I grew up in a big family. Vacations were always to places we could drive. My parents weren't in a position to fork over round-trip airfares for us all. The first time I flew was in high school, for a funeral, and I remember my dad going through the rigmarole of obtaining the death certificate for the airline so we could get the discounted rate. When I was getting started in my pro career, I sat through my share of major airport delays and slept crookedly on plenty of red-eyes after missing in Monday qualifiers. I mention this only as a preamble for the following statement, which I know will sound ridiculous to most people: Sharing a private jet is a great way to get to know another golfer.
At tournaments, each of us is in "go mode." The course is the stage where we compete, and off the course gets to be a kind of stage, too. Around the clubhouse and the hotel, out to dinner, all the sponsors and deal-makers hover in the little schedule of functions. You might interact with another player, but often in forced situations. Like, you're both wired for sound and people are filming you.
You and that player, however, sinking back into fine-leather chairs up in the clouds and enjoying a beverage, you couldn't be any farther above it all. There's the chance to really get to know the person behind the brand. And it might be someone whom you'd otherwise never seek out.
One year at the WGC-Match Play, when it was still outside Tucson and the format was single-elimination, I lost early. Immediately after the handshake—as in, before I even put my putter back in the bag—I take out my phone and call my guy who handles flights for a lot of the players. How soon could he get me home? Our deal is, schedule a flight more than 10 hours in advance, and you set the terms. Less than that, you take what's available. At roughly $5,000 per hour, it makes sense to share as much as you can. To get out that afternoon, my only option was to share with a golfer who is, shall we say, known as a presence on the European Ryder Cup team. Maybe because I'm American, maybe because I just assumed our personalities would clash, I'd never said more than two words to the guy.
I've never laughed harder. What a funny and genuine person this Englishman revealed himself to be. Our kids are roughly the same age. Now when we see each other at tournaments, we always exchange a warm greeting.
It's not often that players refuse to fly together, but when they do, the reasons are understandable. When you're paying premium, maybe you don't want to fly with a guy who's bringing his newborn, or pet, or with a group that's going to get rowdy when all you want to do is sleep. I know it can be a chess game for the operators: constantly updating who's letting his caddie or entourage hop on, being sensitive to which players might not be on friendly terms, and laying that all against the Sunday tee times to get everyone home or to the next tournament cost-efficiently. And on top of that, the players who are endorsed by the jet company have priority. I fly with NetJets and Wheels Up, but the logo of one is stitched onto every golf shirt I own. It's useful for me to have active accounts at both to increase my ride-sharing flexibility.
Some players let their manager handle their travel details, but I like to know exactly what's going on. If it's a Friday and there's a good chance I'm missing the cut, I'll beckon my manager to the rope and give him instructions to make flight arrangements. I don't want to put him in the position of making that guess. And if I birdie in, it's no big deal because I don't get penalized for cancellations.
En route to the last Presidents Cup, I heard Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama had to fly to New York together. No word if they hit it off, but given the timing, I'd bet it was a silent flight. —With Max Adler