If you’re a fan of golf, you’ll know Viktor Hovland is a man of firsts… The first-ever US amateur champion from Norway, the first Norwegian golfer to play in the Masters and after his four-round score of 280 at the US Open at Pebble Beach, and the man who finally overtook Jack Nicklaus’ low-score for an amateur at a US Open over 72 holes.
The 22-year-old from Oslo picked up his first win on the PGA Tour with a one-stroke victory at the Puerto Rico Open at the end of February.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Hovland would be guilty of letting all of this early success go to his head, but he is a very even-tempered and cool character.
Here, he talks about learning from his time playing alongside major champions and picking up tips from how they deal with short-term adversity, as well as what it was like to play well at two majors as a rookie...
RSNG How did you become involved in golf, seeing as though there weren’t many successful golfers to follow in the footsteps of in your homeland? VIKTOR HOVLAND, THE SKILFUL SCANDINAVIAN ‘When I was growing up back home in Norway, just like every other little kid, I wanted to be a footballer. My mind was dead set on it, and I was out there kicking a football around with my friends. However, the one big drawback was that I wasn’t very adept at the sport!’
‘Now, that’s definitely something which is going to hinder you, isn’t it! Another thing was that I wasn’t actually what you would call a natural at golf, either. I was learning Taekwondo when I was growing up and I liked martial arts, as well as it being something which was really good for my fitness and strength.’
‘The crazy thing was that before I came across to the United States and enrolled in college, I wasn’t a big name or player in the junior game. I didn’t really pick up any victories.’
‘I wasn’t a bad golfer and I had somewhat of a consistent game, but I probably wasn’t a player that if you looked at my game and results, you’d think I was a future PGA Tour player.’
There’s no point in choosing to take up a career and only being a participant… I don’t want to be just along for the ride
RSNG It’s incredible to think that it took until 2019 for the first Norwegian golfer to play in the Masters… and that was you! VH ‘Yeah, that was an incredible thing when I was told about that. I really enjoyed the first round and came off the course with a level par 72. I knew that if I could play around that mark or lower, I would make the weekend in my first Masters. That was something I was so eager to do.’
‘The thing that I noticed most was the atmosphere – it was unbelievable, and I think that it really fired me up and helped me play some good stuff. The other thing which was also a great motivation was playing alongside the best players in the world.’
‘However, going to Augusta and just marvelling at everything around me, being in awe of the surroundings and the people I was there with and thinking that I was just being fortunate to be there, wasn’t what I wanted. I was really hoping that I could play some good golf – and at times, I think I did.’
RSNG That’s what stood out about you as a rookie in 2019. The fact that you wanted to try to achieve some level of success instead of just making up the numbers? VH ‘Absolutely. I mean, there’s no point in choosing to take up a career and only being a participant. I’m in this sport and this profession because I want to be really good at it and hopefully achieve as much as I can. I will try everything in my own power and control that I can to do so.’
‘Mostly because if I practise and take a lot of time out to improve my game as best I can, and do everything else right, then I can gain some success in future. I don’t want to be just along for the ride.’
‘I made my first cut in the Arnold Palmer beating some decent players and tying at -1 for the tournament with a familiar name and face in Rickie Fowler. But that’s not the pinnacle of anything for me. For sure, it made me a bit more confident of being able to mix it with these guys on tour, but there’s a whole lot more to go.’
In this game, your next shot is always your most important shot
RSNG After finishing as the best amateur at the Masters, you bettered that by finishing T-12 in the US Open. That meant you couldn’t play in the Open Championship because you turned pro, but you should get a crack at that this year? VH ‘Yeah, I was so stoked to play in that and at another iconic course in Pebble Beach – one of the most famous courses in the game of golf. Even better was the feeling I got from being able to shoot 67 there and then, I was told that after my 72 holes, I’d shot lower than Jack Nicklaus did as an amateur.’
‘I mean, what do you do with that information. I am always someone who is going to try to keep my feet on the ground, but sometimes you just have to go “wow – that is pretty good!”’
RSNG Is there anything that you’ve learned from playing with experienced players and major champions so far? VH ‘I wouldn’t say that it was advice given to me, but certainly I’ve been able to learn how some of the best players carry themselves around the golf course, how they are able to stay totally concentrated and incredibly resilient.’
‘Being up close with players like Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson and being there to see how they reacted when they didn’t play great shots… they were so composed and calm for their very next shot – you can’t learn any golf lesson better than that, because in this game, your next shot is always your most important shot.’
WHAT NEXT? Billy Horschel opens up to RSNG in our exclusive interview – catch up with it here.