Ahead of the year's final Major Championship, Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen took time out of his preparation at Bellerive to write this week's Player Blog. The 28 year old talks about his disappointing 2017, his Ryder Cup thoughts and how a rain delay in Italy changed his season and form.
It’s fun showing up at a Major knowing that you’re playing well. It’s been a season of two halves for me so far but I’ve got three top threes in my last seven starts, including a win, and I feel like I could be ready to win a Major.
Last year was really disappointing. I had a win in each of the previous three seasons and felt like I was ready to push on and take my game and my career to another level. It just didn’t happen. I felt like I played really nicely throughout the year, especially in the middle of the season, but some bad weekends cost me the chance to get into contention more. I felt like I finished 20th to 30th nearly every time out.
Coming into this year, I wanted to keep playing well but try and capitalise a little more over the weekend. It was a battle in the first half of the year, but then Italy came around.
It’s funny looking back as my season turned around because of a rain delay. On Thursday morning I struggled. The course was wet and there for the taking and I made a couple of bad swings, dropped a couple of shots and finished with a one under 34 on the front nine. Then came the rain.
I was frustrated walking off the course as I knew I was playing well and should have been playing better but it just wasn’t clicking. I went to the range on my own and began working on a few things and then suddenly, it clicked. I just started flushing it. Shots and ball flights matched exactly what I was trying and within half a bucket of balls, I had discovered something.
We went back out onto the course, I birdied the first two holes on the back nine and shot a five under 31 to finish my opening round.
The next day I had that same feeling on the range and worked hard to keep it. I shot 68 and 65 to play my way into the final group on Sunday one back. Finally, I was back in contention. But this time, I felt strangely confident and prepared. What I found on Thursday was working and the game was feeling much easier than it had for the first half of the season.
The final round was crazy. There were so many birdies going on that it was hard to keep track of where you stood. I like to watch leaderboards and I was checking it all day, then we got the final tee, I was seven under for my round, and I wasn’t sure where we stood. I had been so focused on my birdie putt on the 17th hole, I didn’t checked the scoreboard as I walked off.
“Where do we stand” I asked my caddie.
“Two up” Dom replied.
That was really important in the end. The 18th hole was a tough hole and you could either take on the trouble with driver or play back with something less. We hit five wood and I pulled it left and gave myself 230 yards in! The idea was to play for par but I made that a little harder with that tee shot.
Franky was three behind at the time and we watched him putt from the front of the green ahead of us. I know everyone says you should always expect your opponents to hole putts like that but honestly I never thought he’d hole it. It would have been a good two putt. Next thing I knew, the crowds were screaming as he drained it.
I now needed a par to win.
I flushed a four iron from the rough and it looked great, but over-cut slightly and found the right bunker. It wasn’t an easy shot, downhill the whole way but I hit a good shot and left myself a ten footer to win. In each of my previous four wins, I either had a tap in or a big lead on the final hole. This time I had to made a tricky putt to win. It was what I had worked for all year and here I was lining up this putt to shoot 64 and win a Rolex Series event.
“A ball outside the left” I said to myself as I walked up to the ball.
I followed my routine. Stroked it. And what felt like 30 seconds later, it dropped in the left-hand side of the hole. It was amazing. I had gotten myself into contention, played well and holed a putt to clinch it on the 72nd hole.
Three weeks later I was playing in Germany, trying to get into contention again. I was three back and in the top ten headed into the weekend but shot a 77 on Saturday. It was just like 2017 again. I would have been easy to let the confidence of Italy drain out of me but I went back to the range and stuck to the things I had done in that range delay a few weeks earlier.
My mentality on Sundays has been very good. I’m very much in my own mind. My concentration is very good, whereas sometimes before I might have lost concentration, but now I feel I deal with those moments well when I’m in the hunt. I try my ass off on Sunday and it that’s what it comes down to. Willing the ball in the hole and doing whatever you can do score.
In Germany, we said on Sunday we needed to attack. We needed to shoot something pretty special to win and knew we had make birdies. I made a good birdie on the second hole, then holed a long eagle putt on the third. Although I parred the next five, I knew I was playing well and I told myself to keep attacking. I ended up birdieing seven of the last nine holes and shot a 61 to take the lead.
I sat in the clubhouse for hours waiting for guys to finish and ultimately Matt Wallace played well and beat me by one. I left knowing I couldn’t have done any more on Sunday.
Heading into this week at the PGA Championship, I just wanted to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like I’m better prepared now going into Majors in the last couple of years. I have a lot more confidence going in and belief that I can actually win one of these tournaments at some point. I feel that’s been the biggest change compared to two or three years ago. I actually believe I can win a Major.
As for the Ryder Cup, I know the questions will be asked this week. It’s always been a dream of mine to play for Europe and compete in the Ryder Cup. This year, with Thomas as captain and the matches taking place in Paris, it would be extra special. Honestly, I’ve tried hard not to think about the Ryder Cup over the last few weeks and just concentrate on each week and what I’m doing and keeping the momentum of what I’ve been able to achieve.
Two years ago I went to the Ryder Cup for the first time. Thomas invited me to be with him and drive his buggy and I was part of the staff that looked out for the players and captains. It was way different to what I imagined. The atmosphere of the week, the schedule, the grandstands, everything was multiplied from any other tournament I’d seen.
Looking back, it definitely gave me more motivation to make the team. One hundred percent. I got a glimpse at what the first tee is like on Friday morning and the atmosphere of the event and I would definitely like to be a part of that one day.
For now though, my goal is winning the PGA Championship. Let’s see if I can get into contention on Sunday!