SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.: Canadian Garrett Rank is swapping his ice hockey skates for a set of golf clubs this week at Shinnecock Hills where the National Hockey League referee will make his U.S. Open debut.
Rank, who recently completed his second full season as an NHL referee, posted successive rounds of 71 at a sectional qualifier in Georgia last week to secure a spot in the year's second major - and has become the envy of his hockey peers.
"The reaction from the hockey community has been huge," Rank told a news conference at Shinnecock Hills this week. "I think every official on our staff sent me a text and congratulated me and said they'd be following along and are really proud of me.
"I even had a few phone calls, like asking if it was me, like if that was the same Garrett Rank. I'm like, I don't know of too many other people with the same name, but, yeah, that's me. I'm going to the U.S. Open."
The 30-year-old Canadian will tee off alongside compatriot Mackenzie Hughes and four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley, of Australia, in Thursday's opening round.
Rank, who survived testicular cancer in 2011, called 73 regular season NHL games and another three during the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in April.
He said he has not been in the NHL long enough to request particular assignments but the three-times Canadian Mid-Amateur champion did admit he gets in his fair share of golf in between calling games.
"I think our assigner knows I play golf on the road so I probably go to Florida or Phoenix a few more times than some of the other guys on our staff," said Rank.
"It's tough to travel with the hockey equipment and then bring your golf bag in tow. So any time I do go play, it's with rental clubs or playing out of my buddy's bag."
When Rank was not assigned games for the second round of the playoffs it not only allowed him to focus his attention on the sectional qualifier but also spared him potentially having to make a tough choice.
"I got a question the other day about whether I would want to finish in the top 10 in the U.S. Open or work Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and I answered with the top 10 at the U.S. Open," said Rank.
"And I said I'd save the Stanley Cup Finals for 15 years down the road when my golf game wasn't as strong."
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Neville Dalton)