Thorbjorn Olesen's strategy secrets

The 2014 ISPS Handa Perth International winner on how to think like a pro

Thorbjorn Olesen
Thorbjorn Olesen during the 2014 ISPS Handa Perth International
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2014 ISPS Handa Perth International winner, offers a candid insight into the big strategy lessons he’s learnt since joining the pro ranks

Below, Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2014 ISPS Handa Perth International winner, offers a candid insight into the big strategy lessons he’s learnt since joining the pro ranks...

Since joining the Tour three or four years ago, some of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt have been about strategy. Developing a gameplan that gives you the best possible chance of shooting your lowest score is one of the big challenges in golf, no matter whether you’re a pro or an amateur. On a lot of our courses, you can be quite aggressive, but when you get to the Majors, and other tough layouts, you need to think more about where you hit it.

The same applies to club golfers – sometimes you may need to curb your aggression and accept that it’s OK to hit a 5-iron into a par 4 instead of a 7-iron. I’m definitely hitting more 3-woods off the tee than I used to, and maybe hitting it just a bit softer. Some of you may like to go after the ball hard, but if you’re trying to shoot your best score, you need to feel comfortable swinging softer at the ball.

Learn from the best If you’re playing with someone with a lower handicap than yourself, you could learn a lot from them in terms of course management. I certainly did when I played with Tiger Woods in The Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 2012. I was very nervous at first, but gradually settled down and hit a lot of good shots. I was surprised by how defensive he was from the tee, but at the same time he was very aggressive around the greens. I soon realised that this was a good way to play on a links – get it on the fairway and then you can be aggressive when you get closer to the green. I’ve also played many practice rounds with Thomas Bjorn, and he’s helped me develop my strategies. I played two or three times in practice with him at Augusta, which was great because that’s a tricky course and you’ve got to know where to hit it. Of course, it will also help your game if you can find someone with more experience than you to listen to and watch. When your game is off… If you’re struggling with your game out on the course, I think you’ve got to focus on avoiding trouble. Try to find the middle of the green and see if you can get it round in a reasonable score from there – for me, level par, one-under or one-over. On such days, you can’t afford to be too aggressive – taking on difficult or dangerous shots is likely to end badly. So you need to trickle it around, be a bit more defensive and slowly get your confidence back.

I find that it’s all about limiting the damage, so I’m still in the tournament rather than completely out of it. I would certainly say that working on your swing mid-round often makes things worse, so try to just get it round, then head to the range afterwards to sort things out.

Keeping it going I expect some of you have real trouble when you get off to a fast start and suddenly realise that you have a real chance to shoot a great score. What should you do – press on, or protect what you’ve got? It’s a difficult one, but I feel you’ve got to stick with whatever game plan you had at the start. Try to forget what you’ve done and just keep on playing, still being aggressive where appropriate.

Four or five strokes under your handicap is a good round, but if you can get it to eight or nine, that’s a great round. So don’t change your game plan to become more defensive and protect what you’ve got – use your head, be aggressive when it’s the right thing to do, but don’t be too rash.

A run of bad form We all experience bad form at one point or another. Sometimes it’s technical, sometimes it’s more about confidence. If you don’t feel there’s anything significantly wrong with your swing, try to look back at how you’ve played in the past, like competitions you’ve done well in, and remind yourself that you can do it. If you’ve done it once, you’re good enough to do it again, so keep trying and practising until it clicks.

In my first year, I had a number of really high finishes, but also a number of missed cuts. It wasn’t that I’d suddenly become a bad player, it was more down to getting off to a poor start on those off weeks. The differences weren’t that great – it was just a matter of confidence, believing in myself and reminding myself that I’m good enough and that I can win any week if I’m playing my best.

Stepping up a level When you’re looking to progress to a higher level, such as winning a big club competition or, for me, the Majors, it’s always important to just play the course and not focus on what other players around you are doing. You’ll often be playing against better players, in my case, the best in the world. But you’ve just got to focus on the course, how to play  and your strategy for it, rather than worry about those other things that you can’t control.

It sounds easier than it is but if you’re able to do that well, and just play your own game, there’s no reason why you can’t succeed. I learnt a lot playing all four Majors last year, and a couple the year before. I’m getting more used to the pressures involved. I certainly have more confidence now and believe that I can actually win one.

Nick Bonfield
Content Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x