Air travel tends to come with a variety of potential perils, pitfalls and plooters. 

If you’re not mulling over the frankly terrifying prospect of being packed inside a metal tube and propelled 35,000 feet into the air for 10 hours, then you’re worrying about the pilot coming over the intercom and uttering the phrase, ‘if you’d like to look out over the right wing, you’ll shortly see the flaming remains of the left wing.” 

Or maybe that’s just my ingrained pessimism? As for Scottish golfer Liam Johnston? Well, you could forgive him for not wanting to set foot on another plane for months.

Johnston is currently serving his time – sorry, 10-day quarantine – in a Heathrow hotel room – “it’s like a glorified prison” – having finally got a flight home from Africa in the chaotic aftermath of last week’s Omicron-induced pandemonium.

The general panic that was whipped up by the emergence of this new Covid variant caused an almighty stooshie at the Joburg Open and sparked a stampede to the airport which was akin to an Attenborough documentary about a migrating Gnu population on the plains.

Getting on an actual plane, though, was something of a challenge as players scrambled to find various routes home. “I had a flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam booked on the Friday night as I was missing the cut,” explained Johnston. “My room-mate, Craig Howie, got on one to Istanbul then into Manchester while Richie Ramsay went to Ethiopia and Sweden on his way home. I went to check-in for my flight and was told I couldn’t get on as I was a UK citizen. It was Dutch nationals and EU passengers only.

“We then got word that the tour had a charter for the Sunday to Dubai. About 10 hours before the flight we got a message saying the plane had been refused entry into Dubai. I had no plans out by that point and I’d been in the airport for two nights. I finally got a flight to Nairobi in Kenya then on to London from there. It’s been a good four grand spent and the quarantine itself is £2285. But it’s not the end of the world. Unfortunately, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least I’m on home soil now.”

Johnston’s philosophical approach is admirable at a time when his relationship with golf is strained. The 28-year-old from Dumfries enjoyed something of a meteoric rise when he launched himself from the third-tier Pro Golf Tour to the European Tour in a giddy ninth-month spurt which included two wins on the Challenge Tour in 2018.

After a trying rookie season on the main circuit in 2019, however, he lost his card and the downward spiral kicked in. From 20 events in 2021, he made just four cuts during a sobering spell which has led to much soul searching. It’s a fickle auld game.


“This last week just tops off a tough year as I’ve also had problems with a property I bought,” he said of life’s hassles. “I’ve had times this season when I’ve said to people around me that I don’t want to play anymore. That’s understandable when you’re banging your head against the wall. You can put all the hours in and then be £2000 down by the end of the week. You’re not getting a wage like a normal job.

“When I got on to the tour, I started changing things for quick results instead of committing to the things that got me there. You want results so desperately you just put too much pressure on yourself. It’s a vicious circle.”

Johnston has a full season on next year’s Challenge Tour to build towards and he won’t be getting distracted by any opportunities to play on the main circuit. “It will be important to just focus on the Challenge Tour and work my back up that way,” he said. “I’ll probably get into one or two main tour events but it could be at the last minute and you can’t plan a schedule like that.”

In quarantine, meanwhile, Johnston’s schedule is already mapped out. “When we checked in, we had to pick our meals for the next 10 days,” he said. “Lots of the options had fish and mushrooms…and I’m not a fan of fish or mushrooms.”

There’s always plenty of food for thought in solitary confinement.