LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — The beauty of the Open Championship from an American’s standpoint extends beyond the greatness of the world’s oldest major and the fact it comes on television early enough to allow for some quality lawncare and nap time for the afternoon. For decades, it has provided us our first introduction to the young, global standouts of tomorrow.
This is the tournament that first gave us a young Seve Ballesteros in 1976 at Royal Birkdale, and placed 22-year-old Ernie Els on a grand stage at Muirfield 20 years ago.
No doubt on Saturday morning, from Moline to Maine, folks woke up, tuned into the ESPN Open telecast and repeated a familiar refrain: Who, or what, exactly, is a Thorbjorn Olesen?
Fair enough. He will get his fair share of airtime today considering that he is playing alongside Tiger Woods. So we thought we’d help you out:
Thorbjorn Olesen (pronounced ‘TOR-be-yorn OO-les-en), 22, hails from Denmark, and is playing in his second Open. (He missed the cut last year at St. George’s). He earned his first European Tour victory earlier this season at the Sicilian Open, and earned his way into into Royal Lytham through a qualifier at Sunningdale, where he survived a playoff. We’re not sure how big a star he might become one day, if at all, but he certainly has some promising tools.
“He stays patient, and he has a knack for getting it done,” said Rocky Hambric, whose management firm (Hambric Sports) has represented Olesen since he turned pro a couple years ago.
Olesen is not very big (5 feet 9, 155 pounds), but he’s not a short hitter by any means. He’s a solid iron player and steadily has improved his short game as he has worked his way from the Nordic Tour (where he dominated) to the Challenge Tour to the Euro Tour. He’s a strapping, good looking kid who may give Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott a run for their money as a favorite to watch among the ladies. (Yes, girls, he’s quite single.)
His given birth name is Jacob, but he switched to Thorbjorn, one of his three middle names, because it’s far less common. He’s correct there. Translated, according to Hambric, his name means “Thunderbear,” and here at Lytham, Thor has delivered some memorable thunderbolts. He birdied six par-3 holes in his first two rounds.
Olesen didn’t have much of an amateur career, because he came to golf in his late teens after giving up a promising football (soccer) career. He was hoping to get paired with Tiger when he the two played earlier this season in Abu Dhabi, but the pairing did not come off. Hambric said Olesen was excited to be able to play alongside Woods, his longtime idol, for today’s third round, and got some valuable advice from a few of his housemates this week in Lytham St. Annes to help him deal with the chaos that is part and parcel with playing alongside the 14-time major champion.
As in, don’t have your caddie yelling all day for the crowd to settle in and stand still. It rarely happens.
The Hambric group has rented three houses this week for it’s players in the Open, with two of them adjacent to one another. The houses are a little more than a mile from the course, and what’s been created is a United Nations of golf: Olesen is in a house with Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Next door are American Justin Leonard and his wife, American Dustin Johnson and his girlfriend, and Scotland’s Martin Laird and his wife.
“It’s a little different than what we are used to,” Molinari said, “but it makes the week very enjoyable. We have our own chef, so we have dinner together each night and talk and really have a very nice time.”
Hambric said Olesen is the quiet kid among all the pros, content to sit back and listen and just take it all in.
“You can tell he’s just soaking it all up,” Hambric said.
A year ago at this time, the then-21-year-old was still living with his parents, but since then he has moved out into the “big time” – he is living in a small apartment with three roommates in Denmark. On the Euro Tour Olesen travels frequently with former Georgia State standout Joel Sjohlom. The two are known as Batman and Robin. Olesen has yet to play in the U.S., but he wants to, and if he plays well enough this weekend at Lytham, he could climb inside the world top 100 and earn a spot in next month’s PGA Championship field at Kiawah Island. (Olesen currently is ranked 112th.)
Rounds of 69-66 placed him in the penultimate group on Saturday of the 141st Open Championship, which is an impressive place for a 22-year-old to be.
Olesen handled the pressure well on Saturday, firing a 1-over 71 to fall back to 4 over. Only a bogey at the 18th kept Olesen going toe-to-toe with Tiger and coming out even.
“I knew I had the game for it,” he said on Friday, “but it’s nice to play really well the first two days. But there’s still a lot of golf to be played.”
That’s for sure. But perhaps now you know a little more about the young man behind the obscure name. Beware the Viking.