Lynch: Viktor Hovland looks like pro in making cut at Arnold Palmer Invitational

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: Viktor Hovland of Norway the reigning US Amateur Champion plays his second shot on the par 4, first hole during the first round of the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at the Bay Hill Club on March 07, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Lynch: Viktor Hovland looks like pro in making cut at Arnold Palmer Invitational

PGA Tour

Lynch: Viktor Hovland looks like pro in making cut at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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ORLANDO — Viktor Hovland isn’t the first Norwegian athlete to achieve success thanks to a proficiency with blades, though he’s certainly unusual for doing so on a surface other than snow and ice.

Hovland won the U.S. Amateur championship at Pebble Beach in August, an accomplishment that earned the 21-year-old Oklahoma State student a raft of invitations to the game’s biggest events: the Masters next month, the U.S. Open in June—back at Pebble Beach—and the Open Championship, assuming he remains an amateur.

The Amateur champ also gets a berth in a handful of PGA Tour events, including here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a traditional nod to the King’s triumph in the Amateur 65 years ago. Despite his success on the biggest stage in amateur golf, Hovland admitted to being a little awestruck among those in the paid ranks.

“Definitely the first PGA Tour event I was really nervous, then I got better last time at Torrey Pines. And now I do feel really comfortable,” he admitted Saturday afternoon at Bay Hill. “I just haven’t played my best golf out here yet. I wish I could take the golf I’ve played in amateur golf and transfer it over here. But, you know, I’ve only played 3 times out here.”

Hovland’s debut came in November at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, where he missed the cut despite posting 3-under-par through 36 holes. In the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines he again missed the weekend. But at Arnie’s place, the amiable amateur has found surer footing.

After opening the tournament with 74, Hovland stood 4-over-par through four holes on Friday and was staring at another early trunk slam in the parking lot. Instead he logged four birdies to shoot 70. Cut made. On Saturday he shot 73 to stand one-over for the tournament.

“The courses here are a little bit different. It exposes your game a little bit more,” he reflected after signing his card. “I’m usually a good driver of the ball, but the greens are really firm and fast, the rough is thick and the fairways aren’t as wide open as some of the courses we play in college. So you’ve got to be more on top of your game. If you’re not, you’re going to get exposed.”

“It’s not easy, it’s definitely a different stage,” said Rickie Fowler, another Oklahoma State phenom who made his first starts on the PGA Tour as an amateur. Fowler points out that many a valuable lesson is learned by results that, on paper at least, might look like failure.

“My first Tour event as an amateur was in Hilton Head. I think I missed the cut by one or two. Didn’t play very well,” he recalled. “But it helped me realize and gain confidence that I could play out here. I had enough game at the time to compete and contend even though I wanted to continue to get better.”

That’s a perspective that has not escaped Hovland this week. His takeaway from the API isn’t that he made the cut—this is a kid with greater expectations of himself than simply signing for four rounds—but that he did so with a game far beneath his best.

“I thought that was a really cool thing to see that I made the cut, and honestly I’ve played really bad golf,” he said candidly. “But I feel that when I’m on my game I’m definitely good enough.”

Plenty good enough in a fickle game. Bryson DeChambeau won the Amateur four years ago and has claimed five PGA Tour victories since. He’s a couple of strokes back of Hovland entering Sunday. Hovland’s strong showing in the college ranks has earned him plenty of admirers on Tour.

“He’s a great player. When he playing well he makes it look simple,” Fowler said.

Brandel Chamblee saw Hovland last weekend at the Bears Club in Jupiter, Fla. and stopped to watch him hit balls. He too came away impressed. “He seemed to have the tangible skills that are important to success on the Tour, pedigree and power,” the Golf Channel analyst said. “But more than that, in the brief time I had to size him up, he reminded me of Jordan Spieth. He had that sort of quiet storm about him, which goes a lot farther than a long drive.”

Hovland said he will play in the Masters and the U.S Open. Beyond that, he acknowledged the lure of the pro game is strong. “I’m thinking about turning pro after the U.S. Open or staying another year in school. I haven’t made my decision yet. I’ll make one soon enough.”

Before the U.S. Open?

“Yes, it will be before the U.S. Open,.”

Before the Masters? I asked. Hovland offered a smile that betrayed more excitement than coyness. “Maybe,” he responded. “We’ll see.”

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