By Tony Jimenez
WOBURN, England (Reuters) - A top golfer who refuses to fly seems about as incongruous as a horse-hating jockey or a skier who dislikes snow but it is a situation that German professional Florian Fritsch is perfectly comfortable with.
Fritsch's fear of jet travel forced him to briefly give up the sport five years ago and he has slowly worked his way through the lower echelons up to the European Tour.
The next two events could represent a turning point, however, as the 29-year-old needs good performances at this week's British Masters at Woburn and at the Portugal Masters that follows to retain his tour card for 2016.
"These are my last two chances to get my card but I'm so close now that I think I've proved to myself that under the special circumstances I play under, not only can I get on the tour, I can also stay on the tour," said Fritsch.
"In 2005-06 I developed a fear of flying and it's got to a point where I don't fly any more," he told Reuters in an interview after carding a disappointing three-over-par 74 in the first round at Woburn on Thursday.
"Since 2010 I've been kind of dealing with it...and so far it hasn't kept me from having a career."
Fritsch is 116th on the money list and needs to squeeze into the top 110 to keep his card.
The German gave an insight into a typical week of traveling for him.
"Last week for the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland I drove five hours to Amsterdam on the Monday, got on the overnight ferry to Newcastle that arrived on Tuesday morning and then drove for three hours," said Fritsch.
"To come here to Woburn this week I drove down on Monday, the traffic wasn't bad and in the end it probably took me about eight hours.
"I was talking to (Indian player) Shiv Kapur about it and he said, 'Florian you must spend a lot of time in your car?'. I said, 'But Shiv you are playing all over the world competing on the European Tour and you must be on a plane a lot," added Fritsch.
"In the end he probably spends more time waiting at airports, being in transit, in the aeroplane itself, than I do in the car. My body is lucky enough to be resilient and it really is fine for me."
It is clear Fritsch's decision not to fly is damaging his career prospects but he appears untroubled by the thought.
"I really enjoy the life I have, it goes along with the best advice I've received from veterans out here who say, 'Don't let the tour rule your life'," he said.
"Personally I don't see why I have to say I MUST play in China for example, that I MUST play in South Africa. I don't say I MUST do those things...I'm not going to be a slave to this game."
Fritsch has had an up and down year this season, missing the cut six times but also chalking up four top-25 finishes including a tie for seventh at the European Masters in Switzerland in July.
Even if he secures his card and qualifies for the lucrative Final Series, the German has no intention of traveling to China twice, Turkey and Dubai to compete in the four-tournament, end-of-season extravaganza.
"Why would you drive through all those trouble spots?" he said. "I cannot say I will never fly and maybe some time in the future I may look at the situation again.
"As far as I'm concerned, since I decided not to fly I think my career has been quite successful. I flew to Morocco at the beginning of last year and about five or six days before I started to get quite depressive.
"I don't really eat that much, I'm in a poor mood and on the day of the flight and then during the flight I feel as if someone is playing Russian Roulette with me," said Fritsch.
"I feel as if there's a gun barrel pointed at my head, I hear a click and I'm just waiting for it to go 'boom'. That's something I feel for hours, for days, and something that's just taking too much away from my quality of life."
(Editing by Toby Davis)