The Road Warriors

So we plop down on the couch, turn on the PGA Tour broadcast and watch the unfolding story of this week’s tournament. But because we see the same faces week after week, we grow comfortable with the milieu—it’s the same every week, except for the course—and the word “tour” loses its significance and sometimes even disappears from our awareness. These guys are vagabonds, knuckle-dragging road warriors, traveling the country, traveling the world, to play professional golf.

I had a personal flashback when I was reading Stewart Cink’s tweets this morning on Twitter. Cink is 44th in the World Rankings and 53rd on the PGA Tour money list. And he can’t get from his home in Atlanta to the tournament in Orlando this week.

His first tweet pointed out that there weren’t many more domestic flights than between the hubs of Atlanta and Orlando, “and yet here I am in line.” He’d uploaded a picture of the line to be re-booked (presumably).

His second tweet: …“Your bag is on the next flight, I am relatively sure of that.” He uploaded a photo of his food voucher.

His third tweet: “Turned voucher into this, so I guess now I’m a happy disgruntled customer.” The link was to the photo of his large solace from Starbucks.

When I was Monday qualifying, I traveled with four pieces of luggage: my attaché bag with all the hard copy files, maps, etc., my laptop, my expandable suitcase for longer trips and, of course, my clubs. You don’t see many of them anymore because club travel bags have become so good, but I traveled with a hard, plastic case about 4½ by 2 by 1½ feet deep. And it got so much abuse, I went through two of them over the nine years.

Since Monday qualifiers didn’t have the amenity of the Tour’s equipment trailers where you could get just about any kind of club made up on the spot, our clubs took on extra value. And with a large staff bag to put them in, that hard case was the only thing that they would fit in. The downside was that it usually weighed in at right under the seventy-pound limit for bags and that forced me to wedge two pairs of golf shoes and boxes of balls in my suitcase. The light stuff like my running gear went in the case.

The other big issue for us, believe it or not, was laundry. Because we all stayed in mid-priced motels and hotels (Courtyard, Hampton Inn, etc.) laundry service was self-serve. All you had to do was pay for laundry service once to know that it doesn’t work on a spartan budget. You could sometimes find inexpensive, third-party laundries with one-day turnaround, but I remember driving all over the northern suburbs of Chicago one day to get to the only one in the phone book. And once, I almost left Newark without a couple of shirts the dry cleaners neglected to bundle with everything else. As a consequence, I traveled with as many slacks, shirts, vests, underwear and socks as I could so that I wouldn’t have to do laundry any more than once, if that. Same with my running gear.

So not only was the golf case right at the limit, the suitcase was pretty hefty too. That made wheels mandatory on both. I can remember, my shoulders aching, dragging those two things from baggage claim to the rental car pickup, the straps of my computer and attaché bag, wrapped around the suitcase handle extension. It was even worse when you had to ride to the lot in the mini-buses. The drivers could handle the suitcase alright, but I had to warn them off so that I could heave the club case up the steps.

When I traveled west to east, I always left on the first flight out, 6:00 to 6:30 AM. It meant getting up at 3 AM, but that would get me where I was going in time to find the hotel and the course in daylight–and get to sleep in the wrong time zone that night. It also gave me time to hit balls to keep the machine tuned and to get a run in after I went back to the hotel. I normally ran five to six miles at home, so I looked for comparable routes that would be interesting. State parks were good because they were large and frequently had running trails in them.

Food. That always came after the run and shower and put me at the mid-priced chains by 7:30 to 8:00 PM, late enough to avoid the rush..except on Friday and Saturday. It was a good stop if the city had a Friday’s, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Carrabba’s, one of the good Mexican chains and Pizza chains. The objective was to get quality, consistent food in a comfortable setting and not spend a lot of money or time. The locals could steer you to good Chinese. It was heaven if the city had a Cracker Barrel for a good old fashion country breakfast—it would last all day. And a good old reliable 24-hour Denny’s was essential for those 7:00 AM tee time mornings. I would gorge in the morning because, I never ate through the day.

And then there are the Stewart Cink travel days we all had. The worst was the beautiful, sunny day that I arrived in Denver to find virtually all flights cancelled due to huge storms on the East coast—none of the planes could get to Denver to hub their way on to final destinations. Mine happened to be St. Louis and when they told me that they wouldn’t be able to get me out until the same flight the next day, I drove it. Eight hundred miles and thirteen hours into the night. And another three hours until 4 AM to find out if I had successfully rescued my bags. I had to do this because we were qualifying on a new course and if my practice round got rained out, I’d have to play it “blind.”

Also in Denver in a big snow storm, working with my travel agent on the cell phone, the seconds ticking by, to get me off my cancelled San Antonio flight and on to the Austin flight so I could drive it and then having to sprint the length of the terminal, my laptop and briefcase flapping on my sides. And, even though I was in great shape, at 5,431 feet, my legs began to feel like rubber halfway down the half-mile concourse. But I made it.

For all the whining we do, one of my favorite airline stories involved United. I missed my Chicago connection to San Francisco because of solid rain all the way back to Grand Rapids that kept us on a ground hold. So waiting for the next San Francisco flight, I was gazing out the window watching the ramp operations. A 727 taxied across the ramp but, for no apparent reason, rolled to a stop once it turned onto the taxiway. Highly unusual. A baggage tug suddenly began racing across the ramp and pulled up beneath the plane. A crew member climbed up on the cart in the driving rain, popped the baggage door open and began heaving bags up into the belly of the plane. What made this so impressive was that even the people whose bags these were would never know.

So coming full circle back to the primary interest of this blog, mastery, I sponsored this little travelogue to convey another thing that players have to deal with in keeping their minds in the present, their emotions under control.

So the next time you watch a tour broadcast, remember that everyone in the field has a travel story and came some distance to get there. Every week.

It’s what we always used to talk about…a lot. Where were you last week? How did you get here? Where are you staying and what are you paying? Where are you going to eat?

The tribe reverting to primal instincts.

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2 Responses to The Road Warriors

  1. Jerry Foltz says:

    Thanks for the wonderful writing Bill. I’m glad I found this site, I just wish I had done it sooner. Keep the insightful thoughts coming. I’m a fan.