NHL referee Garrett Rank's golf dream coming true at U.S. Open

Garrett Rank, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, just finished his second season as a referee in the NHL. Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Garrett Rank attempts to work golf into his schedule as he travels for his job to various cities throughout North America.

Being an NHL referee does not afford the opportunity often, with numerous trips to cold-weather cities in the winter months. Neither does lugging around his golf clubs in addition his hockey equipment.

All of which makes Rank's ability to qualify for this week's U.S. Open that much more remarkable. An accomplished amateur from Elmira, Canada, he was a co-medalist at last week's sectional qualifier in Roswell, Georgia.

"What a dream come true for me," Rank said Monday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where the season's second major begins on Thursday. "And just playing in any USGA Championship is a huge honor. ... I've got a real job, so I consider this the pinnacle of my golf career this week."

The 30-year-old Rank has balanced both sports for quite some time. He grew up playing golf and hockey, reaching the Junior B level in Canada. At the suggestion of his referee father, Rich, Rank also worked toward an officiating certification as a teenager.

"In Canada, it's two distinct seasons," Rank said. "Where I grew up, there wasn't really a lot of soccer, baseball. Me and my buddies played golf in the summer and hockey in the winter time.

"I think the slap shot is a very similar move [to a golf swing]. If you watch my action, I kind of laterally slide through it a little bit. I think the hand-eye coordination in playing hockey just bodes well to the game of golf."

Rank played on a golf scholarship at the University of Waterloo and then as a post-graduate for the Golf Canada national amateur team, along with current PGA Tour pros Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Connors.

But a life-altering testicular cancer diagnosis in 2011 forced Rank to make a tough decision.

"I don't know if the NHL was a possibility for me," Rank said Monday. "I was playing college hockey at [Waterloo] and felt in great shape, like nothing was wrong. I think cancer, for me, was kind of a blessing in disguise. It gave me a way better approach to hockey and golf, and kind of changed my attitude that, 'Hey, maybe that bad shot isn't really that bad.'

"I wouldn't say I'm happy I dealt with it, but [it was] kind of a blessing in disguise for me and probably pave the pathway to where I am today in terms of being a lot mentally stronger and having a better mental approach to this side of sports."

Shortly after his recovery, he returned to both sports. He was a runner-up at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur and two-time semifinalist at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. And Rank later worked his way through various lower professional levels of hockey officiating until getting the promotion to the NHL, where he just finished his second full season with 73 regular-season games and three more in the playoffs.

That schedule made it difficult to keep his golf game in shape, as he played just a handful of rounds. Once his hockey assignments, and the fact he did not go deeper into the playoffs, allowed him a better opportunity to compete here, Rank said he was able to concentrate on golf.

"I try to play as much as I can," he said. "I probably didn't play as much as I would have liked to this year. Any time I do go play, it's with rental clubs or playing out of my buddy's bag. I get invited to play a lot of really cool places. That's the great thing about the amateur golf game, is the network and opportunity that are provided through that."

As his hockey career develops, it is likely Rank's day job will take over and keep him off the golf course.

"I got a question the other day about whether I would want to finish in the top 10 at the U.S. Open or work Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, and I answered top 10 at the U.S. Open," Rank said. "I said I'd save the Stanley Cup for 15 years down the road when my golf game wasn't as strong."

Rank will play the first two rounds of the U.S. Open with Hughes and Australian Aaron Baddeley, with a 7:18 a.m. tee time Thursday. Rank said family and friends will be here to cheer him on this week. And his father, who passed away in early 2014, won't be far from his thoughts.

When asked for his dream golf foursome, Rank didn't hesitate: "I'd probably take Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and my dad."