In this week's Player Blog, Florian Fritsch discusses how a fear of flying led him to get behind the wheel in a bid to remain a professional golfer.
I never used to have a big problem with flying. During my time in the German national team and going to college in the United States, it was part of my everyday life. I think I can put my finger on one moment and say ‘that was where it probably all started’ - it was on a flight from Frankfurt to Turin in 2005 for the European Individual Championship, when I was an amateur. I just remember that we were above the Alps and the plane started rocking hard. I looked over to my national coach and said, ‘So what’s going to happen?’ He bluntly said, ‘If things go wrong, it’ll be over quite quickly.’
I don’t really know if that was something that started it all, but from that moment on it started creeping up. It wasn’t there in full force from the beginning and I still went to college until 2008, turning professional in 2009, so flying was still part of my life as an athlete. It started getting stronger, though. It’s hard to explain, but it went from being an appreciation of the situation to nervousness. Eventually, in 2009, it got to a point where it was so bad that I thought I just don’t want to put up with this anymore.
I wasn’t paying attention to how I felt. I kept flying, though, playing all the tournaments I wanted to play. It got to a point in 2009 when I decided that this was pretty much it. I skipped my first flight that year and finished up playing on the Challenge Tour. Ahead of the 2010 Challenge Tour, I remember preparing to head to Kenya, so I flew from Munich to Zurich, which is a short flight. I got to Zurich and realised that if I got on this flight to Kenya, there was no plan B; there’s not exactly a train or a highway heading back to Munich, so if I go down there I have to come back via a plane. That was a point when I said ‘ok, that’s it, I’m going to quit my career at this very moment.’
In 2010, I didn’t really play; I picked up a job at a local golf club and did whatever they wanted me to do. In hindsight, I was quite lucky that I missed the deadline for handing in the PGA training contract with the PGA of Germany by a week. Otherwise, I probably would have done that training and I’d be a golf teacher now. Instead, I ended up back on tour.
If you’re going to drive, you do need certain organisational skills. When I drive down to Morocco, it’ll take me two days, but I remember when I was in college and flew to the World Cup in South Africa it also took me two days, so driving around doesn’t bother me. I’m lucky to live pretty much in the centre of Europe, in Heidelberg, Germany; if I lived in Finland or Scotland, everything would look a lot different. I can almost be at any tournament within a day’s drive.
The ferry connections are usually quite good, too. Last week in Sicily, for example, I drove down to Genoa and took the ferry straight into Palermo, so I didn’t have to drive the length of Italy. I certainly enjoy the boat journeys in that they give me some nice down time; it is a little more pleasant than being at airports. Every now and then there are annoying situations, like taking my car in and out of Morocco. In that case, I have to declare my car and go through customs. The people who work there are great, though. They speak French and that’s pleasant for us Europeans, but unfortunately my French isn’t the greatest! It’s always a little adventure going in and out of Tangier.
When it comes to long journeys, there have been a few. Last year, I missed the cut in Morocco along with my roommate Bernd Ritthammer. On the Friday evening, Bernd was looking at flights going out of Casablanca or Rabat and apparently there weren’t any good ones. I said that I wanted to go across to Gibraltar, spend a night and go on, and he said he’d come with me as he had friends in Malaga. So it was me, my caddie, his fiancé and Bernd in my car driving up to Tangier to catch a 1am ferry. We got to Europe at five in the morning, drove to Malaga, dropped Bernd where he wanted to go, had a quick breakfast and drove back home, arriving the next morning.
In terms of the longest solo drive, that’s easy. Last year, after the fourth round of the Italian Open, the next tournament was at Valderrama, so I drove down towards the Marseille area. My plan was to drive as far as I could on the Monday, spend a night in Spain and get to Valderrama on Tuesday. I left on Monday morning at around seven and then at half past nine Bernd called me up. He said he was arriving late into Spain and the shuttle service wasn’t running at that time. He didn’t know where I was, but asked if I could possibly pick him up. I started thinking, ‘well, this gives me a motivation to go all the way.’ Bear in mind Marseille to Malaga is about 1500km. I typed it into the Sat-Nav and it says it’s around 14 hours to Malaga. Without telling him where I was, I said ‘yeah no problem, I’ll pick you up.’ So I drove down to Malaga, picked Bernd up and we arrived at Valderrama at midnight. That’s probably the longest journey I’ve done on my own in one day. We did a fun video that we put on Facebook, where I acted like I was one of the official shuttle car drivers and he acted like a fictional, snobby European Tour player.
