“I missed the first fairway and if my second shot is two feet right of where it is, it rolls onto the green and I can two-putt for par and have a nice start,” Rank said. “Then I hit a chip and I think it’s perfect and it keeps rolling and rolling and now it’s rolling off the back of the green.
“It was a quick wakeup call. I honestly felt fine. It starts with getting it in the fairway and I didn’t do a great job of that and my short game was just a liability today. I didn’t chip or bunker it good enough to even remotely have a good score.”
He had to take penalty from an unplayable lie in the rough on 13th hole which led to another double. On the third hole, his 12th hole of the day, his drive landed in the right hay not more than a dozen feet from a marshal.
The marshal walked over and started to look for the ball. He was joined by a second marshall. Then another and another until there were six of them parting the yard-deep grass. It took them two minutes to find it. He had to wedge it back onto the fairway and that led to another double.
Taking It All In
When it was over up on the hill by the impressive clubhouse, Rank, at the suggestion of his brother Kyle, who was caddying for him, took a look around.
“On number nine, my brother said to me, ‘hey, look where you are, take this all in. You’re standing in a beautiful vista of the whole golf course.’ It’s pretty cool.
“This isn’t my job. It’s just cool to be out here. I obviously wanted to play better than I did today, but at the end of the day I’m at the U.S. Open playing in a major championship. I saw some of the scoreboards walking by and some big names shooting some big scores. It was just hard. It really was.”
Rank’s highlight of the round came after he topped his drive on the par-4 eighth hole. It came up short of the fairway. He had 208 yards to the hole and hit it to the short left fringe. He chipped up to 12 feet and rolled the putt in, pumping his right fist in mock triumph.
He got an enthusiastic cheer from the grandstand.
“I’d hit it in the fairway and I’d make bogey or double and then I topped a drive and I made par. You can really only laugh at it. It’s kind of neat. I said to my brother I don’t know how many people have topped a drive in the U.S. Open and still made par.”
As he walked off the tee Baddeley turned to him and started to talk.
“I don’t really know his thought process but after I topped it on number 8, he just went into this normal conversation walking off the tee. He wanted to talk and I was like, ‘dude, I just topped it and it was probably on TV. The last thing I want to do is have a conversation right now.’ He just carried on. He striped one down the middle. That was kind of funny.”
There was also a funny moment when Rank walked between the 12th green and the 13th tee and he saw some friends and family who surprised him by showing up to root for him. He was already 3-over-par.
“Any tips?” he asked as he walked by.
“Vodka and tonic,” was the reply.
Rank said the atmosphere was a little bit like his normal job.
“I heard ‘keep smashing the Timbit.’ That was pretty clever. There were so many hilarious lines. You could almost compare it to the rink, some of the comments I heard out there today,” Rank said.
Speaking of which, when was he more nervous? First NHL game (Rank worked his first NHL game in 2015; he’s been a full-time ref for two seasons) or first tee Thursday?
“I was nervous on the first tee, but overall I felt fine all day. I was crapping myself my whole first (NHL) game,” he said. “In my first NHL game I made a wrong call like five minutes into the game. I guess in my first US Open experience I shoot 83. It turned out all right in the NHL so hopefully it can turn all right in my golf career.”
Follow me on Twitter: @CJ_Stevenson