How a rain delay in Italy propelled Olesen to the Ryder Cup

Golf News

Thorbjorn Olesen timed his run into the Ryder Cup team perfectly and, writes Mark Townsend, it was thanks largely to the new qualification process

Half a bucket of balls during a rain delay in Italy, that’s what it took to turn Thorbjorn Olesen’s season around.

The Dane had, by his high standards, a disappointing 2017 where he barely missed a cut but ordinary weekends let him down. This year he was struggling to make the weekends.

The Thursday morning in Italy, the second Rolex Series event, was following the same suit as he explained on the European Tour blog last month.

“I made a couple of bad swings, dropped a couple of shots and finished with a 1-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,” the 28-year-old wrote.

“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.”

He went back out, came home in 31 and found himself two clear of Francesco Molinari at the 72nd hole and watching the local hero holing a 35-footer in front of him. But a sand save got him over the line for his fifth win on the European Tour.

Thorbjorn Olesen

The real beauty of this victory, other than the €1 million winner’s cheque, was the timing of it.

At the start of the Ryder Cup qualifying process the European Tour Tournament Committee announced three changes.

In order to get as many in-form players on the team any Race to Dubai and World Ranking points will be multiplied by 1.5 for the two qualification lists with the first counting event being PGA Championship at Wentworth. So just one week before Italy.

Also on any Rolex Series week no points could be picked up elsewhere, so basically the PGA Tour, in both 2017 and 2018.

Hence given the fewer amount of points being available globally why Thomas Bjorn’s wildcard picks went from three to four.

A look at how Olesen accumulated his points shows quite how brilliant a run he made of it, with no runs of events on the PGA Tour to hoist his tally up.

Where Olesen earned his Ryder Cup points

Post Wentworth (x1.5 events in brackets):

Made in Denmark: 1.07 (2.13)
Nordea Masters:  7.20 (10.8)
PGA Championship: 1.80 (2.7)
Bridgestone Invitational: 25.90 (38.85)
The Open: 10.30 (15.45)
Irish Open:  6.56     (9.84)
Open de France: 0
BMW International: 10.40 (15.6)
US Open: 0
Italian Open: 38.00 (57)
BMW PGA Championship: 0

Total: 150.24

Pre-Wentworth:

Sicilian Open 0
China Open 1.20
Open de Espana 0
Qatar Masters 0
Perth International 3.32
Maybank Championship 0
Dubai Desert Classic 2.16
Abu Dhabi Championship 0
World Tour Championship 1.83
Nedbank Challenge 4.27
Turkish Airlines Open 9.60
HSBC Champions 2.69
Italian Open 1.70
Dunhill Links 0
Portugal Masters 0

Total: 26.77

Overall: 179.14

As for Olesen’s weekend conundrum there was more head scratching after a third-round 77 in Germany three weeks later. A day that had begun in the top 10 finished with him down in 40th. But another range visit and the same principles saw him birdie eight of the last 10 holes for a staggering 61 to come up just one shot shy of Matt Wallace.

Now Olesen was very much on the Ryder Cup radar. Two years ago he was at Hazeltine after being invited by the then vice-captain Thomas Bjorn to drive his countryman’s buggy and get a sense of what the Ryder Cup is all about.

“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 per cent. I got a glimpse at what the 1st tee is like on Friday morning and the atmosphere of the event.”

Olesen’s record in the big ones is relatively ordinary, he has only played in two Masters and US Opens while he wasn’t eligible for the first two WGCs of this year in Mexico and the Match Play. Come Firestone, where he had finished 10th the year before, he was at it again on the Sunday.

This time a 64 propelled him into a share of 3rd, alongside Dustin Johnson, with only Kyle Stanley and winner Justin Thomas ahead of him.

A fourth in Sweden, where Paul Waring broke through, eventually proved decisive to keep him ahead of Ian Poulter and the other hopefuls on the World Points list.

Thomas Bjorn and Thorbjorn Olesen

So Denmark will have a third Ryder Cup player from their ranks – Soren Hansen and this year’s skipper being the others – and Bjorn was understandably proud of his good friend.

“You can see there’s joy and sadness and fear and all these emotions in their eyes as they go through the last few weeks. That’s tough for any player and it’s tough to watch somebody that you care about a lot in the way that we are great friends,” Bjorn said.

“I feel he’s ready now to be part of the European team. To watch him go through that has been not the easiest thing but every player needs to go through that. Everybody needs to make that team. I feel he’s ready to be part of a European team now. He’s ready to go out and try and win some points.”

Revisiting Olesen’s blog he talks about getting over his Sunday-itis, something he has managed in spectacular fashion in recent months.

“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.”

He’ll have a very different Sunday on his hands on September 30, let’s hope for another happy ending.

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