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It’s not all that long ago that I was crippled by a fear of flying, or aviophobia to give it its fancy name.

Apparently, around 40% of the general population suffers to some extent, with between 2.5% and 5% afflicted by a clinical phobia. 

I was one of them. It wasn’t some quirky “look at me” affectation. Oh, how I wish it was. Rather, it was a real and chronic indisposition.

As an example, I had panic attacks about boarding even the shortest of short haul flights. The sole condition I set for my stag do in 2011 was that it had to be somewhere we could get to by road, rail or boat. It amuses my wife no end that the first time she referred to me as her husband was in drawing a flight attendant’s attention to my spiraling nervousness en route to our honeymoon.

It’s better now, thank God. Or rather, thank the family friend, a pilot of more than 20 years’ experience, who re-framed my thinking by pointing out that “those of us in the cockpit want to get home, too.” That made a huge difference. So, too, did a doctor’s note for Diazepam. And so, too, did golf.

Whereas a window seat once made me hyperventilate like Patrick Cantlay being asked to wear a cap, I now find myself wide-eyed and looking for courses from up on high.

Returning to Edinburgh from a weekend in Budapest recently, I spent most of the two-and-a-half-hour journey trying to pick out tracks. There was barely a cloud in the sky so I was in my element.

Cruising over the Netherlands, I was able to spot Golfbaan De Texelse, a quirky links located on the island of Texel in the Wadden Sea.

I might be wrong but I have a feeling I also noticed the Albatross Golf Resort in the Czech Republic and, on the approach into Edinburgh, I took some great photos of the Old Course at Musselburgh, as well as Royal Burgess and Turnhouse.

It’s hard to explain but it keeps me calm. Instead of leaving space for all manner of unlikely and nightmarish outcomes to manifest – if you’ve seen the opening half-hour of Final Destination, you know exactly what I’m talking about – looking for courses distracts me from the fact that I’m strapped to a metal tube stocked with 3,500 gallons of fuel and travelling at 550 miles per hour, 33,000 feet above terra firma.

I’ve also met some wonderful people above the clouds. Aboard a trans-Atlantic flight on my way to the 2017 Solheim Cup in Iowa, I found myself sat next to a charming, elderly American gent. After several hours of channel-hopping, iPod-shuffling and magazine-flicking, we eventually got chatting. He asked where I was going and, when I explained, his face lit up.

He and his wife were returning to Baltimore having spent a few weeks in Scotland visiting St Andrews for the first time.

Golf was his life.

He told me about the tournaments he’d been to, I told him about the players I’d met, we told each other about all the different courses we’d played. The last two hours of the flight zipped by. As we returned our tray tables to their upright positions and went our separate ways, I gave him my business card. That, I assumed, was that.

Fast forward a week. Sitting in O’Hare Airport in Chicago and waiting to catch a flight home, my phone pinged alerting me to a new email.

“Hi Michael,” it started. “I sat on the plane with you this last week from Edinburgh to Newark. I enjoyed our discussion and followed up by looking at your web page. Very impressive! Hope all went well in Iowa for you.

“If you are ever planning on coming over to the Baltimore/Washington area for business or fun, you will have a place to stay with my wife and I. Safe travels from your newest friend, Dennis Hamilton.”

To my ongoing shame, I never did get around to replying. But wherever Dennis is, I hope he’s well and still holing putts.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Many lament that modern golf is played largely in the air and yet, for me, the sport has been a crucial and significant part of becoming comfortable in that very space.

What a game.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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