Thorbjorn Olesen has the coolest name in golf – Thorbjørn means “Thunder Bear” in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish – but it’s little known outside Europe, where he’s notched wins at the Sicilian Open and The Princess Challenge Championship. To all but the most dedicated American fan, he’s a part of the PGA pack. That may not be true for long. The best golfer to come out of Copenhagen’s chilly suburbs is making a run in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village and preparing to take on the St. Jude Classic. At 24, he’s determined to become a famous face as well as a memorable name. Men’s Journal spoke with him about golfing Northern Europe, his goals, and how he keeps himself busy on the road.
How did you come to the game of golf?
My Dad introduced me to golf when I was seven… but I wasn’t hugely committed to it until I was almost 18, a little before turning pro. After long discussions with my parents and my coach, I realized if I was going to turn pro, I had to give it 100%, which I have done since that day.
Developing your game in Denmark must have been a challenge given that you couldn’t play year round. Do you have any tips for guys trying to improve their game in cold climates?
Fly to the sun! [Laughs] Well, it was very difficult. If you don’t have the money to fly to Southern Europe or beyond, you need to just deal with what the weather throws you. It’s pretty much guaranteed snow every winter and stays below freezing for way too long. I hate the cold too. When I first turned pro, I couldn’t afford the winter sunshine, but for the winters since, I’ve seen the winter practice as essential and spent the money going to Spain or Dubai.
I just used to sweep snow off the mats and put on the heater and smash balls out into the snow. Sometimes you’d practice indoors into nets, but that isn’t much fun.
You’ve chosen to go by your middle name, why did you decide to use Thorbjørn rather than Jacob?
I decided soon after turning pro that Thorbjørn was a little more unique than Jacob. There are no other golfers called Thorbjorn and there may not be for a while yet.
What are your career goals?
Quite simply, I want to win majors. I’d love to play Ryder Cups too and win everything I can, but the majors are what I’m desperate to win.
What is the tournament you want to win the most?
Without question, the Masters. Closely followed by the Open.
Augusta just has this most amazing feel about it. It’s so difficult to describe really. If you’ve been, you’ll know what I mean, but if you haven’t, it’s quite difficult to describe. It’s just such a magical place. Winning it means that no matter what, I can go back and play the event until I’m pretty old.
You travel quite a bit, what do you do to make the process easier on yourself? Are there things you can’t travel without?
Well, flying business class makes a huge difference, but I spent my early days on tour flying economy so I certainly appreciate not having that anymore. I’m lucky I guess. I love movies and TV series. I’ve seen them all! Prison Break, 24, Californication, Game of Thrones, the lot! There are two things I’d be lost without – my phone and my iPad. Being on the road is tough so the phone is great to keep in touch with friends and family. The iPad and laptop for movies, TV and the internet is simply a must. I wonder how I would cope without them.
Many athletes believe very deeply in luck and streaks, are you superstitious? Do you have a good luck charm?
A little, yes, but not overly. I always carry a 10DKK coin in my pocket as my marker. I like to use a number 1 ball in round one, a 2 in round two etc.
If you could only play one more round of golf, where would you play and with whom would you play it?
I’d love if I could get back Nicklaus and Seve from their peak years and Tiger Woods also. I’d love if we could play at Augusta.