Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

The Player Within: Viktor Hovland

The Player Within: Viktor Hovland
(Zuma Press/Alamy)

One would have to spend some time around Viktor Hovland— say about 10 seconds—to know that his perpetual happiness is not dependent upon financial rewards or tournament victories or global fame.

No sir. It is in his DNA.

“I guess it’s a lot of genes. My mom and dad are pretty happy people,” said Hovland, who delivered his answer with his trademark smile. “Norway is a pretty happy country. It’s a lot about that. “I have a pretty good job for a living, so I don’t have a whole lot of things to complain about.”

Genuine Modesty

Mind you, Hovland delivered this answer to a reporter’s question in the spring of 2022, back when he had yet to win a PGA TOUR tournament in the continental U.S., or delivered inspiringly for Europe in the Ryder Cup, or made a statement in a highprofile championship.

So, if you’re thinking that things might have changed after a robust

2023 campaign—victories at the Memorial Tournament and then at the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship to nail down an $18m FedExCup bonanza—think again, because they have not.

Feet on the Ground

Grounded, thy name is Hovland. For proof, here is the young man after being asked if he “splurged” with his massive FedExCup windfall.

“I took my mom to a restaurant in Malta, and we went there and hung out and ate good food and checked out some places and went sightseeing a little bit,” said the pride of Oslo.

Simplicity Admired

In a world where we are glued to the rich and famous through TMZ and “Entertainment Tonight” and seem to place on a pedestal those who live extravagantly, even obnoxiously, Hovland toasted his triumph at the TOUR Championship and a mighty FedExCup deposit to his bank account with a humility and simplicity to be admired.

“Obviously, it’s a lot of cash you’re playing for,” said Hovland, who shot 68-64-66-63 for 19-under 261 in the TOUR Championship but factoring in the 8-under with which he began the tournament, the Norwegian stormed to a five-stroke triumph over Xander Schauffele. He knew first place in the TOUR Championship would translate into an $18m prize for capturing the FedExCup. “It’s in the back of your mind,” he said.

The Genuine Article

But Hovland is as genuine as you get, perennially more proud of Norway’s fixture inside the Top 10 of the Friendliest Countries in the World than he is of his own success. His world does not revolve around money.

“I live in Stillwater (Oklahoma). Money goes a long way there. It’s not like I’m spending money out the wazoo every week. I don’t need a lot to be happy.”

Delightful Tale

The rise of Hovland, who didn’t even pick up a golf club till he was 11 years old, is a delightful tale. It is said that Norwegians are born “with skis on their feet” and be it Alpine or Nordic jumping, this is the national sport in this proud Scandinavian country.

It was, however, a stick and ball sport that appealed to Hovland.

Three years into his golf career he won the Norwegian Amateur Championship and four years later Hovland was enrolled at Oklahoma State, consistently one of the best American collegiate golf programs.

Never was it lost on Hovland how unique his presence on the American collegiate scene was. So many of the heralded kids came from states where you play golf year-round—California, Texas, Florida—dominate the scene, yet it was Hovland who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur.

Show Stealer

In quintessential Hovland fashion, he stole the show at a pre-tournament press conference before the start of the 2020 Travelers Championship. Hovland was among four heralded collegians who were playing as professionals at TPC River Highlands. Three of them—Collin Morikawa, Justin Suh, and Matthew Wolff—were asked about their similar backgrounds and how they crossed paths with one another while growing up in California.

When he had his chance to respond to a question about his upbringing, Hovland quickly noted that “growing up in Norway—or California 2.0 as we call it …” and laughter filled the small interview area. To those who were there and perhaps seeing Hovland for the first time, what is burned into the memory banks is the infectious smile that flashed.

Turns out, it is absolutely genuine, and if that makes Hovland a marketer’s dream, then good for everyone involved. Especially Hovland because “I know zilch about marketing and all that stuff.”

Hovland Smashed It

What he clearly knows a lot about is playing great golf as his star was cemented on the PGA TOUR stage during a smashing close to the 2022- 23 season. Appreciated and highly ranked, Hovland in the early part of 2023 was still the kid with a “resort king” reputation for his only wins at that point were two in Mayakoba in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico. But winning three of his last eight starts in 2023—the Memorial, the BMW Championship, and the TOUR Championship—sent the respect off the charts.

Heavyweight championships, each of those three, and as much as reporters grilled him about the money (“It’s nice for my family to have that protection . . . [but] it’s not something that gives me meaning”), the man from Oslo was most pleased at the how he had achieved his FedExCup championship.

“I didn’t have all the tools,” said Hovland. “I never have been great around the greens and to play a the highest level and beat the best players in the world you have to get the ball up-and-down.”

As he improved and made those clutch saves under the greatest pressure, Hovland’s belief in his short game has taken him to the next level. Forget the FEC money, Hovland feels rich in belief, “the last missing piece.”

This was first published in Essential Golf – you can read the complete magazine here.