Missing out on a chance to play in the Masters by just a shot or two is understandably disheartening but making it into that spot does have some rewards.
That's where Garrett Rank was a day after finishing as runner-up in the United States Golf Association's Mid-Amateur championship on Thursday. Rank, 25, of Elmira, Ont., lost on the 36th and final hole to Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, Penn.
"It's definitely a little disappointing," Rank admitted after returning from Lake Forest, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, "but it's also exciting to have made it to the final and get that experience."
Rank admitted that the idea of playing at Augusta National did enter his mind as he moved closer to the final.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I thought about it; it did creep into my mind. But I didn't think about it when I was on the course."
With a spot in the final and a possible trip to Augusta, Rank gained plenty of notoriety at home. His name was buzzing on Twitter as golf fans tried to follow the match that wasn't broadcast. And he also received messages from some of Canada's greatest players.
"The night before I got a text message from Marlene Streit wishing me good luck," Rank said. "I've never even met her. Then I saw that Graham DeLaet sent out a Tweet about me. That was pretty cool."
The Mid-Am is for players 25 and older, a competition designed for top amateurs but excluding the large crop of collegiate players. The winner traditionally gets an invite to the Masters. Rank just qualified, celebrating his 25th birthday on Sept. 5. He graduated from the University of Waterloo in April and spent the summer playing a heavy schedule of top amateur events including the British Amateur, the U.S. Public Links and the Porter Cup.
"I played eight and a half weeks in a row," he said. "I literally didn't sleep in my own bed for that time. It was a good lesson in scheduling and I understand now why pros have gaps in their schedules."
Rank went into the Mid-Am after a week of rest and knew that having come in off a summer of competitive play was also an advantage. Most of the other players in the field had full time jobs and weren't able to devote as much time to their games.
In the two-round medal play qualifying, Rank tied for fourth with a score of one over. He then made it through five matches, the closest a 1-up victory in the semi-final over Todd White of Spartanburg, S.C.
In the final, the two players struggled in the opening 18.
"Neither Nathan or I had good stuff in the morning," conceded Rank. "It was a tough day; windy and cold."
After falling 3-down, rank battled back and was just one down at the halfway point. In the afternoon, Rank began to play better but once again, fell behind by three holes. And once again, he battled back, squaring the match up on the strength of winning holes 31, 32 and 33.
The turning point came on the 35th hole, a par 3.
"I hit a shot that was almost perfect," Rank said. "It went just a few inches too far."
The shot that was just over the green left him with a next-to-impossible chip that ended up rolling 25 feet past the cup. When he wasn't able to sink the par putt, Smith went 1-up with one hole left and closed him out on the final hole.
Smith, who won the event for a record fourth time, told Rank he was glad the match wasn't going another nine holes, as he knew his opponent was coming on.
Just hours after getting home, Rank was headed off to the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex for his job as a referee in the Ontario Hockey League. The game was an exhibition match between the Barrie Colts and the Kitchener Rangers.
Rank hasn't finalized his golf plans for the future but is looking at turning professional, perhaps year from now. For the moment, however, he's going to relish his play at the Mid-Am and perhaps watch next year's Masters with just a touch of envy.