Nov 28

Golf and Flying

Fear of Flying and Professional Golf Don’t MixI

I’ve flown nearly all my life, and the only time I enjoyed it was when I was three, and took a DC-3 from Portland, Oregon to Yakima, Washington, of all places. Since then, I’ve flown for family obligations, under pressure from one individual or another, or for professional obligations too far away for a drive. By that, I mean overseas. Give me three days, and I’ll drive anywhere on the North American continent from anywhere else, partly because I love to drive, but ultimately to avoid flying at any cost. Becoming more independent in my later years, I fly for no one, unless I’m crazy about them and they need one of my kidneys. This is just one of a hundred reasons why I have never been, or could be, a professional golfer. I hate flying, and have finally stopped.

planeThere’s no existence on either the LPGA or PGA tours without a willingness to get into a tin can and let them throw you into the air at several hundred miles per hour. The Bernoulli principle guarantees, so far, that you’ll get to your tournament safely, but golf or not, I’m done with it. I’ve gone from white knuckle to no-knuckle. Golf has always had a varied relationship with the necessary act of flying, even before the tours became so international. The U.S. and Canada are big spaces, and many pros have gotten pilot’s licenses themselves, taking private or chartered planes from event to event.

Despite the general safety record of fixed-wing flying from its inception in the early 20th century, there have been one or two tragedies among professional players, and the fact remains that no matter how much safer it is, you can’t pull over when something goes wrong. Even the most dangerous vehicle of all, the motorcycle, has an advantage there. I’ve crossed the U.S. five times on one, and still feel safer than at 30,000 feet. It’s totally irrational…unless…I get on  bad flight that has serious problems.

More recent encounters between flying and the game of golf have made the more interesting side of the news,.In Elizabethton, Tennessee, for example, there is an airport with a golf ball problem. Some avid pro wannabe is using the runway as a driving range, and I admit that the prospect is tempting. I could be the longest hitter in the world if I could use a level airport runway. In Elizabethton , they’re finding golf balls everywhere, and the sheriff worries that an airplane either landing or taking off could get bonked with an errant driver or 3 wood. Worse, they fear that  jet aircraft could suck a Titleist into an engine, and that would spell trouble. Nothing like that has happened yet, but the fear is still there. The golfer in question is the object of a search, even though no crime has been officially committed. Still, fear of flying is tough enough, and shouldn’t include fear of golf balls.

In Minneapolis, far to the north, commercial aviation is bringing golf into the equation of public service. A number of sophisticated golf simulators have been installed at the city’s airport so that avid players on long layovers can play up to 54 holes of virtual and alarmingly realistic golf. Maybe flying and golf balls mix after all so long as you don’t tee off until the overhead flight has reached a few hundred yards higher than you can sky one.

I don’t know how the pros handle jet lag in a tour that extends from the Americas to Asia, with all points in between. I tend to get sick three days before and three days after, but driving lag isn’t much better, especially if one travels alone. Some people are fine with flying all the time, and some aren’t, but you guys in Tennessee should start checking the scheduled departures and arrivals before blitzing the friendly skies with unfriendly duck hooks and slices.

With all my reticence to fly, I will admit that a medium wedge from a thin lie is still the scariest thing about golf. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to combine my two greatest fears.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.