SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — It was on Dec. 8, 2021 that Thorbjorn Olesen got his life back. He hasn’t quite found his game yet, but he’s getting there. Six months after being cleared of sexual assault, assault by beating and being drunk on a July 2019 British Airways flight between Nashville and London, the 31-year-old Dane leads the Betfred British Masters at The Belfry. On a low-scoring day at the four-time Ryder Cup venue in the English Midlands, Olesen’s six-under-par 66 is tied for the lead alongside New Zealander Ryan Fox, one shot better than Ashan Wu of China, Germany’s Hurly Long and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay.
Still, for all that he was clearly happy with his play, Olesen’s body language betrayed a lingering wariness when he was approached by the waiting media. The charges levelled against him may be a thing of his past, but they clearly remain a source of some embarrassment to the man who defeated Jordan Spieth, 5 and 4, at the 2018 Ryder Cup outside Paris. Happy enough to talk about his bogey-free round, Olesen looked like a man waiting for the inevitably awkward question to land.
He needn’t have worried. Unsavory it may be, his behavior in the wake of his departure from the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational—where he finished T-27—is increasingly old news. More current was the post-round assessment of his play that contrasted greatly with his performances so far this year. In seven previous starts in 2022, Olesen has missed two cuts, his best finish T-12 at the Qatar Masters. So there is plenty of evidence to back up his own view that he still has a ways to go if he is to add to his tally of five DP World Tour titles.
“I’m still far from it,” said the 376th best golfer on the planet in response to a query as to how his present game compares with March 2013, when he was a member of the world’s top-40. “But I’ve been working really hard the last couple of months. I changed coaches [the new man is Liam James] and have been working on a couple of different things. I’ve also been looking at a lot of videos from when I was playing my best. We have talked a lot about that and how we can get back to where I was. But it will take a lot of hard work. I’ve not been working hard enough for a few years to be at that level, so I know there is a lot of work to be done.”
Moving right along, Olesen was prepared to only briefly venture into the mental turmoil he has endured since the charges that threatened to end his playing career.
“There have been certain points when I wasn’t sure if I could get back to the level I reached,” he said. “It comes down to confidence and belief, and there have been a few hard days. But I feel I am on the right track now and starting to get a team together that is helping me. That is very important.”
How the rest of his week pans out, of course, is anyone’s guess. It’s been a while since Olesen has been in contention for what would be his first victory since the 2018 Italian Open.
“I should have some years left in me … hopefully the best years in me,” he said with a brief smile. “I still have a lot of goals and that’s why I’ve started to work hard again. I want to get back to winning and back up the world rankings. Since January, it’s been a different work ethic than I had the last couple of years. You can’t compete out here if you haven’t put the hours in.”
All good, all positive, but there was a mild sting in the tail of the interview. Olesen handled it well, even if his eyes betrayed a brief moment of panic.
“Do you feel like a different person as well as a different golfer from a couple of years ago?” asked a writer.
“It’s hard to say,” was the initially hesitant response. “Probably a different golfer right now for sure, but we’ll see.”