The United States Golf Association received 9,049 entries for the United States Open this year. There was probably only one with a day job that involves professional ice hockey.
But Garrett Rank, 30, will tee it up at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Thursday, just a few weeks after concluding his third season as a referee in the National Hockey League. He qualified for the Open as an amateur by shooting two-under par in the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Settindown Creek Course in Georgia on June 4.
“What a dream come true for me,” Rank said Monday after arriving at Shinnecock Hills for practice ahead of the tournament. “I consider this, like, the pinnacle of my golf career this week.”
That Rank can maintain any competitive golf career — considering what else he is doing for eight months of the year — is almost unfathomable.
How does he stay sharp? He plays on the road, often with rental equipment, because it is too hard to bring both his hockey and golf gear when he travels.
“I think our assigner knows I play golf,” Rank said. “I probably go to Florida or Phoenix a few more times than some of the other guys on staff.”
Rank, who was born in Ontario, played both collegiate golf and hockey at the University of Waterloo until he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 and needed to step back and have treatment. He eventually had to give up playing hockey but got into refereeing in order to remain close to the game.
He returned to golf in 2012 and earned a spot on Canada’s national team. One of his teammates, Mackenzie Hughes, has remained a close friend and will be a playing partner, along with Aaron Baddeley, on Thursday and Friday.
“He’s a part-time golfer, essentially, and he just qualified for a major championship,” Hughes said. “I don’t think ordinary people understand how hard that is to do. It’s hard enough for a pro or a top-level am. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Rank worked three games in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, but once he saw that his name was off the schedule for the second round, he knew his off-season had officially begun.
“That kind of opened up my golf schedule,” he said.
Despite the difficulty in finding playing time, he is hardly a neophyte of championship-caliber golf. He has competed in 15 U.S.G.A. championships before this week, finishing as the runner-up in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur, in which a victory would have gained him entry into the Masters. But Rank said he felt his play had improved in recent years because of his refereeing.
“You have to deal with the pressure of making a wrong call, and then you deal with the pressure of making a bad shot in golf,” Rank said. “And you have to be really decisive as well.”
Not surprisingly, Rank is a stickler for the rules of golf. He joked that he sometimes can’t stop himself from giving the on-course officials a hard time.
“It’s kind of funny, and I probably shouldn’t do it, but I feel like I take so much abuse on the ice,” Rank said. “I’m not mean to them, but I’m going to ask them questions and put them in a tough spot just to return the favor a little bit.”
Asked whether he would rather referee in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals or finish in the top 10 at the U.S. Open, Rank said he would choose the golf — for now.
“Save the Stanley Cup finals for 15 years down the road,” he said.
But, to some, he is already living in the best of both worlds.
“He gets to referee in the N.H.L., have the best seat in the house to watch some of the best athletes in the world,” Hughes said. “And he comes out here in the summers and plays high-level amateur golf and then makes a cameo in the U.S. Open. He’s got a pretty cool gig.”