Viktor Hovland admits being a sporting Hero in Norway is tough against the likes of Erling Haaland
Just as Suzann Pettersen did in her prime, he’s doing a brilliant job in terms of putting Norwegian golf on the map, yet, in his homeland, Hovland is still living in the shadows of stars in various other sports.
“That's a good question,” he replied to being asked in the wake of joining tournament host Tiger Woods as the only players to win the Hero World Challenge back-to-back where he believed he stood in the current pantheon of Norwegian sporting stars.
“One thing about Norwegians is that we're very patriotic. We only have five, six million people, but it seems like when (chess grandmaster) Magnus Carlsen is winning, everyone tunes in and starts playing chess, or if it's Tobias Foss in the Tour de France, everyone just started biking that summer.
“Or, you know, what (Manchester City forward) Erling Haaland's doing is incredible and obviously with (world No 3) Casper Ruud in tennis. People love their sports and I think they root for their fellow countrymen when they do something well.”
Hovland is doing very well indeed in his profession and admits that his upbringing in Norway has helped him develop a mindset that, more often than not, is helping him finish off the job whenever he finds himself in a promising position in events.
“Throughout my childhood, I've had a very good upbringing,” said the Oslo-born player who went to college in Oklahoma and still lives there. “You know, whether it's taking the bus to school with a golf bag and my books and gym clothes and it's packed on the bus, I've got to stand there for an hour to school and then go back home and then to practice, I think those little things just makes you a little bit tougher.
“Growing up in Norway, it's not necessarily great for golf and I think you have to just make do with what you have. I think those things just build character a little bit and makes you handle stress a little better than if you just had everything on a silver platter.”
In truth, Hovland was a star in the making from the moment he won the 2018 US Amateur and, as he savoured making it back-to-back successes in the Bahamas, he delivered an honest and refreshing response to being asked what he felt he’d learned most about himself in the past 12 months.
“I just kind of go through the day and think ‘have I had a good day, have I done everything I needed to do today to get to where I want to be tomorrow or next year or five years down the line’,” he declared. “I think as long as I do the things that I need to do, I think that makes me go to bed content and I think the results are going to come from that.”
Along with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Matt Fitpatrick, Hovland is an absolute certainty to be representing Europe in next year’s Ryder Cup in Rome. His debut was a sore one as part of the team hammered in the 2021 edition at Whistling Straits, but, with Shane Lowry also winning early on in the latest qualification battle, as well as Bob MacIntyre, Guido Migliozzi and now Adrian Meronk as well after his success on Sunday in the Australian Open, Hovland is already relishing that Italian job.
“The American players last year kind of knew going into the tournament that they were the favourites,” he conceded. “So I think we have a chance to kind of push it the other direction. The more Europeans that win, I think we can maybe change that narrative a little bit next year.”
Next month’s new Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi will help Donald prepare his players and any rookies, in particular, the same way his predecessors did in events like the Seve Trophy, Royal Trophy and EurAsia Cup.
Due mainly to the PGA Tour schedule, Hovland won’t be lining up for Continental Europe against Great Britain and Ireland in the UAE, but that doesn’t mean to say he can’t see a potential huge benefit for a new generation of European Ryder Cup players.
“Not quite the same thing obviously, but, growing up in junior golf in Europe, we would always have the European Boys’ Team Championships and all these match-play tournaments where you have to play with a team-mate,” he said.
“Then, when I came to college, I didn't really do that all that much. Especially in pro golf, you don't really play all that team and match play tournaments. So I think that's just a unique opportunity to just have all the guys play match-play and team up. I think it's great.”
If Hovland’s short game was perceived to be a bit suspect when he first started knocking off titles in the pro ranks, that’s certainly not the case any more. In the Bahamas, he had just 23 putts in the round, 24 on the final day and 23 one-putts in those 36 holes.
“When I first came out, I felt the quality of the ball-striking wasn't as good, but I hit it super, super straight and it felt like I could shoot two to three under every single day without really making putts,” he observed.“Whereas this year it's kind of been a little bit of the opposite where my ball-striking has been off and I've been putting really well just to shoot a couple under par. That's almost more frustrating, but, at the same time, it kind of takes some pressure off your back. I can actually rely on my putting to hang in there. “
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