PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Viktor Hovland laughs at the thought of going viral on social media.
Playing in the European Tour’s Porsche European Open last month in Germany, the world’s fifth-ranked amateur introduced himself to the Twitterverse with a unique driver swing. The video of Hovland pausing for nearly two seconds at the top of his swing hit four-digits in shares, and left many scratching their heads at just how the Oklahoma State junior managed to shoot 68 in the first round.
There was one problem, though.
“That was a drill,” Hovland said with a chuckle.
Hovland had been struggling with the big stick for much of the summer, hitting an uncontrollable slice. A week before his European Tour start, during a practice round for a tournament in Norway, Hovland started implementing a drill that he’d learned from instructor Denny Lucas, that helped him keep his hands closer to his body and his club less laid off.
“I found that when I stopped, I positioned my swing to where I can feel a draw,” Hovland said. “My drives were going way straighter and further, and so thought I might as well just try it in the tournament.”
Hovland ditched the pause less than a week later as his confidence with the driver improved. In four matches so far at this week’s U.S. Amateur, Hovland has yet to hit anything but driver on Pebble Beach’s par-4 fourth hole, a tight 335-yard hole with thick rough left and ocean right.
He also has yet to make anything worse than birdie.
Two times he’s birdied from the greenside bunker. The other times he’s been in the fairway, including Friday, when he pitched to tap-in range to win his third straight hole in his quarterfinal match against Cincinnati’s Austin Squires.
“That’s been a good hole,” Hovland said.
Many holes have been good to Hovland this week, except for Nos. 13-18 the last two rounds. That’s because he’s yet to play them.
Hovland, the 20-year-old Norwegian, notched his second straight 7-and-6 victory when he eliminated Squires. The day before he beat fellow countryman Kristoff Reitan by the same score. Now, he’ll look to continue his hot streak against another red-hot player, incoming Texas freshman Cole Hammer, who beat Alex Fitzpatrick, 3 and 2.
While Hovland has looked like a world-beater for much of this championship, it’s hard to believe that he’s won just once outside of Norway. That win came just this past spring at the Valspar Collegiate.
“I’m trying to figure that out myself,” Hovland said about his lack of wins. “I mean, it’s hard to win tournaments. You’ve got to play either three solid rounds or you’ve got to have one or two just really, really good rounds. I think I’ve definitely had the game to win more, but I’ve made a few bad decisions here and there, mis-clubbed, things like that, and it adds up, and you just start being too far behind.”
In match play, though, he’s prevailed quite a bit. He won all three of his matches at the 2018 NCAA Championship to lead the Cowboys to the team title – he ended his final two matches on the 15th hole, too. He also took down Oregon’s Wyndham Clark at the previous year’s NCAAs, and advanced to the Round of 16 at this summer’s British Amateur.
“I’ve played some of my best golf in match play,” Hovland said.
This week has arguably been his best. Not only is he hitting the ball well, but he’s also making putts. They might not have fallen at first, but in his last two matches Hovland has seemingly made everything.
He began Friday’s match by sinking a 15-footer for par at the opening hole. He followed with a 25-foot birdie make at the long par-4 second, which gave him his first lead.
Hovland went on to win the next six holes, making three more birdies, including one after a near-ace on the par-3 seventh and another on the difficult par-4 eighth. Squires did birdie the par-4 10th to win his only hole of the day, but two holes later and Hovland walked off the 12th green with a ticket to the semifinals.
“I just saw the lines, and my speed was really good,” said Hovland, who called Friday’s match one of the best putting performances of his young career.
When Hovland is firing on all cylinders, there aren’t many players who can beat him – and he believes it.
“I think he’s starting to get a sense of just how good he is,” said Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton, who is caddying for Hovland this week.
Hovland is known for his fun-loving personality. He constantly makes himself and those around him laugh. His smile is infectious. On the outside, he seems like the most gentle of people, even on the golf course.
But get him in match play and he’s more like the kid who listens to heavy metal music and did taekwondo for seven years. Get him in match play and he’ll beat you down without hesitation.