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Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Thunderbear tries to tame Memorial

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

DUBLIN, Ohio — Let’s play the name game with Thorbjorn Olesen, although it is his golf game that is grabbing attention at Muirfield Village through two rounds of the Memorial Tournament.

He was born Jacob Olesen in Denmark with a smorgasbord of middle names. When he turned pro, Jacob decided Jacob was a bit common, so he scanned those middle names and selected Thorbjorn off of the menu. It is pronounced TOR-be-yorn.

And it translates out of Danish to Thunderbear.

Thunderbear, meet the Golden Bear.

Olesen and Memorial host Jack Nicklaus exchanged a handshake earlier this week.

“That was a big honor for me,” Olsesen said. “It’s something that’s really big for me.”

Imagine how big it would be if there was another handshake late Sunday afternoon next to the 18th green.

Rounds of 71-67 have put Thunderbear in the picture, six shots off the torrid pace set by Paul Casey at 12-under.

The 24-year-old Olesen has done much of his golfing in Europe, but he made a quick visit to the U.S. early last year and finished sixth at the Masters and seventh at Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill. That snagged PGA Tour playing privileges for 2014.

He hasn’t done much with it until now, mostly because he has putted so poorly. He missed four cuts in seven previous events.

“I got off to a pretty good start in Europe, and then my game just fell apart a little,” he said. “I’ve been struggling in America, especially on the greens.”

But the cup has been the size of manholes at the Memorial.

“Today, it just seemed like I could hole everything,” Olesen said. “It was really nice to see them rolling in and to get that confidence on the greens. I feel like I’m getting there now.”

For a guy who is on the diminutive side — he is 5-9, 155 pounds — Thunderbear can move the ball along and produce some lightning on the course.

He had seven birdies Friday and said, “the key is hitting the fairways. The rough is really high. But if you get to the fairway, you have a good chance to hit the green in two or get close.”

For proof, he need only ask his friend Rory McIlroy, who didn’t hit many fairways and experienced a 15-shot swing, going from a 63 Thursday to a 78 in the second round.

This isn’t the first time Rory and Thunderbear have appeared in the same story. In January, 2013, Nike announced a blockbuster sponsorship deal worth a reported $20 million a year to McIlroy. Much further down in the release, announced before a tournament in Abu Dhabi, was the afterthought that Nike also signed Olesen.

Rory missed the cut that week while Olesen tied for second. It has been a steady climb since, including a Saturday pairing with Tiger Woods at the British Open. Olesen held his own in that matchup and finished tied for ninth.

Olesen was a soccer player as a kid in Denmark, and never focused on golf until the age of 15. Three years later, he turned professional. He’s had a couple of wins in Europe and some decent finishes in majors, and now has set his sights even higher.

“I want to try and be a world player,” he said, adding that to do it, “you have to learn to play well in America. That’s where the bigger tournaments are.”

Few on the PGA Tour are bigger than the Memorial.

Thunderbear, meet the Golden Bear.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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