Amateur qualifier Garrett Rank says he will be starstruck when he tees up at the US Open alongside Australia's Aaron Baddeley, despite his day job as a referee in hockey's NHL.
Rank, a survivor of testicular cancer, advanced through 36-hole sectional qualifying in Georgia last week.
Only weeks after officiating in the early rounds of the NHL playoffs, Rank will contest the first two rounds at Shinnecock Hills alongside fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes and four-time PGA Tour winner Baddeley.
"Growing up in Canada, you're kind of born with a pair of skates on your feet so hockey is probably our number one sport," Rank said on Monday.
But the Ontario, Canada, native says mixing it with hockey's biggest names has not prepared him for the nerves of his major championship debut.
"Aaron Baddeley growing up was a huge name and still is a big name in golf," Rank said on Monday.
"Secretly, it's cool; I saw all the guys on the range today, and I'm just here as a little fan boy.
"To be able to play with them is cool."
The 30-year-old's extraordinary back story includes a battle with testicular cancer he faced while studying at university in 2011.
But Rank says it gave him a dose of perspective he still uses while refereeing and playing elite amateur golf, having won three straight Canadian mid-amateur titles.
"I think cancer was kind of a blessing in disguise (but) I wouldn't say I'm happy that I dealt with it," he said.
"It probably paved the way to where I am today, just in terms of being mentally stronger."
Two-time Australian Open winner Baddeley is equally as excited to play with Rank, a former member of Golf Canada's national squad.
"It just shows the character of a person to get through something life-threatening like cancer and get to where he wanted, refereeing in the NHL," Baddeley said.
"It will be great to meet him and talk to him, especially because this year I've watched more hockey than I ever have."
Baddeley, who also won his spot at Shinnecock via sectional qualifying, is hungry to improve on his best US Open finish – a tie for 13th place.
That came in 2007, when Baddeley was the 54-hole US Open leader at Oakmont but he faded with a final round of 80.
"I'm really keen to show what I've got at the US Open; I've been playing some really good golf, especially at sectional qualifying, and I feel great with where my game is," Baddeley said.
Evin Priest, Australian Associated Press