THORBJORN Olesen’s anger from an earlier visit to Scotland this year turned to joy as the 25-year-old Dane overcame both a stuttering start then almost missing the widest adjoining fairways in golf to win the £3.3 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
Three ahead at the start of the day, Olesen signed off with a 71 on the Old Course for an 18-under-par 270 total, securing the £523,207 top prize by two shots from American duo Brooks Koepka (67) and Chris Stroud (68) after they had posted the clubhouse target.
Olesen’s third European Tour title triumph secured his card for next year, having come into this event sitting 124th in the Race to Dubai but leaving it in 25th position, and also made amends for the bitter disappointment he suffered in this season’s Scottish Open at Gullane, where he held the outright lead after an opening 63 only to then miss the cut following a second-round 77.
“When that happens, you are very disappointed and angry at yourself,” said Olesen, who was sidelined for three months earlier in the year after undergoing surgery on his left wrist. “You just try to get on with it and I really had some good people around me to help me with that.”
“I remember that night,” he added of finding himself out of the event in East Lothian, killing off his hopes of getting into the following week’s Open Championship at St Andrews in the process. “I shared a house with Thomas Bjorn and Soren Hansen and we had a few drinks. We were all a bit sad, so we talked a lot of s*** and just had a few drinks.
“It was good to have Thomas there because he’s been through a lot of ups and downs in his career, so he knows a lot about it. I’ve leaned on him a lot this year and he has been a great help. We talked about a lot of personal stuff and he really helped.”
On a more traditional Dunhill Links day than the sun-kissed ones that had graced the event for the first three rounds, Olesen, who had won from the front when claiming the 2012 Sicilian Open and 2014 Perth International, started with a birdie but then opened the door for the chasing posse as he was punished for being “too aggressive” with his approach at the second, costing him a double-bogey 6.
After also dropping a shot at the third, he bounced back from those setbacks with birdies at the fourth and fifth, only to be caught by both Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert as they moved to 17-under-par with seven holes to play after 11 players were covered by just two shots on a typical closely-fought final day in this tournament.
Bidding to complete a Scottish double after his win in the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play at Murcar Links earlier in the season, Aphibarnrat then stumbled to untimely bogeys at both the 13th and 14th, as did Hebert, before Olesen delivered the day’s telling blow as he rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt at the 15th to open up a two-shot lead.
He made textbook pars at both the 16th and 17th to preserve that cushion but, despite the first and 18th fairways on the Old Course being a combined 129 yards wide, Olesen hit his drive within a yard of a collar of rough on the left. “I was trying to chip a driver in the fairway, which was probably not the best idea,” he said, smiling, of that minor scare after being presented with the huge trophy. “But, luckily enough, there’s a lot of room on that 18th hole, so I got away with it.
“This win is very special because it has been a very tough year. I’ve had a few tournaments where I’ve had a good first or second round, but there’s just been too many bad rounds and I’ve not been able to find that consistency. This is obviously a bigger tournament than my previous two wins, also has a stronger field and is played on three great courses, so I’d say this is maybe the most emotional I’ve been.”