I feel like I’ve become part of the tour truck family. Last year I drove Alex Knappe’s stuff around for four weeks, but I do have the pleasure of having a BMW 520d Touring, one of the hatchback models, so I can fit some stuff in the car. I do get a few guys asking for a bit of help, but so far it’s just the German guys. For example, if I’d made it into Morocco this year, Sebastian Heisele would have driven with me from Madrid after the Open de España.
My main essential when going on a long trip is a phone charger. I tend to have all the conversations I’m missing at home when I’m driving. If I pick up on a topic that I’m interested in, then I’ll just call up the relevant people, so I tend to annoy a lot of people when I’m driving! The next essential is having the currency of the country you’re travelling through or to. I go through so many toll booths, and often my card is fine for that. At a toll in Morocco, there was a board up showing the 20 different cards they accepted - and that’s not an exaggeration. I thought it’d be easy to get through, but then I saw they wouldn’t accept any major credit card. So I was at this Moroccan toll without Moroccan dirham, because everything I’m planning to pay for at the official hotel is going on my card. All I have are euros and I just know that if the guys does accept euros, he’ll give me one of the worst exchange rates the world has seen! That’s pretty much what happened, but it was a lesson learned – cash is essential when doing what I do!
I saw something on my travels in Denmark I had to take a photo of. It was important to me, because it proved I’m not the craziest driver on the planet! I saw a fancy car with a Saudi Arabian licence plate getting off the ferry in Denmark. People must think I’m crazy with a German licence plate on the Moroccan highway, but here you have this Saudi Arabian car in Denmark. He left before I could catch up with him, but I wanted to ask the guy how he got there! If I qualify for any of the Middle Eastern events, I want to know what route he took.
Another strange thing happened at the 2016 Nordea Masters. My car has branding on the side and looks similar to the official tournament cars. I was getting ready to leave the course after having done pretty well in my second round. I started driving out of the parking area and I saw this guy sprinting towards me. He stopped me and got in the back of the car, obviously mistaking me for a courtesy car. I just decided to play with the situation, so I said, ‘hello sir, apologies for the poor state of my car. I’ve had some players in here, which is why there’s a load of grass in here.’
It turned out he was from the VIP section and wanted me to take him to the VIP parking area. He asked me why I spoke English and not Swedish and then asked me how my day was. I said that I played golf today with Edoardo Molinari, which is when he realised what was going on. He said ‘you’re not a courtesy car driver, are you?’ I said ‘No, I’m currently fifth on the leaderboard!’ The BMW guys and I have decided I should have a hashtag when I’m driving around Europe - #TheBestShuttleDriverOnTour!
When you drive as much as I do, you’ve listened to all the music the world has! So when I’m driving I like to listen to podcasts. I’m the type of guy who can kill a song; when I picked Bernd up from Malaga I listened to one song for 14 hours straight, so mostly I prefer podcasts. I listen to a lot of philosophical stuff, like René Descartes’ I Think Therefore I Am, as well as interpretations of the ideas of the American constitution and the Magna Carta, so political and philosophical stuff mainly. When I listen to this stuff, I find people who are knowledgeable about these topics and I just call them up. I’ve spoken to three different professors about topics that interest me, without ever having been a participant in their classes or seminars. I just call them and ask if they have time and whether they’d be willing to talk to me about the issue. Some of them have actually taken the time to talk to me about these topics.
When discussing how I travel with friends, it can get complex. I almost turn into an advocate for the fear of flying. You could say, ‘well, Florian, do you know about the statistics that show driving is so much more dangerous than flying; there’s no logic in a fear of flying.’ I would take that argument and turn it around. If driving is more dangerous than flying, wouldn’t it then be logical that you find more people afraid of driving than flying? How many people do you know of who are publicly afraid of driving? Probably not many, if any at all. We’ve all heard of fear of flying seminars at airports, but how many fear of driving seminars have you heard of?
People also say, ‘look at what you’ve done in the past, so imagine what you could do if you played all these other tournaments.’ My response to that is, yes, it would be cool to be able to do that, but I feel that we all have something that hinders us from being even better at what we do. If we take an average person who maybe doesn’t get enough sleep, we could say there are any number of reasons why they don’t get the sleep they need; maybe they sit in the pub with their friends, or play games or even read a lot. You could bring that argument to anybody, anywhere in any job. It is definitely complex.
My family fully accept what I do with my career and how I do it. We haven’t talked about it too much and I guess we all just accept that this is how I am when it comes to travelling. Between 2008 and 2013, I had up to 12 treatments for my fear of flying and nothing really worked. I spent a lot of time trying to get rid of it, but I’m at a point where I’m just trying to make the most of it. That’s where I get a lot of support from those around me, which I’m happy about.