Hockey ref swaps skates for spikes in bid for US Open
As a referee in the National Hockey League, Garrett Rank is no stranger to high-profile, high-pressure sport.
As an amateur golfer teeing it up at the US Open, the 30-year-old Canadian thinks that experience will stand him in good stead.
“I’ve got a real job, so I consider this like the pinnacle of my golf career this week,” Rank said on Monday at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York, where the 118th US Open starts tomorrow.
“Obviously I have internal expectations on how I want to play and what I want to do. But at the end of the day, this is just a celebration for me and my family and friends.”
Rank punched his ticket to the US Open by earning co-medalist honors in sectional qualifying in Georgia.
A three-time Canadian Mid-Amateur champion, he has represented Canada in international golf and was runner-up in the 2012 US Mid-Amateur championship.
But like many in his ice hockey-mad homeland, Rank felt the pull of the rink as much as the links.
“Growing up in Canada, you’re kind of born with a pair of skates on your feet,” said Rank, a native of Elmira, Ontario, who played college hockey at the University of Waterloo before testicular cancer forced his focus away from both hockey and golf in 2011.
Rank said the illness left him “mentally stronger” although it “kind of put an end” to his hockey playing career.
“Reffing was a way to stay involved in the game,” he said. And his golf ability “kind of forced the NHL’s hand” as he worked his way into the elite league at a relatively early age.
“I think they looked at me and said ‘Hey, we like this kid. We think he’s good, but there’s a chance that he’s going to try and go play golf for a living.
“So I think I got into the NHL a few years earlier than I expected. And at the time I made a promise to myself that whatever panned out first, whether it be reffing or golf, then that’s what I was going to choose to do as my career.”
Rank manages to squeeze in some rounds as he travels to various NHL cities.
Since officiating in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, he’s had even more time to work on his game and he doesn’t regret not getting the call to work the Stanley Cup Finals — even though that could have conflicted with US Open qualifying.
“I got a question the other day about whether I would want to finish in the top 10 in the US Open or work Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and I answered with the top 10 at the US Open,” Rank said. “I said I’d save the Stanley Cup Finals for 15 years down the road when my golf game wasn’t as strong.”
Rank’s older brother, Kyle Rank, will be on the bag at the US Open. Kyle caddied for Garrett two years ago at the RBC Canadian Open and plays leisurely himself.
Their father, Rich Rank, was also a hockey referee.