Even before he shot a closing 2-under-par 70 to tie for 41st place in last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, Viktor Hovland wasn’t in awe of the PGA Tour players he was invited to compete against by virtue of his win last August in the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship.
That’s not to say he didn’t have a healthy appreciation for the skill level of the men who have made golf their careers. And that appreciation and respect only increased after Hovland played at Bay Hill Club in Orlando and in January at the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which will host its second U.S. Open Championship in 2021.
But the Oklahoma State junior, who will tee it up alongside 2018 Masters Tournament champion Patrick Reed on Thursday at Augusta National, didn’t feel out of his element or overwhelmed during the early stages of his “internship” among the tour players. That’s partly a result of the confidence he gained from his dominant U.S. Amateur victory last August at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, and partly from seeing up close how well his overall game stacks up.
“For the most part, I’m just trying to soak it all in and try to learn,” Hovland, 21, said while competing at Bay Hill. “I want to play well, but it’s mostly a great learning experience, and it’s a dream come true, because I didn’t really see it happening two years ago. To still be in school and have the opportunity to play in a few PGA Tour events … it’s pretty sick.
“What I’ve learned already is that these guys are not superhuman. Even though they shoot some good numbers, it’s not like you have to change your whole game to be competitive with them. You just need to do what you do well. And you have to have a great short game; that seems to be something that all of these guys do really well.”
Hovland wasn’t particularly happy with his game at Bay Hill, especially his iron play, but he conceded, “It was good to see that I can get around a course like this with below-average stuff.”
A native of Oslo, Norway, Hovland missed the cut at the Farmer’s Insurance Open with a respectable 1-over 145 total, but he completed 72 holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 1-under 287. That was good enough to tie the likes of world No. 9 Rickie Fowler, and finish a stroke ahead of 2015 U.S. Amateur winner Bryson DeChambeau, who is ranked sixth in the world. It’s no wonder he said, “I feel comfortable on the bigger stage.”
And why does he feel comfortable? Well, when you take apart all comers in the U.S. Amateur – Hovland trailed for just one hole through six matches – at a challenging venue like Pebble Beach, a bounce of confidence is predictable, if not warranted.
“Yeah, I would say I have more confidence, but it is not just one tournament that makes you feel that way,” Hovland said. “You feel you belong on a higher stage, sure, because to win that championship [the U.S. Amateur], you’ve played some very good golf. But you want to see that you play consistently well at other courses and other tournaments. Obviously, that’s a very big stepping stone.”