Florian Fritsch (Getty Images)
For someone who is afraid of flying, professional golf is perhaps not the best career, given the hundreds of hours clocked up on planes throughout a season.
But Florian Fritsch is trying to overcome his phobia to make it on The European Tour, to try to emulate his German compatriot and good friend Martin Kaymer, the recently crowned European Number One.
Fritsch’s sudden and inexplicable fear of flying grew so intense at the start of the year he gave up competitive golf altogether, but after realising how much he missed it he returned to action, albeit only to those tournaments he could reach by car or train.
He then qualified for European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage – at the reachable PGA Catalunya Resort in north-eastern Spain – and led after two rounds. If he manages to earn one of the 30 European Tour cards on offer, he will have some tricky decisions to make in 2011, with destinations such as South Africa and China somewhat too far for a road trip.
“I’m afraid of flying and this year it got to the point where I had to stop playing,” said the 25 year old. “I quit at the beginning of the year because I didn’t want to play anymore. It was decreasing my quality of life so much that I though it wasn’t worth it. I took up another job for eight months using my college training in sports management – partial coaching and managing at a golf club – but realised it wasn’t for me. I became a vegetable. My brain was totally empty.
“I decided to play the last few events and played well in Toulouse (the ALLIANZ Golf Open de Grand Toulouse), finishing fifth, and played quite well in general and thought it was only a matter of time before it came together because the only thing letting me down was my putting.
“I’ve not been on a plane since March. I drove here from Germany. It took a day which was not fun but at least I can get here. I’ve not looked at the entry statistics for tournaments but I’ll not be going anywhere east if I get my card. My primary aim even if I get a card – which will be nice to play these tournaments – will be to get rid of the fear of flying.
“I can enter all the tournaments I want but without being able to fly I can’t play. So without taking care of that a Tour card is worthless. I’ve been working with people. I see the planes taking off over here every few minutes and I think I might as well be on them. I’ve never had a problem before. It just suddenly came on. Hopefully it will work out.”
Fritsch admits the whole experience of such a challenging year has changed him, both as a person and the way he approaches golf.
“I’m not aiming for anything (at Qualifying School),” he said. “I was so results-orientated before so I’m not even thinking about it. I don’t care where the ball goes this week or what I shoot. Before, I’d get nervous if I was shooting low or in the lead. I couldn’t hit the ball anymore. My time away made me grow up as a golfer and a human being.”
He also paid tribute to Kaymer’s magnificent season, during which he won four times and was part of the victorious European Ryder Cup Team, adding: “What he has achieved is phenomenal. We played foursomes together in the European Championship. We have a lot of good players out here and I think the next five years will be very good for Germany.
“We’ve got a good bunch of players who have successfully competed at amateur level. Martin has shown it is possible. Bernhard Langer was way out there but with Martin we have someone we can relate to. He partied like us, hit bad shots like us, we’ve seen him play and actually beaten him. So it’s something to relate to. That will contribute to our success.”