With an easy smile, Viktor Hovland signs with Ping, preps for Travelers

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

With an easy smile, Viktor Hovland signs with Ping, preps for Travelers

PGA Tour

With an easy smile, Viktor Hovland signs with Ping, preps for Travelers

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CROMWELL, Conn – When Viktor Hovland left Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, he had work to do.

The Norwegian golfer had been at Augusta for a week and on Sunday went inside Butler Cabin during the on-camera award ceremony because he had been the low amateur at the 2019 Masters. But Hovland had to get back to Stillwater, Okla., and complete a paper. He was the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world, but he was also a junior at Oklahoma State. Homework called.

“Uh, I didn’t show up for that one,” he joked on Wednesday at TPC River Highlands, site of this week’s Travelers Championship. “I’m just kidding, I did fine. I did good enough,” he added, laughing.

Viktor Hovland likes to laugh, and he does it a lot.

Sitting next to Collin Morikawa, Justin Suh and Matthew Wolff on a dais during a press conference on Wednesday, Hovland looked entirely at ease. He was the only one of the four former college stars to crack a few jokes.

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When Morikawa mentioned that he thought his smile was nice, Hovland leaned back in his chair and shook his head, grinning.

Then, when a reporter asked the other three about junior golf in California, and Hovland about junior golf in his native Norway, he deadpanned, “What are you saying?”

When it was his turn to answer, he began, “Well, growing up in Oslo, or California 2.0 as we call it …”

When Hovland smiles or laughs, his eyes squint tightly, his mouth widens and his cheeks pop up. He looks like a kid who would sit in the back of the class, make funny noises and giggle, yet somehow stay on the teacher’s good side.

On the course this year, he’s been on the good side too. After winning the 2018 U.S. Amateur, Hovland was not only the low amateur at this year’s Masters, he was the low amateur at the U.S. Open. His 280 (4 under) broke Jack Nicklaus’ amateur scoring record and he finished T-12.

If he could have kept his prize money, Hovland’s check would have been for over $225,000. Now, having signed an endorsement deal with Ping and retained an agent, Sam MacNaughton, Wasserman’s executive vice president for golf who also represents former Oklahoma State star Rickie Fowler, Hovland is playing at TPC River Highlands as a professional. From now on, he’s keeping the money.

“Feeling comfortable is going to be the biggest challenge,” Hovland said. “There are so many people out here. Hopefully, if you are doing well, you are signing autographs and talking to the media. Your life is a little different.”

Hovland got a taste of what that life is going to be like at Augusta and Pebble Beach, and he felt comfortable. Most of the time.

“The Wednesday of the Masters I played a practice round with Rickie, and I’ve played with him before,” Hovland explained. “Then DJ (Dustin Johnson) and Brooks (Koepka) joined us, and I was like, ‘OK, I don’t really feel like I belong here.’ Sometimes I still think of myself, internally, as a 14-year-old Norwegian kid just doing my own business.”

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In addition to counting dollars, Hovland needs to pay attention to FedEx Cup points now. After the Travelers Championship, he can accept six more sponsor exemptions this season.

If he can reach 266 non-member FedEx Cup points, Hovland can apply for temporary PGA Tour membership and accept more exemptions. If he can finish the season ranked No. 125 or higher on the FedEx Cup point list, Hovland will get a PGA Tour card for the 2019-20 season. Finishing in the top 200 would automatically give him a spot in the four-tournament Web.com Tour finals.

Of course, a win would make all that math meaningless because it would give Hovland a two-year PGA Tour exemption.

For Hovland, that would elicit the biggest smile of all.

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