When hockey season concludes, Garrett Ranks heads directly to the golf course.

(Feel free to insert your own Toronto Maple Leafs joke here.)

No, the 27-year-old Elmira, Ont., native is not a hockey player. Rather, he is an up-and-coming National Hockey League referee who just happens to be a highly-regarded amateur golfer in his spare time.

On Thursday, he teed off at the first-ever Pan Am Games golf tournament, shooting an opening-round 79. The other Canadian in the competition, Austin Connelly, is tied for fourth, five shots off the lead after a 70.

Like a lot of Canadian boys, Rank grew up dreaming about becoming a professional hockey player. That dream was scrapped in his early 20s. Along the way, however, he honed his golf skills to the point where, not only is he representing Canada at the Pan Am Games, next week he will also play in the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville.

Rank said there is no conflict between balancing the two sports.

"I don't think I'll ever have to pick between the two," Rank said. "I know I am an NHL referee for my living and I am hopefully going to do that for the next 20-25 years. I'm just going to play as much golf at the highest level I can during my time off."

Officiated 9 NHL games

Rank said he never dreamed of being a pro golfer, but as time went on he started having better results, it eventually crossed his mind. However, last year the NHL offered him a contract and he said it was a no-brainer taking the deal.

Rank worked some games in the American Hockey League in 2013-14. Last season he split his time between the AHL, working the Calder Cup final, and the NHL. He did nine NHL games.

"My first NHL game in Buffalo Jan. 15 (against the Minnesota Wild) was really memorable," Rank said. "I had a lot of family and friends there and all the players came up and welcomed me to the league. It was so cool."

Stephen Walkom, the vice-president and director of officiating for the NHL, said Rank possesses all the attributes the NHL is looking for in a young on-ice official.

"He is a great talent as well as an excellent athlete and great skater," Walkom said. "If he continues on the path he's on now he will have a fantastic career as an NHL referee for a long time. He is a good person who communicates with the players and coaches well."

Rank, who has registered three hole-in-ones in his career including one three weeks ago, began refereeing as a teenager to make a little spending money.

Almost won spot in The Masters

While hockey now dominates his life, Rank has enjoyed plenty of success on the links, too. He came close to winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur, losing in the final of an event that, had he won, would have reserved a spot in The Masters for him in 2012. He won the Canadian University championship in his senior year at the University of Waterloo and last year he won the Canadian Mid-Amateur championship.

Rank did not have a good day on the course on the first day of Pan Am competition at Angus Glen Golf Club. When the round was over he did a quick whirl with the media and then headed straight to the driving range for what he estimated would be an hour or two of practice to work out the kinks.

Some golfers might have gone into a deep funk shooting seven over par. Not Rank. His perspective on life changed drastically when he was 21 and battled testicular cancer.

"As a young kid to hear the word cancer it is something than scares you," Rank admitted. "I knew I had it, but I didn't want to believe it. My outlook on life allowed me to keep a positive attitude where I could enjoy life. A bad call on the ice or a bad shot out here don't bother me as much. It could be a lot worse."