NEWTON — Garrett Rank had the type of Sunday that might have caused some golfers to stash their clubs in a closet and forget about the sport for a few days.
Instead, the Canadian flew halfway across the country, reached his hotel less than eight hours before a Monday tee time, then opened the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in impressive fashion.
Using some navigational help from Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall’s son, caddie Kellen, the 26-year-old Rank fired a 5-under-par 66 at Sand Creek Station to share the lead after the first round of stroke-play qualifying in the six-day United States Golf Association event. Nebraska-Kearney junior Michael Colgate and UNLV junior Zane Thomas matched Rank’s 66 to lead the 156-player field, which will be trimmed to 64 for match play after 18 more holes on Tuesday.
Reigning champion Jordan Niebrugge, an Oklahoma State junior, shot a 3-over 74 one day after tying for 27th in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, which he played through a sponsor exemption.
Rank, the stroke-play medalist at last year’s APL in Lorton, Va., quickly healed the sting of a second-place finish at The Players Amateur on Sunday in South Carolina in which he surrendered a six-shot, final-round lead to winner Scott Vincent. In his first trip around Sand Creek, Rank made four birdies and an eagle while hitting 17 greens in regulation.
“I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hitting any shot that I wasn’t comfortable with,” Rank said. “Today, I probably hit a couple more hybrids and 3-woods off the tee than I normally would, but I kept it in the fairway all day and was just able to attack pins from there.”
Rank credited a good yardage book and Marshall, who has played Sand Creek as a member of Trinity Academy’s golf team, for a successful maiden voyage around the 7,365-yard, par 71 course.
“I talked to him on the phone and he said, ‘I just want to survive and make it to match play,’” said Marshall, 17, who caddies at Andover’s Flint Hills National. “I think he’s doing a little more than surviving.”
So are Colgate and Thomas, who, like Rank, played Sand Creek in the morning, when conditions were more benign. Colgate, from Sarasota, Fla., capped a bogey-free round with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9.
“I’m really proud of the way I played today,” said Colgate, playing in his third USGA event. “I don’t have to worry if I make a couple of early bogeys tomorrow, I am still in good shape.”
Thomas, who qualified for his first USGA competition after missing out as an alternate multiple times, bookended his round with birdies on the first two and last two holes. A dependable driver helped Thomas offset bogeys on two par-3 holes.
“I got off to a quick start and just kind of kept it going on the front,” Thomas said. “I had a lot of chances for birdies and kept my speed around the greens pretty good.”
Despite the disappointment of falling short in the Players Amateur, which cost him an invitation to compete in next year’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, Rank arrived at his fifth APL feeling good about his game. He shot a course-record, 10-under 62 in the second round of last week’s tournament at Berkeley Hall Club.
“I was really disappointed in that it was a big opportunity that I let slip, but I had a great week and played really well,” Rank said. “The wins will come and the opportunities to play in a PGA Tour event will come down the road. I obviously really put myself in a good position.”
Notes — There are 43 states and 13 countries represented in this year’s final edition of the APL.… The average of the field is 22.3 years. William Arnold, 57, is the oldest player, while 15-year-old Issei Tanabe is the youngest.… Of the players with local connections, Kansas State senior Kyle Weldon posted Monday’s low score, an even-par 71. Others: Sterling’s Michael Gellerman (74), former Wichita State golfer Calvin Pearson (77), Overland Park’s Michael Greene (77) and Leawood’s Chase Hanna (78).