- GEN - Racking up the miles just part of the job

Outside the Lines
Outside the Lines
Wednesday, April 11
Racking up the miles just part of the job

The flight from Knoxville to Memphis that bisects Tennessee lasts only a blink of an eye for a seasoned traveler like Chris Woodruff. But last year the prospect of that 40-minute, 342-mile flight left the tennis professional completely unstrung.

"That seems like a long time ago," Woodruff said last month at an ATP tournament in San Jose, Calif. "Flying was something I had done enough of. In the end, it wasn't that big a deal -- because I drove."

Chris Woodruff
Chris Woodruff, like most professional tennis players and golfers, logged some serious frequent-flier miles last year.
Woodruff had his reasons. He had just come off this horrific stretch of travel:

Melbourne, Australia to Los Angeles to Cincinnati to Knoxville, followed by a 30-hour decompression at home. Then it was off to Charlotte, N.C., to New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Harare, Zimbabwe, where he clinched a dramatic U.S. Davis Cup victory by defeating Wayne Black, 3-2. The return trip (Harare to London to New York to St. Louis to Knoxville) was nothing more than a blur.

In all, Woodruff covered 29,253 air miles in a span of just 11 days. His mileage total for the months of January and February alone was a numbing 40,244. The year-end totals: 24 tournaments, 13 countries, five continents and 112,034 miles.

"People think traveling is all glamour," Woodruff said, a gold medallion member of Delta's frequent-flier program. "That's erroneous.

"The way I look at it, it's part of the job."

As mind-blowing and back-breaking as all this mileage sounds, it is fairly typical for professional tennis players and golfers who regularly execute the inter-continental commute. The players of the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are strictly local operators by comparison. For example, Woodruff logged more than twice as many miles last year than the busiest professional teams -- the Edmonton Oilers (52,200 miles), Seattle SuperSonics (52,056) and San Francisco Giants (46,000-plus) -- will this year.

The Harlem Globetrotters, as their name implies, cover a few miles themselves. In 75 years of touring the world, the basketball troubadours have visited 115 countries and played before 120 million spectators. According to team officials, the three teams that play more than 260 games during a three-month period in more than 250 U.S. cities log more than 150,000 miles in buses. Factoring the Globetrotters' ambitious international travel schedule, players each log an additional 125,000 to 150,000 miles through the air.

Traveling from Tournament A to Tournament B and home again is a fact of life for a professional golfer or tennis player. The truly elite athletes -- those who have leveraged their physical ability into sprawling, successful businesses; those with last names like Palmer, Nicklaus, Norman, Agassi, Sampras -- own their own or lease jets. The rest of the professional masses fly coach and gratefully take the first-class upgrades when the opportunity comes.

During the 200 season, Chris Woodruff appeared in 24 tournaments in 13 countries and five continents. The following are the details of his travels last year:
  • Knoxville, Tenn. (via Atlanta, Los Angeles) to Auckland, New Zealand: 8,618
  • Auckland to Melbourne, Australia: 1,638
  • Melbourne (via Los Angeles, Cincinnati) to Knoxville: 10,053
  • Total miles: 20,309
  • Knoxville (via Charlotte, N.C., New York, Johannesburg, South Africa) to Harare, Zimbabwe: 9,294
  • Harare (via London, New York, St. Louis) to Knoxville: 9,906
  • Knoxville (via Atlanta) to Delray Beach, Fla.: 735
  • Total miles: 19,935
  • Delray Beach to Scottsdale, Arizona: 1,969
  • Scottsdale to Indian Wells, Calif.: 254
  • Indian Wells to Knoxville: 2,216
  • Knoxville to Miami: 749
  • Miami to Knoxville: 749
  • Total miles: 5,937
  • Knoxville to Atlanta: 153
  • Atlanta (via New York, Paris) to Monte Carlo, Monaco: 4,811
  • Monte Carlo to Knoxville: 4,811
  • Total miles: 9,775
  • Knoxville (via Atlanta) to Rome, Italy: 5,186
  • Rome to Hamburg, Germany: 826
  • Hamburg to Paris: 463
  • Total miles: 6,475
  • Paris to Knoxville: 4,539
  • Knoxville (via Atlanta) to London, England: 4,366
  • London to Knoxville: 4,366
  • Total miles: 13,271
  • Knoxville to Newport, R.I.: 1,066
  • Newport to Knoxville: 1,066
  • Knoxville to Montreal, Canada: 1,150
  • Total miles: 3,282
  • Montreal to Cincinnati, Ohio: 712
  • Cincinnati to Washington: 399
  • Washington to Knoxville: 694
  • Knoxville to New York: 909
  • Total miles: 2,714
  • New York to Knoxville: 909
  • Total miles: 909 miles
  • Knoxville (via Atlanta, Tokyo) to Hong Kong: 8,829
  • Hong Kong to Tokyo: 1,822
  • Tokyo (via Atlanta) to Knoxville: 7,007
  • Total miles: 17,658
  • Knoxville (via Atlanta, Frankfurt, Germany) to St. Petersburg, Russia: 5,846
  • St. Petersburg to Paris: 1,337
  • Paris to Brighton, England: 220
  • Brighton (via Atlanta) to Knoxville: 4366
  • Total miles: 11,769
    SEASON TOTAL: 112,034
    But regardless of whether they are dining on chef-prepared filet mignon and merlot or snacking on those ubiquitous pretzels and a diet cola, athletes still must make appearances in Hartford and Houston as well as Doha and Dubai. The death of Payne Stewart last October and the January crash of the Oklahoma State University basketball team plane has left the frequent fliers a little edgy.

