Aaron Cockerill embarks on a long, complicated journey home to Winnipeg from a professional golf tournament in South Africa – and his wife couldn’t be happier.
“We are extremely relieved that he has just left South Africa,” Chelsea Cockerill said Monday from home after Cockerill boarded a flight to Johannesburg bound for Frankfurt – which will eventually lead to a flight to Toronto and then to Winnipeg.
“It was stressful. He had this moment last night where he thought, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do if the first flight isn’t available until (next) Thursday.’
The 29-year-old resident of Stony Mountain, Man., has been in limbo since late last week when the first cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant were discovered in South Africa while Cockerill played in the Joburg Open – the season – opening event of the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour).
Aaron originally came to South Africa after two weeks in Dubai, the site of the previous tournament.
“There was no discussion (other than normal protocols) of COVID or any variants (first in South Africa),” Chelsea said. “Everything was fine.”
But after the first round, travel restrictions started popping up in England and more than 20 players withdrew and tried to get home.
Two more DP World Tour events were to take place in South Africa after this week – and Cockerill’s status would not have brought in the third year tour member, so the plan was for him to return home after this event.
“We foolishly thought it would only affect Britain,” Chelsea said. “That changed a lot of other countries closing the border.”
The tour then said the event would be shortened to 54 holes before rain washed out play on Saturday, turning it into a 36-hole event with Cockerill finishing in a solid draw for 12th. At the time, the tour said it would charter a flight to Dubai to get the players out of South Africa, as travel bans and restrictions around the world – including in Canada – came into effect. The other two events were cancelled.
But later that evening, Dubai withdrew the tour’s landing permit — and the circuit’s plan was put on hold.
Chelsea then went to work.
“We contacted the consulate in South Africa and were told there was no plan for Canada,” she said. “I contacted an SOS email regarding the consulate in Ottawa and they got back quickly and in fact responded that there is no plan for emergency flights out of South Africa at this time. You just kind of work with the local consulate and you have to look at your options.”
They had to find an airport he could reach with flights to Canada and in-terminal COVID testing — as a negative test is required to return to Canada. There were two options: Zurich and Frankfurt.
They had booked a Sunday flight to Zurich, but 25 minutes later the flight was cancelled.
“We had to go back to the drawing board,” Chelsea said. “He went to the airport to talk to people because there was no government information on the website — it wasn’t enough to (figure out) what we were trying to do.”
Chelsea thinks she refreshes her computer screen every 30 seconds for three to four hours.
“(For Frankfurt) the first available time we could book was December 5. We were like ‘OK, book it’ and it disappears. We had one for the 7th and we were zooming and shuddering to decide what to do and finally we were able to book one for the 2nd (December). We were like, ‘OK, that’s the plan. Stay until Dec 2nd. But in the back of our minds, we think Frankfurt can change the rules at any time.”
Finally, late Sunday night in Winnipeg, Chelsea got a seat on a flight out of Frankfurt for Monday. She immediately called Aaron and told him to get up, take a COVID test and prepare.
“There is a plan and it is working, sooner than we thought,” Chelsea said. “We thought we would have to wait until December 2, but at least it’s on the air from South Africa.”
However, much work remains. Aaron has a 7-8 hour layover in Frankfurt and has to undergo a COVID test – and hope a negative result comes back in time.
Assuming that test is negative, he can return to Winnipeg and must complete a 14-day quarantine at home in Canada, along with a 10-day test.
That may sound discouraging, but according to Chelsea, Aaron is doing well.
“Honestly, he’s so happy to get out of there,” she said. “As stressed as he was, the people in South Africa were absolutely wonderful… The airport was like a zoo, lines of people were everywhere, people got emotional, everyone was trying to come up with a plan, but he said that each was the only person who he spoke and who worked at the airport was friendly and extremely helpful.”
Chelsea said Aaron ran into an employee he was dealing with on Sunday and he beamed with joy at the news and congratulated him.
“At one point Aaron was like, ‘I don’t even know if I’ll be home for Christmas,'” Chelsea said.
If the current plan works, he’ll be back with time to spare. But of course Aaron and Chelsea, who got married in Winnipeg in September after two cancellations earlier in the pandemic, are thinking of 70-year-old tour players and caddies trapped in South Africa, along with countless others, including a Canadian under 21. women’s hockey team that Chelsea had touched the base with.
The result at the tournament will boost Cockerill’s standing after finishing outside the top 110 last year.
The original plan was for Cockerill – the first Canadian-born golfer to play a full-time schedule on the DP World Tour since the early 1990s – to return to South Africa early in the new year for events on the DP World Tour’s feeder circuit . year.
“We’re going to play it by ear,” said Chelsea, a chartered accountant who hopes to travel with Aaron again in the new year.
“We’ll see what the program looks like.”