Keeping Score

Hovland rides sunny outlook into pros

You’ll never have a problem picking Viktor Hovland out of a crowd, or recognizing him in Cromwell, Conn., this week

You’ll never have a problem picking Viktor Hovland out of a crowd, or recognizing him in Cromwell, Conn., this week. He’ll be the one smiling.

“Golf can make you look miserable,” said Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton, who bid farewell to his standout player on Sunday. “You wonder why people play sometimes. You don’t have to wonder that with Viktor.”

Viktor Hovland
Norway’s Viktor Hovland, who tied for 12th at the recent U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in his amateur finale, has plenty to smile about these days as he prepares for his professional debut.

Hovland departed Pebble Beach on Sunday the same way he arrived 10 months ago: grinning ear to ear. The native of Oslo, Norway came to the treasured golf property on California’s Monterey Peninsula in September, won the U.S. Amateur and put his name on the golf landscape in bold letters.

Last week, he returned for the 119th U.S. Open and enlarged the font. On the first day of the reunion tour, the 21-year-old Hovland played alongside two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, and he introduced himself with a 2-under 69. On Sunday, Hovland completed the seaside haunt by shooting a 67, topped by a birdie at 18.

His 72-hole total of 4-under 280 was not only the lowest amateur score of the week, it was the lowest in history, clipping the mark of 282 shot at the 1960 U.S. Open by a guy named Jack Nicklaus. Moreover, it was Hovland’s second “low amateur” in two major-championship starts this year, after a tie for 32nd at the Masters.

That’s to say nothing of the show he put on at last year’s amateur, during which he required the fewest holes (104) of match play for a champion since 1979. Really, what’s not to smile about?

“It’s obviously cool to perform such a thing,” said Hovland, when informed of his record score on Sunday. “And I hope that this will feed or I can feed off of this going into my professional career and do more things like this, and be in contention of winning tournaments.”

He won’t have to wait long to test the theory. With his bookend performances at Pebble Beach complete, Hovland officially starts playing for pay this week at the Travelers Championship. He could have remained an amateur to cash one more major exemption into the British Open, but …

“I thought the biggest or the best possible way … to do that for me with the best chances was to turn pro after this week,” he said. “I can still qualify to the Open, but obviously I'm going to make it a little harder for myself. But hopefully I'll be playing, [and] that's not going to be the only chance I have to play the British Open.”

Hovland will compete with exemptions into the next four PGA Tour events, including the inaugural 3M Open in Minnesota on July 4-7. As he walked the final hole of his amateur career on Sunday, with his college coach on the bag, the Norwegian reflected on how far he’s come and where he’s headed.

“I've had the three best years of my life at Oklahoma State, and I've learned so much not only as a player but as a person,” said Hovland, who will have Shay Knight as his pro caddie. “I got to meet so many cool people and just kind of gotten to learn about the culture around it.

“It's been really cool, though, just to have coach … and just all the guys on the team with me, supporting me. That was a cool walk.”

If his stroll in the big atmosphere of the U.S. Open is any indication, Hovland should have no problem. Along with his T-12 finish, he ranked first in strokes gained off the tee (plus-8.40) for the week, T-1 in fairways (47 of 56) and T-3 in greens in regulation (51 of 72) in a field flush with headline pros.

Hovland’s swing has been compared with that of Dustin Johnson, a fluid combination of touch and power. “I like hitting those high, spinny fades,” he said. “I just want to control it, keep it in the fairway. I really think that’s the most important thing.”

With the talent that Hovland possesses, the positive demeanor that seems to be unshakeable should serve him well. One thing is certain: Should his schedule bring him back to the Monterey Peninsula in February for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he knows how to play the golf course.

“Yeah, we'll see,” Hovland said. “I don't know quite what my schedule is going to be looking like. But I can't wait to come back here already … This obviously has been a special place for me.”

And as you might guess, he said it with a smile.

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: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD


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