All smiles: Viktor Hovland showing he belongs on U.S. Open stage

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

All smiles: Viktor Hovland showing he belongs on U.S. Open stage

USGA

All smiles: Viktor Hovland showing he belongs on U.S. Open stage

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The USGA had custom Bobblehead dolls made in the likeness of U.S. Amateur champ Viktor Hovland. There’s a fantastic video swirling around social media of a grinning Hovland nodding along with a tableful of them.

It’s tough to wipe the smile off of Hovland’s face – both in the plastic form and real life. On Sunday, after he has finished competing in his first U.S. Open, the 21-year-old Norwegian will turn professional and make four consecutive starts on the PGA Tour.

What a treat for golf fans.

“You watch elite amateurs play, even the professionals, and golf can make you look miserable,” said Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton. “You wonder why people play sometimes. You don’t have to wonder that with Viktor.”

Hovland, who recently completed his junior year at OSU and finished the season No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, won the U.S. Amateur in dominating fashion at Pebble Beach last summer with Bratton on the bag. That earned him an exemption into the Masters, where he earned low-amateur honors by finishing tied for 32nd.

Bratton caddied in Augusta too and is back inside the ropes this week at Pebble.

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Hovland played alongside major winners Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari in the first two rounds and carded a 2-over 73 on Friday to stand at even-par 142 for the tournament. He’s currently tied with Duke’s Chandler Eaton for low-amateur honors.

Though the score was higher, Hovland said he positioned the ball better in the second round, just didn’t make any putts. He hit every fairway on Friday.

Viktor Hovland plays his second shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open. Photo: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

“Playing with Brooks and Francesco was a lot of fun to kind of see what they’re doing, kind of compare myself to them and see what it takes to win major championships,” Hovland said. “It’s major championship golf. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to evaluate the risks and execute.”

One gets the impression Hovland could zoom up the board over the weekend with an earlier tee time. He seems made for this kind of stage.

The first time Bratton saw Hovland compete was at the European Boys Team Championship.

“He was in a playoff and needed to win,” recalled Bratton. “I can’t remember if he won or not, but I just remember it was a lot of pressure on a big stage, at that time the biggest event he could play and his first one, and he wasn’t overwhelmed. He loved it.

“You don’t see that.”

We’re seeing it again this week.

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