NHL ref Rank to tee off in U.S. Open golf tournament
Here’s a different take on the two-sport athlete: NHL referee and golfer who is good enough to compete in one of golf’s Major tournaments.
That will be the case when the U.S. Open begins on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills in South Hampton, N.Y., because one of the participants will be NHL referee Garrett Rank.
Rank, 31, qualified for the U.S. Open by shooting 71-71 to tie for first place at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Ansley Gold Club in Atlanta last week, Rank, 31, will tee off at 7:18 a.m. ET Thursday from the 10th hole with PGA Tour golfers Mackenzie Hughes and Aaron Baddeley.
“Was next to the best players in the world on the ice … Next week I get to play with the best golfers in the world,” he told Sportsnet after qualifying. “It’s a pretty cool life I’m living right now.”
Rank, a native of Elmira, Ontario, went to the University of Waterloo on a golf scholarship and joined the Waterloo hockey team as a walk-on. But he had to give up hockey when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 and took time off for treatment.
Rank made Golf Canada’s national team in 2012 and won the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur Championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He played in the 2016 Canadian Open, a PGA Tour event, and finished 77th. He’s played in 15 USGA championships.
At the same time, he refereed games in the Major Junior Ontario Hockey League, worked his first NHL game in 2015, and was promoted to full time in 2016. Rank has refereed 187 NHL games.
“He has two unique skill sets: He’s a world-class golfer and a world-class referee in the NHL,” Steven Walkom, NHL senior vice president and director of officiating, told NHL.com. “I mean, most people are lucky to have one of those, and Garrett’s blessed to have both.
“He’s just a committed individual. And maybe the good thing is, by him being a referee, maybe he doesn’t feel as much pressure. He goes out and enjoys the game of golf. And wherever it takes him, it takes him.”
Rank has figured out how to balance hockey and golf.
“I’m happy playing once a month or once every couple of weeks, just to have the golf bug in my brain,” Rank said. “It’s kind of nice for me because, growing up, I always had that break and fresh start. So I don’t mind putting the clubs away or not playing a ton of golf for three or four months and then getting back after it.”
Rank’s caddy for the qualifier was fellow NHL referee Dan O’Rourke, who is impressed with Rank’s ability to deal with the mental challenges of each game.
“They are similar in the respect that, with a golfer and the caddy, you’re kind of a small team, but at the end of the day you’re the guy hitting the shots,” O’Rourke said. “Same with refereeing: You’re out there with a team but at the end of the day, you have to live and die by your decisions. For him to be able to sort of pick up in the offseason and get as sharp as he was when I saw him play is just amazing.”
And good enough for the U.S. Open.
“It was such a cool moment and a weight off my shoulders that you realize you’re going to play in the U.S. Open and all the sacrifices and work you put in to get to that level of amateur golf,” Rank said. “This was kind of a sweet reward for that.”