In the shadow of Hulkamania, Reed Nation and the WGC Mexico, one of the games burgeoning young stars quietly claimed his first PGA Tour victory on a rain-soaked afternoon at the Puerto Rico Open. At the ripe age of twenty-two, Viktor Hovland posted a final round 70 to become the first Norwegian to ever win a PGA Tour event. In doing so he joins his phenom contemporaries Matthew Wolff and Colin Morikawa, earning the right to #FlyTheW in just his 17th event. In comparison, it took Tiger Woods 19 attempts to claim his first title.
As far as the spoils of victory on the PGA Tour go, the $540K winner’s check is modest at best. The bigger payoff undoubtedly comes in the form of a two-year Tour exemption and non-refundable tickets to play in two majors; the PGA & Players Championship 😉 The win also moves Hovland to 60th in the Official World Golf Rankings, currently landing him squarely on the cut line to qualify for the 2020 Open Championship and U.S. Open. In order to secure a spot in the Masters, he’ll need to move up to 50th in the OWGR. Given his current form and 2019 track record, it’s not hard to see that scenario coming to fruition.
Augusta’s iconic all-white caddie suit stamped HOVLAND would be a welcome sight this April, but it won’t be the first time it’s taken laps around the hallowed grounds. The Oklahoma State standout delivered his original “Hello World” moment at Pebble Beach in 2018 by outlasting Devon Bling to become the U.S. Amateur champion. In doing so, he received invitations to play in the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship. Hovland gave more than a glimpse at his career potential by taking home low amateur honors at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Unfortunately, as fate and arcane policy would have it, Hovland’s choice to turn pro in 2019 disqualified him from using his exemption to play in the Open Championship. Rather than forgoing his U.S. Open exemption, he elected to retain his amateur status until the week following the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
The decision to play Pebble as an amateur would end up costing Viktor more than $200,000 and perhaps more importantly, he was excluded from collecting courier points from his T-12 finish. This caveat would ultimately leave Hovland below the point threshold needed to secure his 2019-20 tour card and force him to fight through three Korn Ferry Finals events to merely gain conditional status. Facing backlash, the USGA later amended the rule, now known as the “Hovland Rule” to allow amateurs to maintain their U.S. Am exemption despite turning pro in the timespan between the two events.
In spite of the unfortunate circumstances created by the policy, becoming a card-carrying member and winner on the PGA Tour was never a question that circled the Oslo-born sensation. The only unknown was how soon and how many times it was going to happen. If posting Top 20 finishes in four of his first five professional starts were any indication, it wouldn’t be long.
Like most on the PGA Tour, Viktor’s journey to play with and beat the best in the world is no stroke of luck. From his earliest days, Hovland practiced and trained with intense conviktion. Magnus Ohlsson, Hovlan’s childhood coach at Grønmo Golf Club described his tireless work ethic: “In the autumn, Viktor would be furious because the sun went down too early… there weren’t enough hours for training.” Throughout the winter months, Viktor’s father Harold would drive him to an indoor facility at Fornebu nearly every day. Long winters and even longer odds be damned. Hovland’s freakish talent, laser focus and devilishly good looks were not going to be stopped.
Viktor’s abilities as a junior golfer was obvious to the relative few who saw him play. His journey to Stillwater, Oklahoma to join OSU began in 2013 when Cowboy’s coach, Alan Bratton, spotted Viktor at the European Boys Championship in Scotland. Bratton took multiple trips across the Atlantic over the next two years to secure Hovland’s commitment. Viktor went on to wear the same orange and black, made famous by Richard Fowler, leading OSU to an NCAA Championship alongside one of the most talented collegiate teams of all time.
As the Hovland legend grows, so does his popularity in mainstream golf circles. On top of his made for TV smile and affable personality, Viktor has shown little hesitation in making a few wise-cracks and off-the-cuff comments which are in short supply around professional golf. When asked about being the odds on favorite at the 2019 John Deer Classic, Hovland gave this response:
If there’s any downside risk to buying all the available Hovland stock, it’s curiously tied back to his victory at the Puerto Rico Open. Since the tournament’s inception in 2008, no former champion has ever won another PGA Tour event following their victory, including Tony Finau. Some even jokingly suggested that Hovland tank the final round in order to avoid the curse of the Puerto Rico Open.
Conspiracy theories aside, Viktor Hovland is one of the most talented and decorated young golfers the world has seen in a long time. His mix of raw talent coupled with fearlessness will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. If there’s anyone on Tour capable of debunking the now eleven-year hex, it’s Young Hov. In the words of legendary basketball player and golf’s notoriously degenerate gambler, Michael Jordan… the ceiling is the roof.