    "Absolutely," Woodruff said. "Any time something like that happens, you think 'Why should I stay in the air?' But it's one of those things that's out of my hands.

    "They say flying a plane is safer than driving in a car, I guess. I believe both deaths came in private planes, not commercial. I'd like to think commercial airlines are a little safer."

    Bumpy rides

    Two days after Stewart died, European golf star Ian Woosnam had an eerily similar experience -- with a happier ending. Flying from his home in Britain's Channel Islands to a tournament in Jerez, Spain, Woosnam's twin-engine plane began depressurizing. Pilot Robin Richards alertly threw the plane into a dive from its elevation of 15,000 feet to equalize the outer and inner pressure.

    "We had just been talking about what happened to Payne," Woosnam said. "It was a bit scary. I don't want to make a big thing about it, especially after the tragedy of Payne, but it was a strange coincidence."

    After the plane was landed safely, a fault in a compression seal was discovered. Woosnam flew to the tournament in a second plane.

    The week after Stewart died, John Daly passed on the one-hour flight from Dallas to Mississippi and drove the six hours instead.

    "I know [planes] are safer, and it's the best way to travel," Daly said. "But I've always said I like my chances in a car wreck before I do a plane crash, because nobody is going to live."

    Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi's coach, remembers the 1992 flight from Sydney when the rear emergency door of a United 747 detached and passengers scrambled to the front of the plane.

    "We had to get in the crash position," Gilbert said. "It was pretty intense."

    After dumping most of its fuel in Sydney Harbor, the plane landed safely.

    Last year, Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten missed his scheduled flight from Miami to Toronto. Four hours later, a thunderstorm in Toronto forced the next flight to divert to Ottawa, but someone accidentally opened the emergency door and the passengers were kept on board for four hours while it was reattached. The Air Canada flight ran out of food and water but eventually landed 11 hours after Kuerten was scheduled to arrive.

    Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov sold his jet after last season, but according to agent Bill Ryan it was "strictly financial."

    Sometimes, even the stars have to slum and take a commercial flight. Sampras and Agassi were surprised to find themselves sitting next to each other in first class on a Quantas flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne before this year's Australian Open.

    A necessary evil

    Woodruff, 27, knows the drill. This year, he again made the annual trip to Australia for two tournaments. By advancing to the third round of the Australian Open, he won $18,086, making it a cost-effective trip. Last year he won $311,129, and a significant (but tax deductible) proportion went to airfare.

    "It was huge," Woodruff said, declining to offer exact numbers. "You have to make a lot of money to come out ahead."

    And you have to fly a lot to make that money, something that leaves Woodruff queasy when the weather is bad. In 1990, the high school senior was headed to Indiana University with his father on a recruiting visit when a thunderstorm hit the Charlotte area.

    "We were in a puddle-jumper with a propeller, and we really got caught," Woodruff said. "I remember looking at my dad and asking, 'Are we going to go down?' He said, 'I don't know.'

    "People were passing out all over the place, but we got down OK. It was one of the most horrifying experiences I've ever been associated with. I still have a phobia when it comes to turbulence."

    Woodruff's airline of choice is Delta, which has its hub in nearby Atlanta.

    "Chris loves Delta," said Kathy Nashif, the ATP's manager of travel services. "He upgrades to first class whenever he can -- and I don't blame him."

    Nashif has been coordinating players' travel schedules for the ATP for more than a decade. She handles between 40 and 50 players each year. While hotels and meals are often provided by the tournaments, most players are on their own for airfare.

    "It's exhausting," Nashif said. "I feel sorry for these guys. Sometimes they'll call you and say, 'I just lost in Rome and I don't want to play in Hamburg. I want to come home. What's it going to cost to change my ticket?' "

    Nashif said most players have no qualms traveling on established carriers, but that "they might cringe and refuse" when she mentions flights on certain South American and Asian airlines.

    "Sure, it's tough flying all over the place," Woodruff said, "but it could be worse. I feel sorry for the people who are platinum frequent fliers."

    Greg Garber is a senior staff writer for

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