PGA Tour rookie Viktor Hovland still learning, gaining confidence

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

PGA Tour rookie Viktor Hovland still learning, gaining confidence

PGA Tour

PGA Tour rookie Viktor Hovland still learning, gaining confidence

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Much has been written about Viktor Hovland.

Get ready for a whole lot more.

Playing for cash hasn’t stunted the growth of the heralded amateur, who has seamlessly moved into the world of professional golf in less than three months. And while he’s put the textbooks away, Hovland is still learning.

Put it all together and yes, he could be the next big thing on the PGA Tour. Just consider this: Hovland, who turns 22 next week, is making his first start as a full member of the PGA Tour at this week’s Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and is one of the favorites. It’s the opening event of the 2019-20 season.

“I would say I was a little anxious going into my professional career, even though I played really well in college,” Hovland said Wednesday. “I played well this summer, but I wasn’t really happy with the way I was hitting it.

“But where I got way better this year was with figuring out how to just shoot a score regardless of how I was hitting it. But I realized over time this summer when you just play every single week, your mind just switches off a little bit and you just get into golf mode. Suddenly, the more weeks I played in a row my shots kind of started coming back again, and then the confidence came.”

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Those who saw the Norwegian during his amateur days aren’t surprised. Hovland won the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach a short time after he was a key cog for Oklahoma State when it won an NCAA championship. He earned the Ben Hogan Award as the top amateur of 2018-19 and won low amateur medals at the 2019 Masters, where he tied for 32nd. At the U.S. Open, he tied for 12th and broke Jack Nicklaus’ record for the lowest 72-hole score by an amateur.

Then he turned pro. He has played seven events as a professional, his worst finish a tie for 54th in the Travelers Championship, his maiden voyage into the pro ranks. He hasn’t been worse than a tie for 16th since.

He finished fourth in the Wyndham Championship, then secured his playing privileges for this season in the Korn Ferry Tour playoffs, where he tied for 11th and second in two starts. He was ranked 1,157 in the world at the end of 2018; he’s 111th now.

Along the way he has picked up a few pointers from his peers, including Charles Howell III, a fellow Cowboy from Oklahoma State and one of the nicest guys on Tour, who told Hovland to be selfish. That’s not going to be easy for Hovland, an outgoing sort who is quick with a smile.

“He told me be selfish out here. You know, you want to be a nice guy and talk to everyone, but your time is valuable,” Hovland said. “You got to put your head down and do your business. You know, that’s essentially why you’re here.”

He has gathered other tidbits, too, from where to stay on the road, where to eat, how to get ready for a tournament, etc. He doesn’t have any specific goals for the fall portion of this season except to continually improve.

All indications point to him doing just that, and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if he joined his OSU teammate Matthew Wolff and fellow college star Collin Morikawa in the winner’s circle soon. Last season, Wolff won the 3M Open in his third start as a pro; Morikawa won the Barracuda Championship in his sixth start as a pro.

“It definitely helps seeing them perform so well,” Hovland said. “Knowing that I have played well against them and beaten them a couple times, that just gave me a little bit more confidence knowing that, OK, it’s a little scary playing on the PGA Tour against the best in the world, but if we’re playing good, it’s good enough.”

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