It is reasonable to expect the reigning ‘World Champions’ would enter the next World Cup among the hot favourites. And when you consider one half of the Danish team attempting to defend in Melbourne has had arguably his best year ever, it seems it should be even more obviously the case.
However, Thorbjørn Olesen and Søren Kjeldsen have been undertaking preparations for their title defence at Metropolitan Golf Club somewhat under the radar. Only a small number of journalists attending their Wednesday afternoon press conference and the Danish duo currently at fifth in betting favouritism, behind top chance Australia, England, the United States and perhaps most surprisingly the Belgian team.
Olesen is fresh off a successful maiden Ryder Cup appearance, a Rolex Series win in Europe and six other top-10s since the middle of the year and in contrast with the common thought that it is team Australia’s tournament to lose, believes he and partner Kjeldsen enter the week as marked men.
“I mean, yeah, we're probably one of the better teams obviously because we have a lot of confidence and we've proven that we can do it,” Olesen said. “I would put us up in that top five teams of favourites probably. There's a lot of strong teams. Obviously the Australians, the Americans, Danish. But it's such a difficult format to play best ball, foursomes, it's very tricky and it's not always the best players that come out on top.”
Among the potential reasons the men currently holding the trophy formerly known as the Canada Cup are not the number one team to beat, beyond the home ground advantage of Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, is Kjeldsen’s indifferent 2018 form that has included more missed cuts than top-20s. With the elder statesman of the team relieved to be selected by Olesen despite fellow Dane Lucas Bjerregaard’s strong play of late.
“I said to Thorbjørn quite early in the year, ‘You do whatever you feel is right’,” Kjeldsen said. “I didn't qualify automatically and I wasn't the second highest either, so it was totally up to Thorbjørn. I wanted to make it easy for him to say if you want to play with Lucas, he's playing great, I haven't been playing as well this year, so if he wanted to play with Lucas, it was fine with me. But obviously grateful that he wanted to play with me again. I tried to make it easy on him so he could do whatever he felt was right.”
For his part, Olesen felt the decision on whether to reunite with his victorious 2016 partner was a simple one.
“I felt like it wouldn't be the right decision not to pick Soren, so it was an easy decision for me,” Olesen said.
The combination’s 2016 success around nearby Kingston Heath has both players rightfully confident, with Olesen and Kjeldsen each commenting on how each other’s games compliment their own. And the outside focus on other teams with slightly bigger individual profiles doesn’t appear to have bothered them in the slightest.
“I think one of the things that worked in our favour the last time is that we're probably opposite kind of players,” Kjeldsen said. “I get up on the tee first, most of the time I put it in the fairway. I've got sort of a solid game where Thorbjørn’s got more of a flashy game. He does great stuff and amazing stuff now and again and I think it works well.”
Right: The Danish team enjoyed teaming up in 2016 and are hoping their chemistry will have the same positive impact at Metropolitan. PHOTO: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.
“It's a lot to do with obviously chemistry and the way you attack the golf course,” Olesen added. “Especially here, these golf courses, Metropolitan and Kingston Heath, you need to be intelligent and you can't go after all the pins. I think we did that very well last time. I'm normally a pretty aggressive player, but I definitely play it a little more safe than what I do normally, and especially what you play foursomes, it's tricky. It's important that you stay optimistic all the time. There's going to be bad shots. I mean, both of us are going to hit some bad shots, it's just the way you come out of it and that's the important thing, and if you can get out of it, you'll do very well.”
Team Denmark’s understanding of the format, contrasting games and the ability to remain patient that Olesen spoke of are qualities in their favour that are even further enhanced by their prior tournament experience as a combination. Something the Danes have as an advantage over many of their competitors, that if they can take advantage of could deliver the country’s second ever World Cup of Golf title, in what has been a banner year for golf in the nation that is also the current holder of the biggest team amateur event in the game and recently had its first Ryder Cup Captain in Thomas Bjørn.
“We've had a lot of young guys playing really well this year, the Eisenhower Trophy and a lot of big individual tournaments, also in amateur tournaments, the Ryder Cup team. Lucas has played amazing this year, he has 10 top-10s, I think the most on the European Tour. I managed to win a Rolex Series. So it's been a pretty big year.”
And in addition to making it an even bigger year back-to-back World Cup wins would also provide Olesen with another vessel when he entertains at home in London.
“It's at home and I've been drinking out of that,” he said of his 2016 replica trophy that he has filled on more than one occasion. We had a nice little party, me and my friends, and filled it up.”