PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – A steadfast rule exists at Pebble Beach Golf Links: “absolutely no smoking.”
That being the case, Viktor Hovland should have been disqualified from the 118th U.S. Amateur and escorted from the property.
That's because he smoked everyone.
The self-effacing 20-year-old from Oslo, Norway, didn’t just win the most prestigious trophy in amateur golf on its most enchanting canvas. He mauled it.
The outcome on Sunday promised to be heart-warming from Pebble Beach, no matter what. Eighteen-year-old Devon Bling arrived as a virtual unknown, a rising sophomore at UCLA, the No. 302 amateur in the world, a face in the collegiate crowd of talented players. He lost his mother, his biggest supporter, when he was just 13. Sara Bling died suddenly at age 45. A blood clot went to her brain while Devon was out of town at a tournament.
Sara Bling dreamed that her son might someday play in the U.S. Amateur. To win it for her, in an event which the likes of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won, would have been overwhelming.
As for Hovland, who describes himself simply as “some guy from Norway,” he was trying to do something that no Norwegian had done. He was hoping to put Norway on the golf map, give the Scandinavian culture a little shot of golf adrenaline, inspire a resurgence.
When Hovland was 11, he joined a club and got involved in golf, as did many Norwegians his age. He has seen that change.
“It’s kind of dwindled,” he said. “The hard part is that it doesn’t really do that much good if there’s just one player doing well on the PGA Tour or European Tour. You have to have guys around you who you can practice with and compete against so that you can get better and have fun practicing. If you go to Sweden and look, there are juniors all over the place at different clubs.”
Henrik Bjørnstad is the most accomplished male golfer from Norway. He had one top-10 on the PGA Tour, before losing his card and eventually retiring in 2010. It has been dark even since.
Of course, they have 60 days of darkness in Oslo. But they also have 60 days of daylight, and now they have a US. Amateur champion for all time.
“I thought I had a pretty good vocabulary,” said Hovland, who speaks perfect English and will be a junior at Oklahoma State. “But I don’t have the words to describe this.”
This week, Pebble Beach is hosting its annual classic car show, the Concours d’Elegance. A number of categories will be celebrated with awards. Last week, the USGA conducted its oldest championship, and Hovland dominated in every category. He was best in show from the get-go (scoring).
Hovland beat OSU teammate Hayden Wood, 3 and 2. He ousted Harrison Ott, 2 and 1. He slam-dunked fellow Norwegian and close friend Kristoffer Reitan, 7 and 6. In the quarterfinals, he lit up Austin Squires in another 7-and-6 rout. In the semifinals, he played golf’s hottest amateur, stroke-play co-medalist Cole Hammer.
An incoming Texas freshman, Hammer has been in the spotlight since qualifying for the U.S. Open at age 15. This summer, he has been all that and a bag of birdies, winning the Western Amateur, co-winning the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Hammer demonstrates maturity beyond his innocent years, and his game has no divots. He came into Saturday’s U.S. Amateur semis with a 13-1 record this year in one-on-one matches. He came out shell-shocked. His 2-under card over 16 holes wasn’t good enough – not even close.
Hovland birdied eight of the 16, including the last five, and won, 3 and 2. If it wasn’t smoke, it had to be vapor. “I'm not mad about the way I played,” Hammer said afterward. “I'm just disappointed that I kind of ran into a buzzsaw.”
Bling was a semifinal savage, as well. He pinned Isaiah Salinda, 1 up, with seven birdies and, with his life’s tragic episode well-documented, he looked the part.
By lunchtime on Sunday, it was apparent that he was overmatched. By the 31st hole, it was over, 6 and 5.
In the end, Hovland trailed for one hole during six matches. He never trailed over his final 91 holes and needed only 104 of 126 scheduled holes to dispose of six opponents. This wasn’t a golf tournament. This was Mike Tyson against Michael Spinks, Harlem Globetrotters against Washington Generals, Secretariat at the Belmont.
This was a college junior, with an infectious smile and engaging personality, finding himself at the best possible time. And hoping it means something more.
“I hope it makes a difference, but I don’t know,” Hovland said, speaking of the impact in Norway.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can. It would be sweet to kind of be the front man for Norway, but I’m just … I’m still an amateur, playing amateur golf.”
Better than anyone else.
Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @WWDOD