Q&A: Garrett Rank on path to NHL, snub from Travis Hamonic

The life and career of NHL official/professional golfer is quite the story and he shares it in studio with Tim and Sid.

At this point, you’ve likely already heard about Garrett Rank.

He is, of course, the cancer-surviving NHL official who will be participating in the U.S. Open as an amateur at Shinnecock Hills in Suffolk County, N.Y.

The Elmira, Ont., native is set to tee off at 7:18 a.m. ET alongside fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes and Australia’s Aaron Baddeley Thursday, but before that he took some time Wednesday to chat with Sportsnet.

Among the topics discussed were why he became a referee in the first place, rubbing shoulders with Jack Nicklaus and that time former New York Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic uninvited him from a golf tournament because of a call he made on the ice.

Sportsnet: Why did you get into officiating in the first place?

Garrett Rank: My dad was an official growing up. He refereed a lot of games in our hometown of Elmira, and it was an easy way for me to make a few dollars every Saturday and Sunday morning at seven or eight o’ clock in the morning.

My parents said I had to have a job and I didn’t really feel like working in the fast food industry, so I figured being a hockey referee was the next best thing.

SN: Given your talent for both, how did you choose between being a hockey official and golf in the first place?

GR: I played both at the University of Waterloo. I was on a hockey and golf scholarship there and I kind of just said to myself whatever worked out first I was gonna pursue.

I was working in the OHL for five seasons as a referee and was on the Canadian [golf] national team at the same time for three years and kind of had a close call in 2012 by almost qualifying for the Masters, missed by about one shot.

Then the NHL came on the phone that summer and said, ‘Hey, we want to offer you a minor-league contract,’ and it was just something I couldn’t say no to.

SN: Given the success you’ve had in your two passions, do you ever wonder what things would be like if you were a pro golfer instead?

GR: I’ve got a full-time job. I love where I’m at officiating. It allows me to play golf on the side. I’ve had some success the last couple months and here this week, but if I were to switch roles and play golf for a living I don’t think I’d have enough time to be able to officiate, so I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.

I love my winter job and am just enjoying this experience this week.

SN: Have you noticed differences between pro golfers and pro hockey players?

GR: I would say the similarities are that both people do [what they do] as a full-time job so they act extremely professional.

When [pro golfers are] at the course they’re there at work, essentially, but at the end of the day they’re both kind of the same, they’re regular people with regular problems and they just happen to be playing golf on the world’s grandest stage every week.

But they’re fun to be around, just like the hockey players are on the ice and having a great time.

SN: In another interview you mentioned you once played with Hamonic before. What’s that story?

GR: So I went to play in the Players’ Cup in Winnipeg one summer and missed the cut, and [Hamonic and I] had a mutual friend, Blake Chartier – I played hockey with Blake at the University of Waterloo. So [Hamonic] invited me out to their charity tournament and I ended up shooting a 58 that day at The Meadows in Winnipeg and Travis Hamonic was playing in the tournament.

So one game – it might even have been last season – I made a call that he didn’t agree with and then he uninvited me to next year’s charity classic.

But since then he’s sent me a text wishing me best of luck this week and said my invite was reinstated.

SN: Does this happen often? How many players are aware you’re also a talented golfer?

GR: I’m not sure up until this point that a ton of guys were familiar as some guys were that we had talked golf on the hockey rink, but after this week my story’s kind of blowing up so I’m sure there will be a lot of story time from the guys on the ice asking me about the tournament and telling me about their golf games.

That’s only a positive thing when it comes to building a relationship between the players and the official.

SN: Do you have a dream golf foursome?

GR: Obviously Tiger [Woods] would be huge, and then I’d have to include my dad in there and then maybe Wayne Gretzky on the hockey side of things.

SN: Is Woods your favourite player?

GR: Yeah, growing up Tiger was a huge idol for people my age [30] and still is a huge part of the game and kind of took golf to the level that it’s at nowadays.

I mean, I look up to all of these guys. These guys are extremely good at what they do, and I’m just fortunate to be out here trying to compete with them this week.

SN: Anyone you’re hoping to run into out on the course or in the clubhouse this weekend?

GR: I’ve met a lot of really cool people already. I met Mr. Nicklaus yesterday at the putting green, I’ve had a conversation with Jason Day and just kind of interacting with some of the players in the locker room and seeing the guys on the range is really cool.

SN: Given the fact you’re an official yourself, when you look at golf’s rules, do you see any you’d like to see changed?

GR: I don’t think so. I think the rules of golf have been put in place for a specific reason.

They’ve been the same rules for a long, long time and they’ve made some amendments and adjustments going forward that go in effect in 2019, so I think the game’s in a great place and I wouldn’t really change much about it.

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