Widely regarded as one of the happiest players on Tour – Viktor Hovland has good reason for his beaming smile.
The 24-year-old has shot up to sixth in World Ranking since turning professional three years ago after what can only be described as a meteoric rise to the elite level that so many of us dream of.
Having enjoyed resounding success as an amateur, including climbing to the top of the rankings and winning the U.S. Amateur, the J.Linderberg Ambassador quickly replicated that form on the professional circuit, becoming the first Norwegian to claim a PGA Tour and DP World Tour event. Three more worldwide wins later, including a maiden Rolex Series triumph at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, it’s safe to say that former Oklahoma State star will be European golf’s talisman for years to come. Here, the 2020 Ryder Cup Rookie gives his thoughts on his rapid rise, what makes him so happy and whether he thinks the game needs freshening up.
WWG: You’ve won six times worldwide in under three years since turning professional and have moved up as high as World No.3 earlier this year. Do you ever have moments where you sit back and think, this is crazy, the trajectory I’m on?
VH: Yeah, a little bit. It’s kind of crazy. It’s hard to think that way when you’re constantly traveling and playing tournaments. You don’t really have a lot of time to just kind of sit down and think about that too much. It’s always, Okay, I’ve got to work on my chipping, I’ve got to work out, tee time, pro-am, it’s just go, go, go, go all the time and you’re looking forward to the next event. But it was nice, after coming back from Dubai I had a week off, and we had a snowstorm in Stillwater, so I was locked in the house for three days and ran out of food. I was just in there just in a coma just kind of letting it all sink in. It’s nice to have kind of moments like that where you just kind of don’t do anything and relax, but I try not to get too caught up in the moment either. It’s always, you know, think about the processes, trying to get better, and enjoy the process.
WWG: You were six shots back when you won in the Bahamas as well as Dubai and you still managed to do it. What is this mentality of Viktor Hovland that allows you to do it again and again?
VH: I wouldn’t say it’s become a habit just yet. Obviously, you have to get things going your way and I would certainly say that I had things going my way in Bahamas last time, and obviously in Dubai, finishing birdie, eagle, birdie, that’s something that rarely happens. And even then, some other guys had a chance to take me out of it. So, you know, I just try to do the best I can.
WWG: Something Tiger always talked about was learning how to win. How would you compare your emotions in crunch time now to two years ago?
VH: I would say obviously I have gotten better at it because I have won more. But it’s a unique feeling every single time, because, I mean, it’s the same adrenaline, same pressure that you feel. You know, just going back 15 years ago, if I was playing a junior match against a buddy and we had 10 bucks on the line or whatever, just playing a random tournament, you still feel, it’s the same pressure that you feel. But I think the more times I have put myself in that position and I have seen myself do well under those circumstances, you kind of get a bit more comfortable every time, but it’s still pretty stressful every single time you’re in there, because time slows down. It’s not like you can just hit one good shot and then win or lose. If you’re coming down the stretch on the back 9, you have to hit good shots upon good shots upon good shots, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it’s pretty nerve-racking.
WWG: You strike a lot of people as always being very upbeat, very happy. Are you? Where does that come from?
VH: I would say I am. I enjoy a lot of things in life, other things not so much, but I try to look forward to the things that I want to do. If there is something that I want to do, I try it. But I guess it’s a lot to do with genes. My mom and dad are pretty happy people. Norway is a pretty happy country. It’s a lot about that. Obviously, I have a pretty good job for a living, so I don’t have a whole lot of things to complain about.
WWG: A lot was made about your bunker play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after finishing 73rd in the field out of 77 in sand saves over the week. How much is that outside noise and internally, is that something you’re really putting on emphasis on and trying to improve?
VH: I definitely need to get better around the greens and in the bunkers. Had a tendency of maybe taking a little bit too much sand, trying to get a little closer to the ball. That’s kind of the main focus. But you can say what you want about the bunker play at the Arnold Palmer; if you end up plugged in the lip or on the downslope short-sided, it’s just impossible. I don’t care how good your bunker play is in some of those spots. The stats can be a little deceiving in that way, but I feel like I’m making improvements in the technique and I’m not too worried about it.
WWG: You’ve played match play this year and a team event with Collin Morikawa – Do you have any ideas on maybe another format that you’d like to see played on the TOUR and if there’s any room for it?
VH: That’s a good question. I really haven’t put too much thought into it. I think these events are fun, but as a player, you want to try to test your game in aaz Obviously, it’s nice to mix it up and play match play and do some team events, but I don’t know if we should incorporate more of them or a completely different format. I don’t really know, and I don’t know where to fit that into the schedule, but I think those ideas are cool, as well.
WWG: What was the process of designing your custom PING PLD DS72 putter?
VH: I would say the last couple of years with the help of the guys from PING that are out at the Tour events every single week, they’ve shown me how much the equipment matters. I’m putting with a PLD putter, so the head shape is very similar to a few putters that I’ve used before, mainly in college. But I would say, the putters that I used before, they had an insert on them, while this PLD putter doesn’t, it has a milled face. So, there’s a little different feel to it when you strike it and I’ve just come to really like it as it helps my speed control whenever I get on fast greens. One thing we did that was unique to other putter I’ve used before is that put not just a sightline on top of the putter, but also on the bottom so you have two matching lines just to give you another perspective of where you’re aiming. I like more of a copper look in my putter and just how that sits in contrast to the green, especially with the white line on the top, it just really pops and makes it easier to aim when I’m putting. Making putts is pretty sweet, it’s a nice feeling, but when you’re in contention and need to make some putts to win the golf tournament golf tournament, when they fall at the right moments that’s pretty sweet as well.