Viktor Hovland is Europe's Next Big Thing
MUCH has been made of the flurry of young Americans who have emerged on the PGA Tour. Collin Morikawa, Cameron Champ and Matthew Wolff have all taken the game by storm and will be looking to play their way into Steve Stricker’s US Ryder Cup team when the match is finally staged at Whistling Straits in 2021.
There is no denying that they are hugely talented golfers, but Europe has a rising star of its own, on the back of new world number one Jon Rahm. His name is Viktor Hovland, he comes from Norway, is just 22 years old and he already has one victory to his name, albeit in the Puerto Rico Open. And he has made a sensational start to his PGA Tour career, with Padraig Harrington licking his lips at the prospect of having him in his European team.
Hovland gave early warning of his talent when he won the Norwegian Amateur Championship before his 17th birthday. He played his college golf at Oklahoma State University and won the 2018 US Amateur Championship, becoming the first Norwegian to do so. It earned him invites to the 2019 Masters, US Open and Open Championship. The same year he finished 13th in the Australian Open as an amateur.
He also created a piece of history when he finished as the low amateur at both The Masters, where he finished in a tie for 32nd place, and the US Open, where he finished 12th with a score of 280. This was the lowest 72-hole score by an amateur in the US Open, breaking the previous record of 282, set by a certain Jack Nicklaus way back in 1960. He became the first player to win low amateur honours at both the Masters and US Open in the same season since Matt Kuchar in 1998. He also became the world’s top-ranked amateur.
He decided not to take up his option to play in The Open, instead turning professional and making his debut at the 2019 Travelers Championship.
In August he finished in a tie for second at the Albertsons Biose Open, part of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. It secured his PGA Tour card and he promptly set a record for the most consecutive rounds in the 60s, with 19, as well as claiming that victory in Puerto Rico.
And he achieved that win in some style, chipping in for an eagle at the par-five 15th and holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the final green to secure a one-shot win over Josh Teater. That is big-time golf from a big-time player. He later revealed that he had been inspired by Henry Bjornstad, the only other Norwegian to compete on the PGA Tour.
“I grew up watching him play and following his scores online,” Hovland said. “So to follow in his footsteps and be able to win kind of the first tournament for Norway is really special. A bunch of my friends and just normal people from back home paying attention, which is a lot more than I could ask for.”
Teater was the first to pay tribute to Hovland. “Hats off to Viktor for winning like that,” he said. “He is a great player and we are going to see it more often.”
Hovland is a quiet, modest young man. “I was just thinking about trying to play as well as I could and trying to get the job done. I hadn’t thought about the perks.”
It gained him full exemption through the 2021-22 season and spots in the PGA Championship and Players Championship, but he really doesn’t have to worry about his playing rights. The good news is that he is already a member of the European Tour and we can look forward to seeing him playing on his home continent - and see him winning.
He had another chance to win at the recent Workday Charity Challenge and even though he wasn’t at his best on the final day at Muirfield Village, he still managed to shoot a 71 to secure third place.
Much is now being made of the incredible distances being achieved by the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Champ and Wolff. Hovland hits it plenty far enough, but his real strength is his incredible iron play. Oh, and his temperament. You will never hear this young man curse. You will never see him throw a club. You will never see him lose the plot with his temper. When it goes wrong - and it will - Hovland will simply shrug his shoulders and get on with it.
Expect to see him in the world’s top 10 before the season is over. He will be a key member of Harrington’s team and I confidently predict that he will win multiple majors and put Norwegian golf on the map. You may or may not have heard of Bjornstad - you will certainly be hearing an awful lot more of Viktor Hovland. Or I will eat my much-loved golf cap!
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