Havemeyer for Hovland

New Norwegian golf legend

Viktor Hovland

Photo: © USGA / Chris Keane / courtesy of www.USGA.org
Viktor Hovland looks at the names on the Havemeyer Trophy after the final round at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 19.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

Viktor Hovland has a perpetual grin. Over the last few months, he’s had plenty to smile about. In May, he and fellow Norwegian Kristoffer Ventura helped lead Oklahoma State to its 11th NCAA golf championship. Earlier in the summer, he played in his first European tour. On Aug. 19, he beat Devon Bling of UCLA to win the 118th U.S. Amateur—the largest amateur tournament—at the prestigious Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., in a dominating 6&5 performance (meaning he had won six more holes than Bling with five remaining).

The tournament started Aug. 13 with 312 golfers. Hovland trailed for just one hole during his six matches and tied the record by needing just 104 holes during the week to capture the title. He did not trail over his final 86 holes and won 44 of the 104 holes he played during match play.

He beamed staring at the Havemeyer Trophy. The names etched there before his include Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Bobby Jones. The Oslo native, who turned 21 on Sept. 18, is the first Norwegian to win the trophy.

“I always thought I had a pretty good vocabulary, but I’m lost for words,” said Hovland at the post-tournament press conference. “It’s really special. I’ve only won once before, and to win the U.S. Amateur as my second win is really cool. It’s hard to top that. I just hope it’s the start of something great.”

Hovland felt he didn’t play his best golf of the week on the final day. Momentum was key. “I still continued to play pretty solid and made Devon earn it, if he had to, or wanted, to win the hole,” said Hovland. “I hit a couple bad shots, but on a few of them, I managed to make some great saves, and just keep it going. Momentum is a big thing. If you don’t make putts, it’s very hard to get momentum.”

How big was the victory? Social media lit up with legends like Nicklaus and Norwegian women’s golfer Suzann Pettersen tweeting congratulations.

Perks of winning the U.S. Amateur include chances to play in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the Open Championship, probably the Masters, and the chance to defend his title next year at another iconic course, Pinehurst.

“I’ve grown up looking at all the guys playing in those tournaments, and that’s going to be really special,” Hovland said.

Among his most challenging shots in the final round was the second shot of the fourth hole. First, he had to climb down a steep hill to get to the ball, then play it out at an angle to the hill. He ended up with a birdie (one stroke under par) on the hole.

“When I saw the ball lying there, I checked with my range finder, and I saw, ‘okay, that’s my ball,’” he explained. “I’ll head down there and see if I’ve got a shot. The slope was pretty steep. … That was just a hit-and-hope moment. It ended up pretty sweet.”

In the semifinal against Cole Hammer, Hovland won 3&2 with eight birdies.

Hovland was exposed to golf by his father, Harald, who became enamored when he worked in the United States. The elder Hovland bought a set of clubs upon his return to Norway. Viktor was 3 or 4 at the time. When Viktor was 11, he told Harald, “I want to start practicing in the winters, as well.”

That’s not easy to do in Norway. “You have to hit balls inside for four, five months of the year,” he said. “With those weather conditions, it’s harder to continue to improve your game. Still, you can make it work. The courses are very careful about not letting us play if it’s cold because you mess up the course. But I do remember one tournament I played in southern Norway. It was the first tournament of the year, and it started snowing. But we still played through it. It’s fun to look back and think that we played in snow.”

If the sport was college football or basketball and you had just won a national championship, an athlete might jump to the NFL or NBA. Hovland is returning for his last two years at OSU. He has some unfinished business.

“I remember the first time I came there and looked at all the pictures on the wall, all the names, Charles Howell III, Pablo Martín, Peter Uihlein, Rickie,” he said. “You win one tournament, or you finish second, you play pretty good, and then you get back there and you look at their records, it brings you down to earth. But, hopefully after winning this tournament, I can start building on that résumé and get myself a picture on that wall.”

It will bring a smile to his face.

This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.