Ryder Cup 2021: Why Viktor Hovland is Europe's 'Smiling Assassin'

It’s given us Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in football, Morten Harket of A-Ha in the pop world and, of course, Solheim Cup legend Suzann Pettersen in women’s golf.

Viktor Hovland speaks to the media prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

But Norway and the Ryder Cup had never seemed a likely marriage until a young man named Viktor Hovland spectacularly announced his arrival on the global stage.

The 24-year-old already has two PGA Tour titles and one from the European Tour under his belt, briefly broke into the world’s top 10 and currently sits in 14th spot.

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There’s a bit of the ‘Smiling Assassin’ about him and it’s no coincidence that every other player in the European team at Whistling Straits wouldn’t mind having Hovland at their side when the gun goes off on Friday.

“He's one of the best players in the world,” said Rory McIlroy in delivering his verdict on the man making history for his country in Wisconsin, as, of course, is Bernd Wiesberger by becoming the first Austrian to play in the biennial contest.

“He's already been a wonderful team-mate, and the energy and enthusiasm that he brings into our team,” added McIlroy of the Norwegian representative.

Hovland, who was born in Oslo, played football as a kid, but he didn’t really dream about following in the footsteps of Solskjaer, who made his name scoring goals for Manchester United before returning to Old Trafford to become the current manager.

“I was a decent defender,” declared Hovland. “I had a blast doing that, but I wasn’t too serious about it. It was just to hang out with my class buddies.”

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He also did taekwondo while alpine skiing as opposed to the cross-country version or ski-jumping was his favourite winter sport, but there was only really one thing he wanted to passionately pursue.

“I was dead set on playing golf from the age of 12,” he said. “It can be pretty depressing in the winter and, when the winter came, I said to my dad: I want to hit balls indoors. I don’t just want to play in the summer and then not play for four months.

“I had a few other juniors my age and we were able to keep it fun. At least you could see about 70 yards of ball flight.

“They had a short game area, but it was like chipping on a hard surface and it rolled a long way and it was silly, but we were creative.”

Pettersen, a trail-blazer for Norwegian golf, played in nine Solheim Cups, bringing down the curtain on her playing career in spectacular fashion as she holed the winning putt at Gleneagles in 2019.

“I’ve gotten to know Suzann a little bit,” said Hovland, who lives in Oklahoma, where he went to college. “Ever since I started going with Team Norway camps a few years ago.

“They would have it a couple of times in Orlando, where she used to live, and she would join a couple of them. We have stayed a little bit in touch since then.

“I can’t remember exactly where I was when she holed the winning putt at Gleneagles. I think I was playing a tournament. But, obviously, I’ve seen the highlights and her putt multiple times. It’s shown a lot in Norway.”

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