09 Dec 2018

Thorbjørn Olesen – Rookie’s Ryder Cup reflections

Thorbjørn Olesen got his first taste of The Ryder Cup while acting as then Vice Captain, Thomas Bjørn’s on-course buggy driver at Hazeltine in 2016. The Dane had wanted to expose his fellow countryman to the unique atmosphere of golf’s premier team event. It was, perhaps, his first piece of exemplary man management and it came two years before Bjørn led Team Europe to an emphatic 17 ½ – 10 ½ victory at Le Golf National in Paris.

Olesen grabbed the final automatic qualifying spot on Bjørn’s team for the Paris showdown where he was to experience at first-hand, the rollercoaster of emotions that The Ryder Cup can deliver like no other event in a Tour player’s career. Olesen, who secured a maiden Rolex Series title earlier this year at the Italian Open, was thrust straight into the pressure cooker in the opening Friday morning Fourballs alongside trusty old-hand Rory McIlroy. But the pair just couldn’t find any momentum and slumped to a disappointing 4&2 defeat at the hands of Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

He then suffered the ignominy of being left out for every subsequent session until the Sunday Singles. Olesen needed a big performance, and a big result, to prove to himself, and everyone else, that he deserved his place in the team and boy did he get one, dishing out a 5&4 thumping to former World No.1 Jordan Spieth. Here, in his own words, the Rolex Testimonee lifts the lid on his Ryder Cup rookie experience…

“There are just so many different feelings that you experience at The Ryder Cup that you don’t have at normal events. The first tee shot for me on Friday morning was tough. I was very nervous and was desperate to go out, play well and get the point. After I hit a few good shots I felt that I was getting into it. It’s difficult to put it into words, so different from a normal tournament. You are playing not just for yourself – you’re representing a team and you have to make sure you play well so that you don’t let your team-mates down. I didn’t know what to expect from the crowd but they were great. It really helps you to be at home in Europe with the fans backing you. It gives you a huge advantage. As soon as you hole a putt the crowd just goes wild and you can start riding on that wave of confidence and build up your game. I had a taste of what a Ryder Cup in the United States was like at Hazeltine when I was Thomas Bjørn’s buggy driver. The USA fans are pretty intense. You don’t get much support as the visiting team, which I’m sure makes it much tougher. But I think one of the biggest strengths of the European Team is that we’re mentally very strong.

“Having to miss out on all of the Saturday matches was very tough. I was disappointed and frustrated not to be playing. I desperately wanted to play and win for the team. I went out and played seven or eight holes on the course – a few holes with Henrik Stenson and then I played on my own with Padraig Harrington walking with me, which was very nice. He’s got so much experience and I saw a different side of him that I hadn’t seen before. The talk we had just gave me so much confidence. I was a little bit down in a hole and he just talked to me the whole way round and lifted me back up.

“Thomas and I are very good friends and that definitely didn’t make it any easier for him! When I was there with him two years ago when Darren Clarke was captain I was part of the meetings when they decided who would play and who would sit out in each session so I knew how difficult it was for them but it was still disappointing. Thomas came to me and the conversation was very short – about 30 seconds – and we didn’t speak to each other the rest of the day. We know each other well so he knew that he was probably the last guy who should come and speak to me. It was better for me to speak to Rory, Padraig and Sergio. I was so frustrated in not playing so it was better for me to speak to the other players.

“That was definitely one of Thomas’s biggest strengths as a captain – knowing how to man manage each of the different players. He spent so many months building relationships with the players, and, being so close to him, I know how much time and effort he spent to get to know the potential members of his team. He was very relaxed on the week of the tournament. He was prepared for everything and he had it all under control. That allowed us to have more time to do whatever makes us play well. On Sunday I wanted to step up my game, play for myself and prove to myself that I deserved to be there. I didn’t worry about anybody else. That was a good mindset to have going into Sunday. It’s a team effort but it is important to do what makes you perform the best. I was concentrated on just playing for myself and doing what I knew I could do. I was able to end The Ryder Cup on a high by beating Jordan and contributing a point to the team’s victory. It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. It has always been a dream to play in The Ryder Cup. Growing up, I was never really sure if I would get into the team but now I have been there and we won it as well, it is very special.

“When Alex Noren holed that putt on the 18th in the last match, we knew that we had already won the Cup but the way he finished it off was very special and everyone was celebrating including the staff. The adrenaline was still rushing through even after the tournament. It was such a unique experience and it is not easy to describe it.

“After the victory, Thomas said that he was very proud of me and told me how happy he was with the way I handled myself. I may have been a little bit tipsy by then so I don’t remember everything!”

Thorbjørn Olesen is a Rolex Testimonee.

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