Witnesses describe Ryder Cup winner’s behaviour on British Airways flight as ‘completely bizarre’
A Ryder Cup-winning golfer has said he was “embarrassed and felt horrible” after being accused of drunkenly groping a woman on a flight.
Thorbjørn Olesen, who was ranked 51st in the world at the time, was on a British Airways flight from the US to the UK when the alleged incident happened. He was travelling with other professionals, including England’s Ian Poulter, 45, and Justin Rose, 41, after the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis.
Witnesses said his behaviour was “completely bizarre” during the eight-hour flight from Nashville to London on 29 July, 2019.
During a hearing at Aldersgate House Nightingale court, in central London, the 31-year-old Danish golfer was said to have run around the cabin “like a little boy”, unable to operate the toilet door, and becoming verbally abusive to cabin crew when challenged. He is said to have pushed one BA worker, kissed another’s hand before making the sign of the cross, and touched a woman’s breast.
The golfer was eventually led back to his first-class seat, where he cried before falling asleep, the jury was told. He later urinated on another passenger’s seat.
Olesen, of Chelsea, west London, denies sexual assault, assault by beating and being drunk on an aircraft. He told the jury on Tuesday he would never “consciously” risk his career by committing a crime and has no memory of the flight after taking sleeping pills.
Asked by his barrister, Trevor Burke QC, about the allegations, he said: “I felt absolutely horrible and I was very sorry. I could not believe what they were saying what happened. I was just embarrassed and felt horrible.”
Olesen said he had not slept well for weeks, having played several big tournaments, including the Open, and planned to go straight to sleep on the plane.
He said he drank two beers, two glasses of red wine with a sushi platter meal on board a private jet, and one vodka and cranberry juice before boarding the flight. He also took two melatonin tablets, which he regularly uses to combat jet lag, along with two Ambien (zolpidem) pills put into his washbag by his partner, Lauren Zafer.
Olesen said he would “never” have taken the pills had he known they were prescription-only or that side-effects included “sleepwalking” and “amnesia”. He said his partner, with whom he has one child, later told him she had experienced incidents, including vacuuming their whole house and eating Christmas chocolates without remembering, after taking the pills for insomnia.
Giving evidence, Zafer told how her partner looked “like the world had just ended” and “slightly confused” after he was released by police.
The court heard that, after his arrest, Olesen lost lucrative sponsorship deals and was suspended from the European and World Tours. He has temporarily been reinstated to the European Tour pending the outcome of the trial but has struggled for form and has plunged to 440th in the world rankings.
He said: “I think it’s been very difficult to concentrate and play when you don’t know if you have ruined your career and maybe never play professional golf again.”
Questioned by prosecutor Max Hardy, Olesen denied he was “in a party mood” when he boarded the flight and said he had “definitely not” taken the pills with alcohol “for fun”. “I wanted to try to sleep all the way to London,” he told the court.
The court was also told a passenger reported they heard mention of Xanax during a conversation between Olesen and another professional, who has said in a statement he did not give his colleague any pills.
Hardy asked: “Did you take any more pills on that flight?”
Olesen said: “I don’t remember, I don’t know,” and denied that he was drunk.
The trial continues.