Sunday July 8, 2012
Pagunsan overcomes his fear of flying
By CHUAH CHOO CHIANG
Winning the prestigious Asian Tour’s Order of Merit crown in 2011 was historic for Filipino star Juvic Paganism. But it also created a dilemma.
With priceless invitations to the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in the United States and the British Open later this month, the sweet-swinging Filipino needed to overcome a major bane in his life – long-haul travel.
Throughout his career, Pagunsan has not been particularly fond of sitting in planes for long hours, which is akin to other sportsmen like Spanish golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez and former Dutch footballer Dennis Bergkamp, who feared flying.
Bergkamp had such a great anxiety for air travel that he would take road trips even if it meant driving through the night for away matches for club and country, while Ryder Cup star Jimenez admitted to breaking out in cold sweats because he hated the idea of being in a plane.
“I can’t fly. I just freeze. I get panicky. It starts the day before, when I can’t sleep,” Bergkamp once said.
In the past three years, the dislike for long-haul travel has seen Pagunsan pass up on the chance to compete in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland when the event became a co-sanctioned tournament between the Asian Tour and European Tour.
The Omega event, staged at the picturesque Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club near the Swiss Alps, is one of the best tournaments in Europe due to its spectacular setting but it wasn’t enough to convince Pagunsan to jump on a plane to Crans.
“I hate long travels. That’s why I’ve played only in Asia. I’ve not played in Switzerland. I just don’t like to sit in a plane for too long,” said the soft-spoken Filipino.
But after becoming the first Filipino Asian number one, which comes with invitations to rub shoulders with the world’s greatest golfers, Pagunsan has taken the bold step to endure the long trips.
As he said, he does not want to miss the opportunity to test himself against the best in the world.
He spent over 20 hours in the air to get to Doral, Florida in March for the Cadillac Championship and will spend close to 14 hours to fly from Manila to Royal Lytham and St Annes for the British Open.
The excitement of teeing up for his maiden Major appearance has already got his adrenaline pumping.
“I’m very excited as it is everybody’s dream to play in the Majors,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to it. When I was growing up, I didn’t think too much about playing abroad. I only thought about playing in Asia and all of a sudden, I have an exemption and it’s a big honour for me. Without the Asian Tour, I wouldn’t have got this exemption to the British Open,” said Pagunsan.
He plans to arrive the Friday before the Open to allow himself time to acclimatise and overcome jet lag. When he played in Doral, Pagunsan fell ill upon arrival but still finished a commendable tied 35th to end as the leading Asian in the elite field, eclipsing the likes of YE Yang and KJ Choi, both Asian Tour honorary members and regular winners on the PGA Tour.
“I plan to arrive early for the British Open to get some good rest and acclimatize myself. When I got to Doral, I got sick. It was my first time travelling that long and I need to prepare better for the long trip. It’ll be my first time to the UK and I don’t really know what to expect,” said Pagunsan.
What he can expect is a quality field competing in tough links playing conditions, which will be alien to him.
His time at Doral allowed him to come face to face with many of the world’s leading stars and it has fired up his desire to excel beyond Asia whenever he has the opportunity to compete abroad.
“Doral was a good experience. I saw so many good players from all over the world.
“I played with Jason Day on the third day and those guys are different. In my mind, I want to play good, play well in those big events and step up to their level,” said Pagunsan.
“I need to train hard, not just physically. I need to work on the mental aspect.
“When you get tired, mentally you can get lost. If you don’t get tired, mentally you will get stronger. Physically, I want to get stronger,” he added.
Of course, Pagunsan will also need to start raking in the air miles to achieve his goal of becoming a world-beater.
Note: Chuah is the Asian Tour’s media director and is based in its Kuala Lumpur office.