Redemption stories do well in golf – at least Phil Mickelson hopes so – and therefore the re-emergence of Thorbjorn Olesen at the Betfred British Masters really stands out.
The Dane was the first of the new generation of his golfing countrymen and women to make an impact on world golf. He reached 33rd in the world, culminating in his Ryder Cup debut in victory for Europe in Paris in 2018.
It all crumbled when he took powerful sleeping pills – reportedly sourced online by his partner – mixed with alcohol on a transatlantic flight in July 2019. His behaviour on that flight brought charges of sexual assault and a suspension from the European Tour.
He was later acquitted of all charges after a three-day trial and re-instated. But he lost months from his career, valuable contracts and his world ranking plummeted from 51st to a low of 509th.
66 for the first round lead
— British Masters (@british_masters) May 5, 2022
At the Belfry on Thursday he showed some of the form that got him playing for Europe. No bogeys in a six-under 66 was good enough for a one-shot lead in the first day of the European Tour’s return to UK soil.
Olesen had five wins on tour – including the 2015 Dunhill Links – before his career almost collapsed. But he doesn’t really feel that standard is close.
“I’m still far from it, I’d say, but I worked really hard the last couple of months,” he said.”I looked at a lot of videos from when I was playing my best. We talked a lot about that and how we can get back to that, but it will take a lot of hard work.
“I’ve just not been working hard enough for a few years to be at that level. There is still a lot of work to be done.
“Can I win again? I haven’t been right there yet to do it. This year I’ve had some good rounds where the last three or four holes I made some stupid bogeys and put myself out of contention.
“I feel as if I’ve had chances to be in contention but just haven’t finished it off, really. I need to be up there a bit more to feel comfortable. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to be up there.”
‘A devastating impact’
There’s no question that the flight incident and trial, as he said in his statement after being acquitted, had a “devastating impact” on his career, his family and his life.
“Am I a different person? It’s hard to say. Probably a different golfer right now for sure, but we’ll see,” he said.
“There have been certain points where you are not sure if you can get back to that level, and a few hard days. It comes down to confidence and belief.
“I feel I am on the right track now and starting to get a team back together that is helping me again – I think that is very important.”
“I should have some years left in me – hopefully the best years! There’s a lot of goals I still have and that’s why I’ve started to work hard again.”
Olesen leads by a shot from German Hurly Long and China’s Kenya Open champion Ashun Wu. One of those Danes surging up the rankings in Olesen’s wake, Rasmus Hojgaard, is well placed on four-under in fourth.
The 21-year-old won at The Belfry when just 19 two years ago in the lockdown UK Championship event. The doors were back open to the Ryder Cup venue on Thursday, and the crowds were impressive.
“It’s awesome,” said Hojgaard, who has won three events in all. “I wasn’t expecting to see so many people this morning, so that kind of got me off guard a little bit but it’s very enjoyable. The more, the better.”